Hemp vs Cotton Fabrics

why hemp is more eco-friendly
On this page

Hemp: The Clothing Industry's Next Big Thing? 

There was a time, asking this question would have been met with much skepticism and ridicule. It still might, but, the court of public opinion is slowly shifting. While it is unlikely hemp fabrics will ever fully replace cotton, market share for this greener alternative will certainly grow in the future.

What is Hemp Fabric?

While its distinctive green leaves are the most recognizable feature, the hemp stalk is perhaps its most valuable attribute. The stalk is made up of two distinctive layers. The inner layer is woollike and can be utilized for fuel or construction materials. The outer stalk layer is composed of long strands of durable fibers that are used in textile production. These fabrics are used to create beautiful, long lasting, environmentally friendly clothing.

5 Ways Hemp Fabric is more Eco-Friendly than Cotton

*Cotton fabrics have long been touted as an eco-friendly material. Yet, a bit of fact checking shows this is not generally the case. Meanwhile, a long over due repeal of legal restrictions on hemp have been lifted. Hemp has relatively little THC and has no psychoactive effects. With the playing field now leveled, it's time to take a closer look at the environmental impact of both hemp and cotton.

(1) Hemp crops require far less water than cotton

To say cotton crops require large amounts of water would be quite an understatement. Globally, that usage adds up to over 250 billion tons of water a year. Yet, just quoting statistics alone is not enough to understand the environmental impact this creates. To demonstrate just how devastating the effect's have been, you need only look to the Aral Sea in Central Asia; or what's left of it. Once the worlds forth largest lake, it has sadly disappeared due to aggressive, irresponsible cotton farming. The United Nations refers to this event as the most staggering disaster of the twentieth century" . While this is certainly the most extreme example, cotton industry water mismanagement remains a serious concern world wide.  

By comparison, hemp crops have the ability to thrive on rain water alone. That said, most area's where hemp is commonly grown do use moderate irrigation. But, no where near the excessive quantity that cotton requires. Estimates put this amount at roughly half of what cotton requires. Thus helping to preserve one of our most valuable natural recourses. 

(2) Hemp causes less soil depletion than cotton

Cotton farming's excessive use of irrigation does more than exhaust our water supply. It erodes and depletes the soil it's grown in. While cotton is a notoriously thirsty plant, the heavily irrigated soil can't absorb all the excess water. Over time, runoff of the remainder causes significant, sometimes irreversible damage. Prolonged periods of heavy irrigation displaces salt deposits and alters the soils chemical makeup. Worst case senecios permanently render soils useless. 

Farmers can grow hemp consistently for many years without causing soil damage. That said, hemp takes nitrogen and other nutrients from the soil. Responsible hemp farmers should rotate crops periodically. Doing so has a mutually beneficial effect on all crops grown in the same soil.  Hemp leaves the soil in ideal condition for other crops like wheat or oats. So much so that increases in yield after hemp has been grown are reportedly significant. Conversely, alternate crops restore nitrogen to soil necessary for hemp crops to prosper. It is important to note, hemp, like any other industrial crops typically requires some degree of irrigation. This means there is potential for some level of soil erosion. But, certainly not to the extent of cotton cultivating. 

(3) Hemp grows without pesticides or insecticides

Hemp has a natural resistance to insects and parasites. For this reason, it is typically grown with little to no insecticides or pesticides. Conversely, cotton uses more insecticides and pesticides than any other seasonally grown crop. These toxins seep into the soil and water ways, putting wildlife and humans alike in danger. Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) certified organic cotton is grown without chemicals. But, unfortunately, less than 10% of cotton world wide is grown organically. 

(4) Hemp farming absorbs carbon

Hemp absorbs more carbon than it produces, thus making it a carbon negative plant. Hemp plants actually sequester nearly twice as much carbon as trees. In fairness, organically grown cotton also absorbs more cotton than it releases. But, as noted earlier, only a small percentage of cotton is grown without insecticides or pesticides. Cotton's heavy pesticide usage associated with standard farming methods releases tons of Co2 into the atmosphere. This contributes to global warming and climate change.

(5) Hemp is a little to no waste crop

While the only useful part of the cotton plant is the flower, The entire hemp plant can be used for commercial purposes. The outer portion is used to make wonderful eco-friendly fabrics while the remaining components are found in , food, paper product , bioplastics, insulation, and even biofuel.

Hemp vs Cotton: Wearability

Everything else being equal, it's reasonable to think most people would choose a greener, more eco-friendly option. Hemp is clearly the more environmentally friendly alternative. Yet, for many, questions still linger regarding how wearable these fabrics are. Considerations like style, comfort and durability are also factors consumer take into account.
  • Durability: unlike cotton, hemp fabrics don't stretch and holds up better through wash cycles. Hemp also retains color better than cotton fabrics over time. 
  • Comfort: Initially, cotton is the softer of the two fabrics. But, over time hemp clothing softens while retaining it's strength as cotton fabrics break down. Both materials are breathable and absorbent but hemp absorbs more moisture than cotton. This makes it ideal for warmer weather.
  • Antibacterial: Chalk up another advantage for hemp fabrics. They have better antibacterial properties and resist mold, mildew and fungi, thus reducing odors.

The Future of Hemp Fabrics

    If you think making clothing from hemp is a new idea, you might be quite surprised. The oldest pieces of hemp fabrics discovered date back at least 6000 years. Today, brands like Patagonia, Tentree, and Eileen Fisher are utilizing hemp fabrics in an effort to produce more sustainable, eco-friendly products. Purchasing hemp clothing literally allows you to wear your environmental passion on your sleave!

    Why hemp sales should rise

    • Eco-Friendly Benefits
    • Legal Restrictions Lifted
    • Increased consumer awareness
    • As market increases, prices should decrease
linkedin facebook pinterest youtube rss twitter instagram facebook-blank rss-blank linkedin-blank pinterest youtube twitter instagram