In this guide to Pima Cotton, you'll learn everything you need to know about this fine cotton. We'll cover what it is, it's history, how it got it's name and a quick guide to thread counts.
You'll also learn the different types of cotton plants and the pro's and cons of each. We also give you several quick comparisons of a host of different fabrics and the fibers that build the foundations of what they will become, plus how they measure up to Pima cotton.
Cotton sheets are some of the oldest and most comfortable types of sheets on the market and continue to remain in the homes of many to this day. They’ve been used for thousands of years and were even choices of the pharaohs of old. Millenniums have passed and we use those materials today in our beds and clothing. But Pima cotton is not your average cotton.
What is Pima cotton?
Pima cotton is better than your average cotton. The scientific name is gossypium barbadense, but is more commonly known as extra-long staple (ELS) cotton. It is a species of cotton plant to grown with extra-long staple fibers, which are usually attributed to high-quality products.
There are different types of ELS cotton, including American Pima, Egyptian ELS Gizas, Indian Suvin, and other areas like Chinese xinjiang and WISICA Sea Island. This cotton grows in a bushy tree to yield the cotton with the long fibers. As such, this makes pima cotton not only luxurious, but also recyclable, making your choice green and helpful to the Earth.
Pima cotton had only recently been named after the Pima Indians, who assisted in bringing up the cotton on USDA experimental farms in the early 1900s. However, cotton bolls were found dating back to 4400 BCE along the Peruvian coast.
It was originally called Real Alto cotton and was slowly integrated and crossbred into the market after Christopher Columbus encountered it. This brought Pima cotton to British West Indies colony and they began trading it among the rest of the world.
Around this time, the cotton known as Egyptian cotton was introduced into the market. Egyptian cotton is similar to Pima cotton, just grown in Egypt and exported from there. It is not so much ELS as it is long staple cotton, so the threads are a bit shorter than their Pima counterparts. That doesn’t mean they’re less luxurious or comfortable, though. The ELS Egyptian cottons only make up about 7% of their trade market.
Where can you find Pima cotton goods?
In today’s market, it’s very easy to look on the Internet and pull a set of the best Pima cotton sheets from a shop. Many of the market’s Pima cotton is made in the US along the southwestern border. They are usually more expensive than the regular cotton sheets, but will be a lot more comfortable than your average bed sheet.
While bed sheets are the most common form of Pima cotton, there are many other ways to indulge in the luxurious ELS material. There are robes and nightgowns, Pima cotton towels, and regular, every-day clothes.
What is a thread count?
When searching for cotton goods, whether or not it’s upland, Egyptian, or Pima cotton, will have a thread count. There are many misconceptions behind thread count, but to put it simply, it is the number of how many threads are woven into the fabric by square inch. The more threads that are in the material, the softer it will be—that doesn’t necessarily mean better or higher quality.
When looking for bed sheets, you must first know where they’re being made. If it’s in America, it’s Pima cotton. Egyptian cotton will be imported from Egypt, of course. Thread count is second to these, but always find something with more than 200 thread count. Beware of those that boast high thread count, but aren’t above $100. These will not be the quality you’re expecting!
Advantages and Disadvantages of Pima Cotton
Pima cotton is some of the softest on the market. Being cotton, not only is it a green choice, it is also hypoallergenic. This means that the cotton sheets will be unlikely to cause an allergic reaction and will be more resistant to carrying allergy-causing microbes.
Pima cotton is woven multiple times, creating a dense fabric that will be very durable. Considering you spend so much time in bed, you’ll need bed sheets that can maintain quality over the years. They’ll need to be replaced eventually, but they will remain top quality for years to come.
One of the only disadvantages of Pima cotton is the absorption qualities. While good enough for towels, Pima cotton clothes and bed sheets can easily stain, so sweat buildup is a reality when it comes to the material. They will absorb odors and retain them in the sheets, so it will be necessary to wash them regularly. Stains are a different story and are difficult to get out if applied, but it’s not impossible.
What are the types of cotton?
As stated above, cotton has been in production for millenniums. Thousands of years have passed and we still use cotton like they did in the BC era. Before bed sheets, many cultures used cotton fibers as a material for different cloths. The Indians cultivated it during the times of 6000-5000 BCE, making it one of the oldest materials that we still use today.
There are four main types of cotton:
This is the most common type of cotton that you see in the world. It makes up for about 90% of all cotton production in the world and is grown in the United States, South America, Central America, and other parts of the tropical world. It is the earliest evidence of cotton cultivation in the Americas. While being the most common, it is also the cheapest and you’ll find most of your clothing is made out of it.
This cotton is the extra-long staple cotton that we talked about earlier. This cotton plant makes some of the most luxurious material around and was the next step after the earlier cotton, though makes up of only 8% of the world’s production. These cotton plants were cultivated along the Peruvian coast and are among the finest cotton counts of them all.
This cotton, also known as tree cotton, is native to India and Pakistan and makes up less than 2% of the world’s cotton production. It is not widely spread, considering its 2% hold of the population. It is a short-staple Indian cotton and are usually too small for weaving, but are used mainly as stuffing for bedding and life preservers.
