Quick Guide to Organic Cotton vs. Conventional Cotton

Cotton blossoms on a USDA certified organic farm

Generally, when we think of “organic,” we associate the term with food – and rightfully so. The difference between non-organic and organic food is tangible. You can often see and taste the difference!

Switching to organic food is a common first step consumers make, but the organic movement doesn’t stop there. At Naturepedic, we’ve been leading the organic mattress revolution for nearly 20 years. Led by a board-certified environmental engineer, our team is well-versed in why shopping for organic options matters a great deal when it comes to textiles, too.

From the clothes you wear to the carpets in your home – and yes, of course the mattress you sleep on – you’re coming in close contact every day with textiles that could be harming both you and the planet. An important material to consider is cotton.

Maybe you’re thinking: if a label says 100% cotton, it's good, right? Cotton is a plant – how bad can it be?

Unfortunately, the difference between organic cotton and conventional cotton might shock you. Keep reading to find out why.

What Is Organic Cotton? 

Unlike conventional cotton, organic cotton is grown using sustainable farming practices that have a low impact on the environment. Similar to organic food, the method used to manufacture organic cotton drastically reduces the use of toxic chemicals. For cotton, these harmful chemicals include:

  • Pesticides
  • Fertilizers
  • Insecticides

At Naturepedic, we always say that nothing is organic unless it’s certified organic. This is an important tip to help consumers avoid greenwashing, AKA when companies make misleading claims to trick you into thinking a product is “greener” than it really is. For certified organic cotton, make sure the product is Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) certified.

GOTS is the highest standard for organic textiles and the certification ensures organic integrity throughout the supply chain. If cotton was sourced in the U.S., you can also look to see if the cotton was grown on a USDA certified organic farm.

3 Ways Organic Cotton Benefits the Earth 

We know someone who cares quite a bit about choosing organic cotton … Mother Nature! In recent years, cotton has gained infamy as “the dirtiest crop on Earth.” This is partly (and rightfully) due to unfair worker conditions on non-organic farms. However, a big reason why cotton has come under fire is because conventional cotton is harming our planet in significant ways that organic cotton is not. Period. Take a look:

1. Pesticides/Toxic Chemicals 

Agricultural aircraft spraying pesticides over a fieldAgricultural aircraft spraying pesticides over a field

Conventional cotton farming relies on massive amounts of pesticides. In fact, according to our friends at the Organic Trade Association, conventional cotton accounts for as much as 25% of the world’s pesticide usage. These toxic chemicals are sprayed into the air, damaging:

  • Air quality
  • Water
  • Soil
  • Wildlife
  • Ecosystems

Certified organic cotton, on the other hand, is manufactured without the use of pesticides, fertilizers, insecticides, defoliants or herbicides. Because of this, organic cotton also produces fewer greenhouse gas emissions and helps fight climate change.

2. Water and Energy Usage 

Cotton is either grown in dryland relying on rainfall or irrigated using underground water sources. Approximately 70-80% of organic cotton is rain-fed, which means it uses far less water from natural ecosystems than conventional cotton does. Lifecyle studies also indicate that organic cotton farming uses significantly less energy.

3. Biodiversity 

Organic farmers use sustainable farming methods like crop rotation and soil-building techniques, and do not need to use genetically modified organisms (GMOs). This supports biodiversity, helping to maintain a healthy variety of pollinators, earthworms, spiders, beetles, plants, bacteria and more. Biodiversity is essential to our future on the planet in that is helps safeguard everything from food and medical crops to clean water supply and even impacts our economy and culture!

Health Benefits of Organic Cotton 

Certified organic cotton batting used in Naturepedic mattressesCertified organic cotton batting used in Naturepedic mattresses

Organic cotton isn’t just better for the environment – it’s better for you, too! The primary reason is because the pesticides found conventional cotton can be absorbed by our bodies. Why does this matter? Seven of the top 15 pesticides have been labeled as known carcinogens by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Human exposure to pesticides comes with other health of risks, too. This includes minor issues like headaches, irritated skin and allergies. However, pesticide exposure has also been linked with more serious concerns, such as:

  • Birth defects and reproductive issues
  • Compromised immune system
  • Parkinson’s disease and nervous system damage
  • Alzheimer’s disease and other memory issues

Organic cotton does not contain toxic bleach or harsh dyes, instead relying on safer alternatives. Also, while we still have a lot to learn about the effect of GMOs on human health, many choose to avoid coming in contact with GMOs (like those found in conventional cotton) because of suspected health risks.

What About the Farmers? 

As we mentioned, unethical working conditions are a pressing issue for conventional cotton farmers around the world. Many manufacturers in developing countries endorse child labor, and farmers are not paid a fare wage. Additionally, conventional cotton farmers are exposed to toxic chemicals daily. They work long hours, are underpaid, and risk the development of severe health issues.

These farmers deserve better. Remember, by choosing GOTS certified organic cotton, you’re choosing to support ethical working conditions at every stage in the process.

Why Organic Materials Matter in Your Mattress 

Naturepedic certified organic mattress and organic cotton sheet setNaturepedic certified organic mattress and organic cotton sheet set

You spend a third of your life asleep, which is a lot of time to have your face pressed against a surface that contains pesticide residue, along with the whole slew of harmful materials found in non-organic mattresses. From chemical flame retardants to toxic glues to petroleum-based polyurethane foam, the risks are many.

Sleeping on a certified organic mattress made of organic materials, including GOTS certified organic cotton, helps keep toxic chemicals out of your bedroom and protects your health while you sleep.

That one little word “organic” makes a world of difference, doesn’t it? It's safe to say you may never look at a “100% cotton” label the same again. Organic cotton is not only a healthier, more ethical and more sustainable option for you – but for the planet as well.

Learn more about Naturepedic’s No-Compromise® organic mattresses for adults, kids and baby.