Fabric Talk: How Is Cotton Made Non-Iron?

Cotton grows naturally as a soft, white material in curly bales on the seeds of a tall plant.  From it comes a fabric that is soft on the skin and comfortable to wear.  But when it comes to business and dress wear, where a smooth and pressed look is expected, this has presented a textile challenge: how to create a dress shirt that keeps the desired polished look and yet still feels soft against the skin?

Blended or Pure?

A common solution is to mix cotton fiber with another fiber such as rayon, wool or polyester.  The resulting fabric therefore combines the properties of the various fibers.  For example, polyester, a synthetic fiber with inherent wrinkle-resistant properties, is often combined with cotton to create a fabric consisting of 60% polyester and 40% cotton.  The result is a wrinkle-resistant fabric that still retains some of the softness of cotton.

But nothing beats the feel of pure cotton on our skin.  So the textile industry sought to find a way to keep a cotton fabric 100% natural, but more refined.  Over the years various methods have been tried to achieve this goal including a variety of chemical treatments.  Some have worked better than others, but the result is that today, you can find 100% cotton fabrics that carry a ‘non-iron’ label.  A combination of topical treatments at both the yarn and finished fabric state, and using finer yarns, such as 80-singles two-ply yarns, result in a polished, wrinkle-free cotton fabric.

Reality Check

Does this mean if you purchase a non-iron, cotton dress shirt you will never, ever have to iron it?  Not necessarily.  Why do we say that?  Since it’s a topical chemical treatment aiding in the non-iron properties of the fabric, it will most likely diminish over time.  Especially if subjected to multiple launderings with harsh laundry detergents.

That being said, there are several non-iron, cotton dress shirts that perform wonderfully and stay wrinkle-free throughout your busy day, and for several washes and wears.  If that’s what you’re in the market for, let us to direct you to some of our tried-and-true favorites.