Also making up less than 2% of the world’s cotton production, but is closer to the common cotton than any of the others. It is used for many medical purposes like menstrual cycles and afterbirth, as well as nausea, fevers, and other issues.
Bed sheets are just a small portion of the cotton used today. The material is ever changing, but it will continue to be a comfort and trade good through the years to come. The benefits of cotton are immeasurable, and everyone needs at least some cotton sheets to sleep on at night. If you haven’t slept in ELS cotton sheets, you’re missing out!
Which is better?
There are a few different bed sheets that you can choose from when it comes to bed sheets. There are tons of places where you can buy some of the best bed sheets from, but which one is really the best? After all, cotton is only one of the many bed sheets you can choose from. Pima cotton is a wonderful choice between the cheap and extremely expensive and will still last for years and years.
There are many different types of bed sheets you can acquire. While regular upland cotton is the most common one, it’s the cheapest. They’ll last a while, but they won’t be as comfortable as the ELS threads that Egyptian cotton and Pima cotton obtain. Silk is the next level of luxury that you can put on your bed, but some of these bed sets can cost up to $400-500!
Here are the pros and cons of each:
This is the most common bed sheet. Anything you see that says “100% cotton” is most likely short staple fiber that we call “American Upland”. Cotton has been in production for thousands of years and has only been getting better. It is one of the most breathable and durable materials while being easy to wash.
However, with Egyptian cotton and Pima cotton, you can enjoy the high quality and super softness that comes with things like silk or polyester. Cotton, being a natural fiber, is also hypoallergenic. If you have allergies and have trouble sleeping at night, ELS cotton and other long-fiber will be resistant to those microbes and bacteria that may cause your sinuses to act up.
The main disadvantages of cotton are the absorbent properties, making them easy to pick up stains and odors if you’re not careful. Even sleeping on them without washing them for a long period of time can cause sweat stains to appear around the area where you sleep. Thankfully, since cotton is easy to wash, it’s pretty easy to keep them clean.
This is the more green choice for those of you who want to do your part to help the world. While bamboo sheets can be soft, they are usually firm and coarse. While the green thumb is a positive factor in bamboo, there are some cheaper brands that treat the resin and pulp with chemicals, making it less beneficial to the environment. However, the more expensive bamboo sheets are safe and some manufacturers boast not using these chemicals.
Bamboo sheets tend to be on the more expensive side of the spectrum when it comes to bed sheets, but it will leave you comfortable in the cool or warm weather. While being soft and enjoyable, bamboo sheets are both hypoallergenic and antibacterial. It is anti-microbial, making it resistant to mildew and mold while staving off harmful allergens. It is durable and easy to wash.
While these are great things about bamboo, it tends to shrink more than any of the other fabrics, especially cotton in comparison. While being easy to wash, they may need special laundering if they aren’t a comfortable fit on your bed. Wrinkling can also be a problem, but a quick dryer run will alleviate these problems.
Mainly being a clothing type, flannel is becoming a more popular bed sheet over the more recent years. It is the best for colder nights around the fall or winter, keeping your body heat held within the confines of the material. By measurement, flannel is usually dictated by weight rather than thread count—the higher the weight, the warmer it will be.
Flannel sheets are the easiest to clean—you can simply throw them in the wash and they won’t shrink very much, if at all. It doesn’t wrinkle, so it will look nice on your bed at all times. Usually being composed of wool, flannel is one of the more design-oriented bed sheets, giving your bed a great way to express your personality.
One of the only drawbacks when it comes to flannel is that they are often only for the fall and winter times when it gets cold. These sheets will be extremely uncomfortable in heated weather, so you will have to store them for half a year. That is, unless one enjoys being hot when they sleep. It also has a problem with shrinking since it is made out of wool.
Likely the most comfortable of the many bed sheet types, silk is the lap of luxury. However, while it may be the most comfortable, it is also the most expensive on the market. One gets what they pay for, after all. Silk has been used for hundreds of years but has only been for the highest of statuses, be it emperors, kings, and queens. Made from silkworms, the protein composed silk sheets are beautiful and useful.
Because they are composed of proteins, they are naturally hypoallergenic and temperature regulatory. They will be resistant to allergens and odors while keeping to your body temperature. It will keep you cool in the warm days and warm in the cold times of the year. They are romantic and can make any environment sexy, but sexy comes at a high cost.
The downsides to silk, aside from its cost, are also its delicate state and the need for high-maintenance care. Silk is easily ruined and it takes a large amount of care to clean. It is wise to take these sheets to professional cleaners if you’re unsure, yourself, adding to the cost of the silk bed sheets.
Without sounding biased, Pima cotton and Egyptian cotton are the best choices to go with, strictly from the value and comfort you can get from it. It is relatively inexpensive compared to bed sheets like silk, it is easy to care for and wash whenever it gets dirty, and it is still some of the softest on the market. Despite its highly-absorbent and ease of staining, it is still one of the best on the market and can go a long way over the years.
They will add a beautiful environment to your bedroom and will give you some of the best nights you will have when sleeping. You’re going to spend a lot of time in your bed, so you’ll want the best sheets on the market. Don’t be afraid to settle with the middle of the bed sheet spectrum, Pima cotton and Egyptian cotton are the ways to go!