How to Tell if Fabric is 100 Cotton? Identify in 5 Minutes

How to Tell if Fabric is 100 Cotton? Throw it into the fire. Hold on, that sounds wrong. Let me rephrase; burn a small piece of the fabric, if your fabric is 100% cotton, then it will not curl or melt, it will burn like paper and also leave ash as well. That’s how to tell if the fabric is 100 cotton material.

Fire has a weird way of bringing things to light (no pun intended).

How to Tell if Fabric is 100 Cotton

Yes, one of the most common and surprisingly effective ways to determine fabric quality is by burning it, just like gold! Of course, that’s not going to be a proper method in most cases.

Then, how will you determine a cotton fabric’s authenticity without putting things up in flame? There are several other methods to do it. However, the caveat is that those might not be as accurate and as telling as the fiery method.

In this article, you’ll learn the ways of True cotton fabric, and here are the ways you can tell if what you have is an impostor!

How to Tell if Fabric is 100% Cotton: 2 Ways

How to Tell if Fabric is 100 Cotton with Burn Test

In the fabric burn test, you’re going to take a flame and hold a piece of supposedly cotton cloth on it. The way the cloth burns will tell you whether it’s 100 percent cotton or not.

But first, you need a few items. Take a look if you have these items,

  • Something to burn the cloth, a matchbox or a lighter will do!
  • Water or sand in case things get out of hand, you never know
  • Long tweezers for holding the piece of cloth
  • And of course a small piece of the fabric
cotton burn test

How Do You Go on About The Cotton Burn Test?

  1. Take the piece of fabric in one hand and the lighter/matchbox in another
  2. Once the flame is out, take a corner of the fabric and hold it near the flame
  3. You have to pay attention to three things; Smell,  How it burns, and ashes.
    •  Cotton will smell like paper on fire, and it’ll have the orange afterglow when you put out the flame
    • Cotton will not melt
    • It burns quickly
  4. Once the fabric has burnt to its last millimeter, let it cool down and notice the ashes
    • Ashes from burnt cotton are soft.
    •  It feels very brittle. One touch and it will crumble to dust
    •  Won’t feel sticky, nor it will look like lumps
    •  If you pinch the ashes, they’ll bind together
    •  They will dissolve in water
  5. You can do another test by taking out a small cotton fiber from the fabric, holding the fabric just like before, and bringing the flame closer. Notice how it behaves.
    •  Cotton fiber will stay put and start to ignite in flame once the flame gets close
    • Synthetic fiber won’t do that, rather it’ll curl away from the flame and start to melt

Now that you’ve done all the steps determine whether it’s cotton or not. Answer these sets of questions below.

Set 1:

  • Did the fabric smell like burnt paper?
  • Did the fabric have orange to yellow afterglow?
  • Did the ashes dissolve in water?

Set 2:

  • Did the fabric melt?
  • Did the odor smell like burning hair or chemicals?
  • Did the ashes feel brittle?

If the answer to set 1 is “Yes” for all of the questions, you’re holding 100% cotton fiber. However, if it’s a No for each question in set 1, and a Yes for questions in set 2, that’s either synthetic fiber or wool.

We’re not done! With the technologies becoming more advanced as days go by, it’s becoming hard to differentiate between natural and semi-natural fabrics. Even semi-natural cotton will show close results in the burning test.

Then you have fibers like Linen and Rayon, which have similar traits to confuse you. But you can differentiate between them since Linen burns more slowly, and Rayon doesn’t have that afterglow after burning.

Note: If the fabric doesn’t melt, but rather burns to ashes, it’s most likely a pure cotton fabric. But to leave no doubts in your mind, test the fabric with other methods as well.

How Sensitive are You?

The question feels like a personal attack, but how sensitive is your skin? This method won’t be useful for thick-skinned folk!

Anyway, leaving all the jokes aside, feeling the fabric through the skin can tell a lot about the fabric’s quality, especially when the fabric is cotton.

