4 Weird and Wonderful Uses for Cotton & Cottonseed

If you wear socially acceptable clothing, you probably touch at least one cotton product every day. Most jeans, T-shirts, towels, and bedsheets contain at least some cotton. It’s hard to argue with the comfort, convenience, and low cost of cotton clothing and house linens.

But cotton isn’t just for clothing and housewares. The ancient thread turns up in a bevy of surprising places. And cottonseed is arguably even more versatile. Here’s a look at four surprising, and possibly weird, uses for cotton and cottonseed.

1. Body Wash

Thanks to its rich, healthy mix of lipids and its pleasant texture, cottonseed oil is an increasingly popular ingredient in exfoliating body scrubs. New York Magazine reviewed a cottonseed-infused Madapollam body wash that “smells like a fresh T-shirt plucked straight from the wash”. High praise indeed, given the category’s overall reputation as a nose-wrinkler.

According to the reviewer, the scrub leaves the skin “soft, moisturized and noticeably smoother.” That’s pretty much all you can ask for from your body wash, isn’t it?

2. Cosmetics

Cottonseed oil is a popular ingredient in cosmetic products, notably face creams, lip balms and moisturizers. In a recent review, Allure Magazine noted that Smith’s Rosebud Salve, a cottonseed oil-based lip balm that moisturizes and protects every bit as well as the modern competition, is more than 120 years old. How many other brands can say that?

3. Aquaculture Ingredients

The most out-there use for cotton might just come courtesy of the New Mexico State University agriculture department. Located on a high, windswept plain that very nearly meets the technical definition of desert, NSMU Agriculture is developing a closed-loop aquaculture system that uses — you guessed it — cottonseed inputs to sustain an ecosystem teeming with shrimp and other marine creatures. The system could be ready for commercialization within a few years, meaning cotton-raised shrimp might soon come to a table near you.

4. Adhesive

This one’s pretty odd too. Turns out that cottonseed meal might be the best thing to happen to the adhesive industry since the horse’s hoof. (Thankfully, no one boils horses down for glue anymore, or so we think.)

The key, lies in an innovative washing process pioneered by a USDA lab in New Orleans. The process strips cottonseed meal of fragments that inhibit water repellence. The remaining protein is exceedingly sticky when heated to temperatures above 200 degrees. More than one million tons of cottonseed meal are used for cattle feed out every year, but could be redirected to use in renewable “green adhesives”, this is great news for an industry that continues to rely on nonrenewable ingredients, like petroleum.

The Cotton Train Rolls On

Cotton has been around since before the pyramids were built, but that doesn’t mean that humans have stopped looking for new and novel uses for what’s proven to be a very versatile plant. Dozens of cotton-related research projects are going down as we speak. While some won’t amount to much, others are likely to uncover new processes and uses that add value, and give growers yet another reason to plant cotton year after year. Check back soon; we may yet need to add to this list.

Which weird use for cotton intrigues you most?

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