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The Disadvantages of Cotton

Updated November 21, 2016

Cotton is a common choice for people looking for comfortable clothing made from natural materials. It has several advantages, including softness and comfort, but it also has several disadvantages in certain situations. The next time you are shopping for clothes, consider cotton as a material option but know the disadvantages to help you decide if it is the right material for a particular clothing item.

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A major disadvantage of cotton is that the clothing will shrink when washed, even if it is preshrunk. The cotton fibres can shorten when exposed to water during a wash cycle, which results in the material shrinking. Drying on high heat will then set the shrunken size. Because of this, when you purchase a cotton item, make sure it doesn't "just fit" because after the first time through the wash it may not fit at all.

Retains Water

Cotton absorbs and holds water. This is important to know for workout wear, swimwear or cold-weather clothes. Once cotton gets wet, it stays wet. When you exercise, cotton clothing absorbs your sweat and makes the item heavier. If you are wearing cotton in cold weather for activities such as skiing or skating, it can become wet from sweat and then increase the amount of heat lost from your body, increasing the chance of hypothermia.


Cotton wrinkles easily, which results in the need for ironing. If you pack or store cotton items, you can expect them to have wrinkles or creases when unpacked. If you are travelling for business, either plan to iron or pack a different material.


Cotton is a natural hydrocarbon fibre that is highly flammable when exposed to flame. This is very important to know when dealing with children's clothing. Flammable clothing is extremely dangerous for children, as they are not as careful around flames as adults and can easily be injured, or worse, if their clothes catch on fire.


Cotton is easily damaged by sunlight and mildew. If exposed to sunlight, the material colour will begin to fade. Also, because it is a natural fibre, it is susceptible to mildew, which can be difficult to remove from the material. Because of this, cotton is not ideal for items that will be outdoors for long periods of time, including lawn furniture.

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