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Synthetic fibers like polypropylene have dominated in diapers, now, cotton is beginning to make its way into hygiene applications, especially as consumers are eager for products deemed as natural and biodegradable.

In the 2015 Fiber Market Report (Nonwovens Industry) cotton is discussed  by Jan O'Regan, director of strategic initiatives at Cotton Incorporated. A frequent category mentioned as an area of growth among fiber companies is hygiene, and that’s not surprising. The rapid growth of the aging population in countries around the globe is sure to support the increasing role—and need—that various fibers play in products such as adult incontinence items. And while synthetic fibers like polypropylene have dominated in diapers, cotton is beginning to make its way into hygiene applications, especially as consumers are eager for products deemed as natural and biodegradable. 

Soft, comfortable, natural. These are the three words consumers consistently associate with cotton comments O'Regan. It’s no wonder why companies in nonwovens would consider the fiber, especially for products that come in contact with skin. With a stable cotton economic situation, supply and demand balance, O’Regan notes there’s been a tremendous amount of interest for cotton in nonwovens recently. “Since 2010, global cotton harvests have been strong and global inventories are plentiful. Right now we have an abundance of cotton worldwide. What this means for the nonwovens markets is stability in the market with affordable prices. As a result, cotton is experiencing high demand for product development and innovation in a variety of markets.”

While she says cotton has always had a place in the medical markets in nonwovens, being part of products such as wound dressings, the fiber most recently has taken over in feminine hygiene, diapers, and adult incontinence products. Some new products that contain cotton are Walmart Equate Options and Cottony brands of adult pads and liners, the HDIS Reassure brand 100% cotton adult products, and Target Up & Up diapers and wipes, O’Regan says. Another example is Seventh Generation, which incorporates T J Beall's greige "True Cotton" in the backsheet of its baby diapers and is intended to be soft to the touch for moms and dads changing their babies. The aforementioned Seventh Generation diapers incorporate the mechanically cleaned True Cotton, produced by cotton manufacturer and supplier TJ Beall. The oils and pectins it retains make it “naturally hydrophobic but oleophilic,” O’Regan explains. The new diapers—called Touch of Cloth—debuted exclusively at Target stores in the U.S. in the fall of 2014 and are now also being sold on Amazon.com.

Lawson Gary, COO at TJ Beall, says the company has been working to clean fibers without scouring or bleaching since his father built one of the first mote re-ginning facilities in the U.S. “This process takes cotton gin waste and processes it into usable fibers for the traditional textile, technical textile, and currency paper markets,” Gary explains. “We used many of the theories developed in our mote re-ginning process and applied them to finer-cleaning equipment for our proprietary "True Cotton" manufacturing facility.”

"True Cotton", which received an INDEX 14 Award from EDANA, was developed prior to TJ Beall’s partnership with Seventh Generation. T J Beall immediately realized that they had developed a fiber with an unparalleled sustainability profile and that this was a perfect fit for their sustainable brand.”

 

Another player in the cotton market is Barnhardt, which produces a variety of purified cotton products for nonwovens. The company’s latest product is its High Q EcoBlend, which is a hybrid product comprised of long staple cotton fibers that have been recycled, according to Ginny Casstevens, Barnhardt’s director of sales & marketing – Nonwoven Fibers. “Not only does this product offer a stronger environmental profile, it also offers a lower cost solution for most nonwoven applications,” she says.

This year, Barnhardt announced that a majority of its products have earned the USDA Certified Biobased Product Label, which verifies that the amount of renewable biobased ingredients in its products meets or exceed levels set by the USDA. Among the certified products are Barnhardt’s High Q EcoBlend, High Q Ultra, HiLoft, HyDri and NeedleEze High Q.

According to the USDA’s BioPreferred program website, biobased products are “derived from plants and other renewable agricultural, marine, and forestry materials and provide an alternative to conventional petroleum derived products.” The goal of the program is to increase the purchase and use of biobased products.

“Our use of the label allows our products to be immediately identified as products that are helping to fulfill the purpose of the program, which is to reduce petroleum consumption, increase the use of renewable resources, better manage the carbon cycle and possibly contribute to reducing adverse environmental and health impacts,” Casstevens explains. “Additionally, the program is expected to promote economic development, creating new jobs and providing new markets for farm commodities.”

Casstevens agrees that the hygiene market is a growing area for cotton. Within this realm, Barnhardt’s HyDri fiber was designed specifically for applications—like topsheets or leg cuffs—where hydrophobicity is needed. Its HiLoft product also has a place in hygiene, acting as an absorbent, highly resilient purified cotton for use where liquid acquisition and capacities are desired.

 

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