What Is Organic Cotton Exactly?

What Is Organic Cotton Exactly?

You may have been buying regular cotton up until now and you’re interested in learning more about organic cotton.

In this quick guide, we outline exactly what organic cotton is.


What Is Sustainable & Organic Farming?

Before we talk about what organic cotton is – it pays to know generally what organic farming is.

Organic or sustainable farming might be described as:


  • To sustain a method of production in the long term (and thus make it sustainable), healthy and climate change resilient soils must be maintained, biodiversity of seeds and wildlife must be promoted and the livelihoods of farmers protected.
  • Organic agriculture is based on this approach.
  • The system can’t be reliant on non-renewable resources, such as synthetic fertilisers and pesticides.
  • Any kind of mono-crop production utilising non-renewable synthetic fertilisers and pesticides and Bt Genetically Modified seeds cannot be considered environmentally sustainable by any reasonable definition.
  • Sustainability is often described as a journey of small manageable steps. But it is important to keep the end goal in mind.

– cottonedon.org


What Is Organic Cotton

The term ‘organic’ can be used by brands to market a range of products – from clothing, to food.

But, what the term organic actually means differs wildly depending on how it is being used.

Sometimes it can be used as a marketing ploy by companies trying to make money from ethical focused consumers. This is usually the case when the product doesn’t meet any certification guidelines, and may not reflect what the consumer thinks they are getting for an ‘organic’ product.

When it comes to organic cotton specifically, it depends on which definition from which organisation or body you look at as to what exactly you are getting with an organic cotton purchase.

In the United States for example, you’ll find different definitions of an organic cotton product when you look at these different sources:

  • the OTA (Organic Trade Association) definition
  • the USDA (United States Department Of Agriculture) definition
  • the GOTS (Global Organic Textile Standard) definition

In general, organic cotton usually means:

– cotton that was grown without synthetic additives in the form of fertilizers or pesticides, and wasn’t genetically modified.

In other words, organic cotton should really be cotton that relies on natural systems and natural inputs/resource, and cotton that minimises negative impact on the environment, humans and wildlife.


One description of organic cotton might be:

  • Organic cotton is grown using methods and materials that have a low impact on the environment.
  • Organic production systems replenish and maintain soil fertility, reduce the use of toxic and persistent pesticides and fertilizers, and build biologically diverse agriculture.
  • Third­-party certification organizations verify that organic producers use only methods and materials allowed in organic production.
  • Organic cotton is grown without the use of toxic and persistent pesticides and synthetic fertilizers.
  • In addition, federal regulations prohibit the use of genetically engineered seed for organic farming.
  • All cotton sold as organic in the United States must meet strict federal regulations covering how the cotton is grown.

– organiccottonplus.com


The GOTS Standard – Certification For Organic Cotton Textiles

When you are looking for organic cotton clothing for example, you probably want to look for GOTS certification on the label.

This is probably the best way to make sure you know how that cotton clothing has been grown and produced to make that product.

If you briefly read over GOTS’ criteria for the cotton growing and production process before you buy an organic cotton product, and you look for the GOTS label on the clothing you are buying – you can be sure you know what you’re getting.

Read more about GOTS certification and what that entails in that guide.


As a secondary way of identifying organic cotton (but, make sure the product has the GOTS symbol first), you may look for the Soil Association symbol or the Organic Exchange symbol.

  • Soil Association symbol – Product certified to the Global Organic Textile Standard by Soil Association Certification Ltd. The Soil Association was a founder member of GOTS and is a quarter owner of Global Standard GmbH which manages the GOTS.
  • OE100 symbol – Cotton in the product grown to organic standards. Product has been tracked and traced along the supply chain by an independent, third party. Contains 100% certified organic cotton fibre, but hasn’t necessarily been processed to organic standards.
  • OE Blended symbol – Product contains a minimum 5% of organic cotton fibre.

– cottonedon.org



1. https://organiccottonplus.com/pages/learning-center

2. https://organiccottonplus.com/pages/learning-center#questions-and-answers

3. https://organiccotton.org/oc/Organic-cotton/Agronomic-practice/Agronomic-practice.php

4. http://www.cottonedon.org/FAQS

5. https://fashionhedge.com/2015/03/12/the-truth-about-organic-cotton/

6. https://www.global-standard.org/the-standard/general-description.html

7. http://www.cottonedon.org/FAQS#sustainable

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