Hemp vs. Cotton: Which Fabric Is More Eco-friendly?

Wondering what the differences are between Hemp vs. Cotton?

This material summary will discuss what is hemp and cotton, the benefits and drawbacks of each fabric, and find out which natural fiber is more eco-friendly.

What is Hemp?

Hemp fibers are harvested from the bast fibers of hemp plants, which form part of the Cannabis species.

Hemp field, Hemp vs. Cotton

Hemp is grown in temperate zones across the world, including China, Canada, and France.

The hemp plant can reach a height of up to 5 meters (16 feet).

Hemp fibers are considered one of the strongest natural fibers, and hemp clothing, hemp shoes, and hemp bedding, is gaining popularity within the sustainable fashion and lifestyle industry as an alternative to cotton and polyester, thanks to being entirely biodegradable, sustainable, and requiring less irrigation to grow.

How is Hemp Fabric Made?

The following infographic shows the stages of industrial hemp fabric production, from harvesting to hemp cloth.

How Hemp fibers are made, Hemp vs. Cotton

Benefits of Hemp Fabric

  • Breathable and lightweight fabric.
  • Hemp fibers are stronger and more durable than cotton fibers.
  • Hemp is an eco-friendly fabric as it absorbs CO2, fertilizes the soil, and requires little irrigation.
  • Hemp needs approximately half as much land and half as much water as cotton does to produce.
  • Hemp does not require harmful pesticides or fertilizers.
  • Biodegradable as it is a natural fiber.

Drawbacks of Hemp

  • Material can wrinkle easily.
  • Hemp clothes can be more expensive than cotton or cheap polyester clothing.
  • Negative consumer perspective on Hemp.

What is Cotton?

Cotton field, Hemp vs. Cotton

Cotton is a natural fiber obtained from the Gossypium plant species.

Cotton is the most cultivated textile fiber globally, with around 26 million tonnes of cotton produced for the fashion industry.

Benefits of Cotton Fabric?

  • Cotton is a popular choice for clothing as it’s breathable, soft, and durable, and it will easily take up dyes, making it a versatile choice for the clothing industry.
  • Biodegradable, unlike polyester, pure cotton will biodegrade at the end of life. In addition, you can recycle cotton fabric into new garments.
  • Cotton creates softer fibers and fabrics than Hemp.

Drawbacks of Cotton

Compared to Hemp, there are many environmental disadvantages of cotton.

  • Cotton production requires extensive irrigation to grow, using around 44 trillion liters of water annually.
  • Cotton also requires toxic pesticides to prevent insects from damaging crops. However, these pesticides can be harmful and toxic to humans and animals. In addition, these pesticides can leech into and damage soil and pollute waterways.
  • Cotton is an energy-intensive crop to grow and requires

Is Hemp better for the environment than cotton?

Overall, yes, Hemp is a more environmentally friendly choice of fabric than cotton for the following reasons:

  • Hemp farming requires less land usage and half as much water as cotton to grow.
  • Unlike cotton, Hemp fertilizes the soil, while Cotton depletes nutrients in the soil.
  • Hemp can be grown without the use of harmful pesticides or toxic chemicals.
  • Hemp is a more durable fiber meaning clothing may last longer than cotton clothing.

Conclusion: Hemp vs. Cotton

If you’re looking for an eco-friendly, robust and durable fabric, Hemp is a better choice overall than cotton.

However, if you enjoy the soft benefits of cotton, choosing organic cotton over cotton is also an eco-friendly switch.

To read more about organic cotton and the benefits of this sustainable material, look at our related article on Organic Cotton vs. Conventional Cotton.


Bethany Worthington BSc (Hons) (she/her) is the Sustainable Fashion Editor and Co-founder of Ecothes. She has a passion for the environment, and a long love of all things clothing, and combines those two interests with Ecothes. In her free time she loves dancing, hiking in the countryside, and laughing with friends.

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