How To Make Paper From Cotton?

Everyone knows that paper is traditionally made from wood pulp. But, if you know how to make paper from cotton, you can grow it and/or recycle old cotton material for your homemade paper. But, how is cotton paper made?

How Do You Make Homemade Cotton Paper?

how do you make homemade cotton paper

Cotton was used for paper making long before wood pulp was used. The cotton paper ends up more durable and has a different texture than traditional paper. It also won’t dissolve on water, making it great for lasting projects.

Learning how to make paper from scratch with fresh cotton balls or old clothing and rags is a fun project, but it can be time consuming and messy.

It doesn’t require a lot of specialized equipment, so most homesteaders can take this project on. So, let’s learn how to make handmade paper from cotton using different sources you’ll find on the homestead.

How Do You Make Cotton Rag Paper?

Cotton rag paper is made essentially the same way whether you are starting with fresh cotton, cotton balls, or old fabric and clothing.

The cotton must be:

  • Prepared by being cut/ripped in small sections.
  • Boiled with water and baking soda, then rinsed and drained.
  • Blended to make pulp.
  • Poured into a large container of warm water and mixed.
  • Laid out at the desired thickness to drain excess water.
  • Fully dry by hanging.

Then, it’s finally ready to use! Let’s take a look at the steps more in-depth!

Step 1: Preparing The Cotton

The cotton must be prepared by being cut or ripped into small pieces that can fit in a pan of your choosing. The smaller the pieces you end up with here’s the easier the next couple of steps become.

Step 2: Boiling With Baking Soda

Once you have the prepared cotton, you can place in a pan of water and baking soda. The baking soda helps clean the cotton and makes turning it into pulp easier as well. Around ¼ cup per batch is typically fine.

Simmering this mixture for an hour while stirring every once in a while is good for used materials. Raw cotton may need up to 4 hours of simmering.

Once it has cooled, rinse the cotton well to remove the baking soda with cold water.

Step 3: Blending To A Pulp

To blend the cotton you can use a machine designed for it. Or, you can use a high-quality blender that you might already have on hand.

To blend it in a blender, you need to pulse on and off for about 30 seconds. Adding more than enough water is an easy way to ensure you get a good blend.

Keep blending until your cotton looks light and fluffy without any large pieces remaining.

Step 4: Mixing In Warm Water

Once the blend is finished, you will dump the mixture into a container full of warm water and mix it until it is a consistent solution.

Something as simple as a plastic tote will work just fine for the container.

Step 5: Creating The Sheet

To create sheets of paper you’ll need a frame with a screen attached. You can make frames from wood, like 2x2s and use window screen.

The inside dimensions of the frame will be the paper size. Staple or otherwise attach the screen to the frame so it’s secure and can hold the weight of the wet cotton.

You can dip this whole frame into the blended solution and shake it around to get the desired thickness of your paper.

Take it out and it’s ready to go through the drying process.

Step 6: Drying The Paper

Once you have pulled the frame from the water bath with the new paper sheet, you need to carefully blot the new paper to remove moisture. Using something like sponges or paper towels can work.

The more you blot out now, the less air-drying time you need.

Once you have blotted your paper, you can let it set dry, dry it in an oven, or use an iron to remove the water.

How To Make Paper From Cotton Balls & Raw Cotton

how to make paper from cotton balls & raw cotton

The process is essentially the same with raw cotton and cotton balls as laid out above. The only difference is that you may want to boil it a bit longer to remove the aspect of shrinkage commonly found with cotton.

To prepare the cotton, simply tear it up into little pieces. The smaller pieces that you start with, the easier your pulp-making will go.

How Do You Turn Cotton Fabric Into Paper?

Making paper from fabric scraps of cotton clothing or towels isn’t any harder than fresh cotton. Instead of ripping the fabric, you’ll cut it into little squares before boiling.

Colored fabrics can make for fancy decorative paper, but you’ll need uncolored cotton if you want plain white paper.

How To Make Cotton Watercolor Paper

If you want to make watercolor paper on the homestead, it’s as simple as making rag paper! Bleach can be used during the blending process to make white paper.

Or, you can spruce it up with dyes found in your garden from flowers and other plant material.

You Have Asked

1. How Long Does It Take To Make Homemade Paper From Cotton?

You can make paper sheets in a day and it may take another day to dry completely for use. The more experience you get and the better tools you use, the quicker the process will be.

