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What is the Difference Between Regular Cotton and Pima Cotton?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 16, 2024
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Pima cotton is a higher quality cotton than regular cotton. Materials made from this material will be softer, denser, and more durable than those made from regular cotton. Unsurprisingly, these goods are also more expensive, sometimes significantly more so. An even higher grade of cotton known as Egyptian cotton is widely considered to be one of the finest cottons in the world, and it is used primarily in luxury cotton products.

All cottons are not created alike. The quality of finished fabric depends on the length of the fibers, with longer fibers being of higher quality. Longer cotton fibers result in more durable finished products with less pilling and fraying of the fabric, and they also result in tighter, denser weaves and a softer texture.

All cottons are known for their breathability, softness, and comfort, making cotton an extremely popular textile. In the case of pima cotton, the cotton is classified as a medium to long staple, meaning that the fibers are longer than those of regular cotton. Egyptian cotton is a long staple cotton, and a proprietary product known as Supima® is an extra-long staple cotton that is supposed to be of superior quality. This product tends to be especially expensive, but some consumers feel that the quality outweighs the additional cost.

Pima cotton is widely grown in the American Southwest, where it was originally cultivated by Native Americans who probably got the crop from Peru, and it was later adopted by growers who wanted to product luxury cotton products. When the cotton is harvested, it goes through a number of processes to remove impurities and align the strands so that they can be spun into thread or yarn. The resulting spun cotton can be woven or knitted to make textiles ranging from underwear to canvas. This type of cotton is often chosen for things like sheets, intimate garments, and t-shirts, where softness is highly prized.

When choosing between pima and regular cotton, people should think about how the textile will be used. For something like curtains, using regular cotton may be just fine, as the curtains do not need to be durable to withstand frequent washings, do not need to be soft to the touch, and do not need to be especially dense. With things like sheets and towels, on the other hand, the density and soft texture of pima cotton can be important, making these textiles more comfortable to use and helping them withstand years of use.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a HomeQuestionsAnswered researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By fBoyle — On Dec 16, 2012

@ysmina-- Actually, American pima is a type of Egyptian cotton. So yes, we do grow it. As far as I know, American pima and Upland cotton are the only types we are growing right now.

We used to grow a type of cotton called Island cotton in limited quantities. But this cotton is not very durable and can easily get wiped out by insects so we don't grow it anymore.

We also import some Upland cotton from Central America.

By ysmina — On Dec 15, 2012

Do we grow any Egyptian cotton in the US? Or do we just grow regular pima?

By literally45 — On Dec 15, 2012

I was in Germany for a conference last month and the cotton I got there was so good. It was much softer compared to the cotton balls I get at the pharmacy here at home. All this while, I had no idea that cotton comes in different qualities.

I don't know where the cotton products in Germany come from but it must be pima cotton. I think most of the cotton we use for cosmetics in the US is made from regular cotton. It's a shame because pima is so much better.

Cotton is not cheap in general anyway. I'd rather pay a little more and use something that is higher quality.

By dautsun — On Aug 23, 2012

@eidetic - I see what you're saying, but not everyone can afford to buy pima cotton for every single cotton item they buy. I think a good rule of thumb here is to buy the best you can afford without breaking your budget!

Also, I have to say that my kitchen towels aren't pima cotton, and they've held up for quite some time. And when they get too ratty to use as hand towels, I recycle them as rags for cleaning. So I don't produce much waste in that department, even though I don't buy pima cotton.

By eidetic — On Aug 23, 2012

I know a lot of people have mentioned buying cheaper regular cotton for certain things, but I actually don't think this is particularly cost effective in the long run. Since pima cotton is more durable, I think it makes more sense to spend a little bit more money for the pima cotton, because it will last a lot longer.

Plus this is more environmentally friendly, because you won't have to keep throwing things away as they wear out.

By strawCake — On Aug 22, 2012

@Monika - I don't knit, but I have a similar system for purchasing cotton goods too. If I'm going to wear it next to my skin (clothes or sheets), I go for the good stuff. If I'm going to use it in the kitchen or for cleaning, I go for whatever is cheaper.

By Monika — On Aug 22, 2012

I knit, and I'm kind of sensitive to wool, so I use a ton of cotton. It really is amazing how the price and quality can vary among yarns made from the same kind of fiber. As the article said, pima cotton can get quite expensive, and yarn is no exception.

So I usually reserve my nice pima cotton yarns for garments I'm going to wear close to my skin. I do buy cheaper 100% cotton yarn (lovingly referred to by knitters as "dishcloth cotton") and use it to make dishcloths, since it doesn't matter if they pill or don't look very good after awhile.

By anon212352 — On Sep 06, 2011

I just don't like the feel of combed cotton or Egyptian cotton sheets. Where can one get good old fashioned "cool, comfortable cotton"?

By anon135407 — On Dec 18, 2010

I get all Lacoste t-shirts in pima cotton. It is the best feeling against your skin. The comfort is outstanding compared to regular cotton. Pay the extra for pima. It is worth it.

By googlefanz — On Sep 18, 2010

I really don't see what the difference is -- I mean, my regular wool sweaters work just as well as my pima cotton sweater...

By naturesgurl3 — On Sep 18, 2010

One of my items of comfort clothing is a pima cotton sweatshirt, so I know exactly what you're talking about.

I would remind people though, that when buying pima products, especially pima cotton Tshirts, remember to check the source of the cotton.

Would you really enjoy wearing a pima cotton Tshirt so much if you knew somebody had to be miserable to make it for you?

So check which companies are good, ethically sourced and appropriately labored companies, and buy your pima from them -- win-win for everybody!

By StreamFinder — On Sep 18, 2010

I never thought about the difference between pima cotton and regular cotton until I tried pima cotton sheets. They really are so much softer and longer lasting than regular cotton ones.

The same goes for pima cotton t-shirts. Whenever I see a pima cotton top I try to pick it up because they're kind of hard to come by where I live, but they're so comfortable and breathable.

I would definitely recommend anybody who hasn't tried pima cotton clothing to get a pima cotton sweater or tee -- they are definitely worth the money.

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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