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How to Identify if Fabric is 100% Cotton by Touching it (Without Burning)?

You can tell if your fabric is pure cotton by feeling it through the skin. Cotton fiber makes for a light fabric that has a distinct feeling on the skin.

Although cotton is light, it can come in different thicknesses. So the thickness isn’t a proper feature for determination. What you are looking for is stiffness and roughness on the fabric surface.

Pure cotton can be quite stiff. In case you take a cotton fabric and pinch a little portion of it, there will be a lasting wrinkle. If you fold it and press along the fold, it’ll create a lasting line. You get the point, right?

The fabric usually softens after washing. Even then it’s easy to create a crease.

100% cotton fabric allows air to pass through quite comfortably. Despite the texture on the surface, the fabric feels soft on the skin. One of the best places to test its softness is your face.

Close your eyes, and lay the fabric on your cheek. Synthetic fibers such as polycotton, and polyester will feel very smooth and silky, whereas cotton is less slippery. Wool is a scratchy fiber with a hint of coarseness. Cotton isn’t coarse.

Polyester and wool don’t hold their shape well. Only if you iron them enough, they’ll form a line, but it’ll be very short-living.

Note: When you touch the fabric and feel it through your face, cotton will feel breezy and soft, and it should hold a shape and crease easily,

Make it Wet:

Thanks to the structural properties of cotton fiber, the cotton fabric holds more water for a longer period. It doesn’t dry as quickly as polyester or silk.

Cotton shrinks if you use hot water to wash it, especially if it’s the first time you’re washing it. How much it shrinks is up for debate. Some experienced a 10% percent shrinkage, while most people say it shrinks from 2-5%. But it also goes back to its original size after wearing it for a while.

When you wash cotton fabric by hand or in the washing machine, the results are wrinkled and crooked fabric. And the level of wrinkling is more than that of silk, polyester, or polycotton. So this can be a pretty easy method to determine the fabric’s authenticity.

For the last two methods, it’s better if you have something to compare. Collect either a piece of certified pure cotton fabric or a polyester/mixed/polycotton fiber. It’ll help to compare them.

The Easiest Method:

Not trying to be the captain obvious, but if you buy from a good brand, you can easily upon the tag ‘100% Cotton’ on the fiber. All good quality brands should have labels on their fabric. Try the above methods only if the fabric doesn’t have any labels.

Time Tells:

Although this won’t help too much in preventing fraud, the durability of clothes can tell a lot about the fabric. Wear clothes made with different fabrics, including cotton, and see which one wears out faster. Cotton, like all-natural products, doesn’t last as long as polycotton or mixed cotton-polyester fabric.

Short for time? Rip a piece of fabric. Cotton will be much easier to rip.

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But Why You Should Test if The Material is 100% Cotton?

It begs the question; why do you need to know if your fabric is made from pure cotton or not?

The main reason is to protect yourself from being made a fool. If you’re going to pay the price for a piece of cotton fabric, you damn well get one. But it’s possible that someone mishandled or deliberately gave you the wrong one.

With over 50% of all fabrics having a percentage of cotton in them, it’s necessary to make sure that what you’re buying is 100% cotton or a piece of mixed fabric.

If you have allergies or sensitive skin, it’s vital to know if the fabric is authentic.

In hotter climates, especially those with humid weather conditions, cotton is the most desired fabric for clothes. Knowing how to tell if fabric is 100% cotton or not matters a lot in purchasing a fabric.

Final Words

To sum it up, there isn’t a shortage of methods. If you don’t prefer to burn any fabric, you have other safe methods for telling if the fabric is 100 cotton or not. Due to better manufacturing technologies, determining through feeling can be quite tough!

However, I know most people will go for the burn test just like me. It’s certainly easier, and also the fastest and most precise way.

Hi, I'm Robert Jameson. I'm a textile engineer. As a textile engineer, I design & create fabric. When I'm not busy with my family members, I research, write, and edit content for Fabric Fits.

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