Hemp vs Cotton: The Ultimate Showdown

by Joe Martino

Hemp has been making a lot of noise lately, especially with the growing awareness surrounding the use of hemp oil for treating cancer. Although the word ‘hemp’ still often gets confused and lumped into the same definition as Cannabis, a similar but psychoactive plant, it’s important to realize hemp can be a major game changer for our world if used to its potential.

As we go through this post, you will be wondering ‘why don’t we use this stuff all the time…for everything?!’ Simple answer, farming hemp was banned in the US and other countries in the 1937 because of the threat it caused to certain companies and their businesses. More about that here.

Although hemp has many practical uses, let’s focus on one that would affect us every day; clothing. For this, we will compare hemp to cotton, as cotton is a very popular resource used in clothing production. We’ll need to focus on various areas that have to be taken into consideration when comparing the two so we can determine not only what is better for us, but also what is best for our environment as it’s important to view things holistically. Let’s do it.


Cotton: To grow cotton you require about 1400 gallons of water for every pound you intend to produce. That’s a lot of water! Some areas of the world that produce cotton are running out of fresh water due to the production of cotton as well as clothing. Some areas of the world have even experienced desertification as a result of producing cotton.

Hemp: You require about half the amount of water to produce hemp as you would if producing cotton. Hemp is a strong and reliable plant that grows very quickly. Not only that, hemp produces about 200% – 250% more fiber on the same amount of land compared to cotton.

The victor: Hemp


Cotton: One of the biggest downsides to cotton is how much pesticides are used to grow the plant. Although organic cotton farming is beginning to catch on a bit more, the production of cotton worldwide takes up about 25% of the world’s pesticide use. The other unfortunate factor is that these chemicals can end up being absorbed into our skin as we wear our clothing.

Hemp: The beauty of hemp is that it requires no pesticides to grow. In fact, it doesn’t require any chemicals at all to grow. The growing nature of the plant competes with weeds and overpowers their ability to sustain themselves. This allows the hemp plant to grow freely and quickly.

The victor: Hemp

Comfort & Longevity

Cotton: Generally very comfortable to begin with, as you continue to wear cotton it ‘breaks in’ to become even more comfortable. There is no denying how soft cotton can be, but it is also true that cotton fibers break down over time, and the more it is washed the faster it breaks down.

Hemp: The hemp fiber used in clothing is a strong natural fiber that, like cotton, gets progressively softer with each passing day you wear it and each time you wash it. Although it may not start off quite as soft, it is still soft and certainly would not be considered uncomfortable. The plus is that the fiber is much stronger and more durable. Repeated washing will not break the fiber down anywhere near as quickly as cotton. Creating more hemp clothing would mean we would need to produce much less clothing.

The victor: Hemp

Breathability & Wicking

Cotton: Breathability is certainly a strong suit for cotton. It also does not hold odors very much. This is quite possibly one of the biggest downsides to synthetic fibers; they don’t dispel odor well and don’t often deal with moisture well either. While cotton has a natural wicking system, it also holds moisture a little longer than what might be considered most desirable.

Hemp: Performs very well when it comes to breathability and wicks moisture away from the body effectively. Hemp also carries anti-bacterial properties that trump any other natural fiber. This means hemp will not mold or grow mildew very easily. Since it also does not hold odors, hemp clothing edges out cotton slightly on this one

The victor: Almost a tie, but hemp is our pal on this one again


Cotton: Without the use of dyes, cotton comes naturally in white, cream and off-white. Cotton can be dyed naturally or synthetically to achieve a desired color. The growing knowledge that cotton is very taxing on the environment and not healthy for our skin is creating quite the demand for organic cotton. In terms of the fashion market, organic cotton is showing up more and more.

Hemp: Given the various processes available to remove fibers from the stem of a hemp plant, hemp can be naturally creamy white, black, green, grey or brown. Without even requiring the use of dye, hemp comes in a variety of colors. Of course, you are still able to dye hemp both naturally and synthetically. Hemp is quickly becoming more and more popular in the fashion market as designers see the potential in the material while being a very environmentally sound option. Since it is durable and lasts a long time, it can be attractive to certain designers.

