How Does Cotton Absorb Water?

by | Feb 19, 2008 08:00 PM ET

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Marshall Brain

Hi, I'm Marshall Brain. Let's say you go down to the beach and you pick up a nice, fluffy, white towel made of pure cotton. It'll absorb a ton of water and it feels great. On the other hand, if you tried to dry off with a piece of nylon, it absorbs no water at all. Have you ever wondered why these two fabrics are so different? The answer lies in the basic, but remarkable molecular structure of cotton, nylon and water. It turns out that a cotton molecule has lots of places that can attract water molecules.

Cotton can absorb about 25 times its weight in water. A nylon molecule doesn't have nearly as many places for water to attach to. Nylon only absorbs about 10 percent of its weight in water. Textile makers normally add water repellent chemicals to nylon so it absorbs even less water. In other words, cotton could absorb about 250 times more water than nylon can. If you'd like to learn more about this and thousands of other topics, come to howstuffworks.com.

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