Ring Spun Cotton vs. Combed Cotton

Close up of a cotton

Stockbyte/Stockbyte/Getty Images

Textile mills develop different fabric treatments and finishes each collection season to excite designers as well as fabric purchasers. Cotton goods labeled as ring spun or combed, describe the textile treatment process and finish. Although the added processing generally raises the fabric cost, it also produces higher quality cotton with a softer texture, referred to as soft-hand. Garments manufactured with these cotton goods, like knitted T-shirts or fine woven blouses, retail at higher price points.

Staple Yarns

Natural fibers, such as cotton, require sufficient length, strength and pliability. The length of the fibers (referred to as the staple) varies, generally ¾ to 1 ½ inches for cotton. Mills producing cotton fabric separate fibers, using a process referred to as carding, prior to making the yarn. In cotton, carding removes dirt, debris and short fibers. This separating process passes fibers through a filmy sheet, funneling them into a soft mass called a sliver. These sheets then pass between rollers covered in fine-wire card cloth, brushing the sheets. This necessary process prepares the cotton prior to spinning or combing.

Producing Ring-Spun Cotton

Twisting fibers produces yarn. Spinning is the added process used to produce ring spun cotton. Since each textile mill's machinery varies, the spinning methods differentiate. The term "ring spun" ensures that the mill spun the yarn using ring frames. This process continuously twists and thins the cotton-fiber strands, producing a fine, rope-like thread or yarn. The more twists to the inch, the stronger and softer the yarn. Whether knitted or woven into material, the ring spun yarn retains its strength and softness.

Shopping for Ring-Spun Garments

T-shirts, skirts, rompers and dresses are just a few styles of clothing made out of ring spun cotton. Since this cotton type is made from fine yarns, the soft and smooth texture of the fabric is one of the main selling features. Designers include the term "ring spun" as part of the label to ensure customers of the garment's comfort, durability and softness.

Producing Combed Cotton

Lustrous and smooth cotton fabric most likely has undergone combing. The combing process makes the fibers parallel in the sliver by removing the short fibers, also referred to as staple fibers, from the long-staple cotton. The sliver is drawn out narrower and narrower, depending on the fineness of the yarn to be produced. Combing requires long fibers to produce the fine, uniform yarns necessary to give the combed cotton material its high sheen finish.

Shopping for Combed Cotton Garments

A quick way to differentiate untreated cotton from combed is to look at the fabric's sheen. If the garment does not have a pronounced sheen and appears flat or dull, most likely the item was manufactured with uncombed cotton fabric. Most designers label the styles as combed, alerting the consumer that they are purchasing higher quality goods, justifying the higher retail price. For instance, French voile or batiste blouses often use fine-quality combed cotton.