The victor: Hemp

Final Decision

Winner by knockout and growing undisputed champion of natural harmony, HEMP! This isn’t to say that cotton, especially grown organically, is not a good material; it simply isn’t better all around than hemp. In some cases, cotton could be a must use if something specific is being produced. The biggest differences are in the facts that hemp requires much less water and no pesticides to produce. Not only that, it boasts a lot more fiber per acre. Concerned about excess CO2 in the atmosphere? Hemp is spectacular at sequestering CO2! Take the time to check out some hemp clothing around the Internet or see if there are some local stores that sell it. Although options can sometimes be limited right now, look out for more hemp clothing as awareness continues to spread!

Hey, name’s Joe and you are currently engaged in what I’m passionate about, Collective Evolution. I am a creator of CE and have been heavily at it for 4 years. I love inspiring others to make change and am excited to play an active role in making this all happen. Hands down the only other thing I am this passionate about is baseball. Email me: joe@collective-evolution.com

  • Anonymous

    "Hemp has been making a lot of noise lately, especially with the growing awareness surrounding the use of hemp oil for treating cancer. Although the word ‘hemp’ still often gets confused and lumped into the same definition as Cannabis…"
    Bacause YOU cause the confusion in your own sentence. The oil used to treat cancer IS extracted from CANNABIS, NOT HEMP!

  • Anonymous

    Hemp IS cannabis. Not "similar", but IS.

    Poodles and dobermans may be different dogs, but they are the same species, as is hamp and marijuana.

    I have a pair of hemp jeans that are going strong after 20 years… they were made well enough such that the zipper was able to easily be replaced, and I figure I'll get another 20 out of them before my kid steals them from me.

  • Anonymous

    My experience with hemp fiber (called "ramie" in the trade) is that it makes a cloth which is stiff and unconfortable to wear, and that this quality is not changed by washing.

  • Anonymous

    Cannabis IS cannabis. The various cultivars of cannabis include hemp for seed/fiber and 'marijuana' for medicine. The exact same plant, different cultivars. No wonder the hemp movement is stymied. No one knows what the heck they are talking about…I worked (picking tobacco) for Canada's first hemp grower, and was the first licensed medical cannabis grower (for Jim Wakeford) in Canada. Get thee to an introductory botany course. FFS…it gets old pointing out the same thing over and over again. Look up 'cannabis nomenclature'.

  • Anonymous

    According to the Hemp.com website, hemp is legal in China, Canada, the UK, and many countries in Europe. So why do those countries import cotton? Why do those countries not use hemp for everything, if it's so wonderful? Why do they grow or import cotton at all?

    Hemp.com: "GREAT BRITAIN lifted hemp prohibition in 1993. A government grant was given to develop new markets for natural fibers. Subsidies of $230 Eng. pounds per acre are given by the govt. for growing."

    If this fiber is so miraculous, why does the government even NEED to help develop markets? Why does the even NEED to give subsidies for growing? Why can't such a wonderful product?

    Hemp.com: "HUNGARY is one of the biggest exporters of hemp cordage, rugs and hemp fabric to the US."

    So clearly America is able to import hemp rope from Hungary. Why aren't we awash in this oh so perfect product?

    Hemp.com: "Canada had over 30,000 acres were planted in 1999."

    And yet they haven't made a dime on it.

    People, please get real. In places where hemp is legal and available, people still don't want it. It just isn't the killer product it's made out to be.

  • Anonymous

    I am wearing it now, soft comfortable

  • Anonymous

    The good news is even if a field catches fire, you can still have a party.

  • Anonymous

    Cotton sucks compared to hemp, which is the most versatile plant on the planet.

    All the above posters who love cotton so much, you will be receiving your checks in the mail soon via the cotton industry.

    Thanks demons, for doing your part in helping ruin the hemp plant for your personal greedy pathetic hangups.

  • Anonymous

    Corporate run political policies are in play constantly at all levels. If THEY don't want it..we don't get it….GOT IT??

  • Anonymous

    It depends how the fibers have been treated; when the hemp is retted, by what means (hand-retting vs. machine) and technique of cloth-making. Hemp can be buttery soft while still long-lasting.

  • Ideaman

    Both Hemp and Marijuana are Cannabis plants, just different strains. You may want to fix that in the beginning.

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