Luxury Fabrics: What Is Egyptian Cotton?

Egyptian cotton, a luxurious cotton grown along the Nile, is used to make products which are soft, durable and superior.

Towels, bed sheets, cloth diapers, bathrobes, shirts, tents, tablecloths, stuffed animals, chef's coats - these are just a handful of the products that can be made with cotton. Find an advertisement for any of these products made of Egyptian cotton, and you are bound to find claims of softness, luxuriousness, and high quality.

What is Egyptian cotton?

Egyptian cotton comes from where its name suggests - Egypt. The humid conditions and rich soil in Egypt along the Nile River Valley create the perfect conditions to grow long cotton fibers (also known as staples), and Egyptian cotton falls under the classification of an ELS (extra-long staple) cotton. The staples of Egyptian cotton can range from 1 1/2 inches to 2 1/4 inches. Their long length (about twice the size of other cotton fibers) allows them to be spun into very fine yarns. These yarns are soft and lustrous yet are very strong and durable.

Another property of Egyptian cotton that makes it high quality is its ability to absorb liquid. This ability allows it soak in dies that give the final product very vibrant color that lasts longer than some other cotton products. This makes for very absorbent products like bath towels and bathrobes which are also very soft.

Can Egyptian cotton be made elsewhere?

True Egyptian cotton comes only from Egypt. Because cotton grown elsewhere was being sold as Egyptian, an Egyptian cotton logo was trademarked in 2001. It is used to distinguish 100% Egyptian cotton products from other cottons. The logo consists of a white cotton plant inside a dark triangle (symbolizing an Egyptian pyramid). Egypt is eager to hold onto its cotton's fine reputation because it is one of Egypt's oldest, best, and fastest growing markets.

There is an American version of Egyptian cotton known as Pima cotton. The Pima Indian Reservation in Arizona began to grow it in the early 1900's to meet an increasing demand for long staple cotton. Pima cotton is also an ESL cotton that produces soft, durable cotton. There is a debate among the Egyptian cotton producers and the Pima cotton producers over which cotton is superior.

What should I look for in an Egyptian cotton product?

The first thing to look for is the percentage of Egyptian cotton used. The standards in the United States call for exact percentages to be used when describing a cloth's content. A product made of 100% Egyptian cotton will be of better quality than a product made with some Egyptian cotton and some inferior quality cotton.

The next thing to look for is thread count. Thread count is simply how many threads of cotton are woven lengthwise and widthwise into an inch of fabric. A good quality thread count of any cotton usually starts at about 200. Since Egyptian cotton is softer and more durable than others, a 200 count sheet set made of Egyptian cotton will be of better quality than a 200 count sheet set made from many other types of cotton. The Egyptian cotton sheets should be softer and more comfortable. They will also most likely be more expensive. As the thread count gets higher the quality of the fabric also rises.

Egyptian cotton is used to make a variety of high quality, durable products. If you are looking to add a little luxury to your cotton products, perhaps Egyptian cotton is the way to go.

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