2. How Long Does Cotton Paper Last?

Cotton rag paper has been known to last hundreds of years with the right care. So, while the process to make the paper may be time-consuming, you know you are getting a high-quality product in the end.

Ready To Make Some Homemade Cotton Paper?

You now know a couple of ingenious ways to make cotton paper from fresh cotton, rags, and clothing.

Making cotton paper on your homestead is a great way to boost self-reliance beyond food and clothing. Now you can produce all the paper that your household needs as well!

Frequently Asked Questions

how to make paper from cotton Frequently Asked Questions
1. What kind of cotton is usually used to make paper?

Cotton rag is a cotton industry by-product that is made of discarded or leftover clothing and/or fabric scraps. These literal rags are usually made of knitted or woven cotton fibers that are gathered and processed to make rag pulp. This strong cotton paper product is used to make book bindings, paper toweling and coarse writing and art paper. Cotton linter is another by-product of the cotton industry. This material consists of very fine fibers that remain on cotton seeds after ginning. These fibers are typically used to make very fine, smooth, high quality paper.

2. Is using cotton to make paper a form of recycling?

It certainly can be, and remember that for conservancy we repurpose, reduce and reuse as well as recycling. Using discarded cotton clothing to make paper products is an excellent way to recycle and reduce cotton materials headed for the landfill. Using fabric scraps from the garment industry to make paper is a great way to repurpose those leftovers. Using cotton linter to make paper is another excellent example of repurposing something that would otherwise just be a discarded by-product.

3. What is “sizing” when making paper from cotton?

Sizing is used to help make paper less absorbent. This means it can resist water damage, and it won’t soak up ink, water colors and the like when in use. There are two kinds of sizing, internal and surface. Internal sizing is added to the pulp during the papermaking process. Surface sizing is added at the end of the process. Depending upon the desired results, sizing agents range from natural substances such as starch, rosin and gelatin to chemical substances such as Alkyl Ketene Dimer (AKD), Styrene-Butadiene Latex (SBL) or Alkenyl Succinic Anhydride (ASA).

4. Why is cotton paper good?

Paper made of reused or repurposed cotton saves trees. When we choose to use cotton instead of wood pulp to create paper products, we reduce the number of trees that get chopped down for this purpose. Aside from that benefit, cotton paper is actually better than wood pulp paper. It is stronger and more durable in all applications. Everyday paper products, such as paper towels, stand up to harder use, and cotton paper used for record-keeping and archival purposes has been known to last hundreds of years without appreciable deterioration or discoloration.

5. Can you use really coarse cotton like denim to make paper?

Yes, any cotton material can be used. The end results will vary depending upon the coarseness of the material. The presenter in this video demonstrates making paper from blue jeans!

If you are looking for more cotton related advice, check out this article on how to preserve cotton stalks.

14 thoughts on “How To Make Paper From Cotton?”

  1. Can recycled cotton fabric be used for paper made on industrial scale, for example to replace plastic bags or paper made of trees?

    • The video that’s included gives specific information about sizing. They said you can either use leaf gelatin or starch. They used a cup of leaf gelatin that they’d purchased from the store in their mixture.

    • This is possible, but there are a number of variables that have to be taken into account before undertaking mass production of paper using recycled cotton.

      In order to do this, there would need to be a large supply of clean cotton rag all of similarly high quality. Differences in fiber length, color variations, material flaws and other factors would affect the texture and quality of the finished product.

      Depending upon the available supply of cotton rag and the type and quality of paper desired, mass manufacturing paper from recycled cotton may or may not be economically feasible.

      Angela’s question: If I have a t-shirt made of 100% cotton, why doesn’t it dissolve when I let it soak for hours in the washing machine?

      It takes more than soaking in water to break down cotton cloth. After simmering cotton fabric in a baking soda solution for an hour, you dry it and then break it down into pulp using a designated blender style machine or a very good quality kitchen blender.

  2. Well… This recipe seems good to make blotting paper. It seems to skip the sizing process to waterproof the paper making it useable with Inks or watercolor. If you only use cotton and water it will “dissolve” in contacting with water. I came here to see what size (internal or external) the recipe had… Oups! I tried methyl cellulose… Wasn’t quite Wright. I’ll try gelatin next.

    • I agree, they skipped the sizing step. However, this is the first tutorial for watercolor paper I’ve seen that didn’t start with copy paper, so that counts for something!

      • The video that’s included gives specific information about sizing. They said you can either use leaf gelatin or starch. They used a cup of leaf gelatin that they’d purchased from the store in their mixture.

  3. I was hoping you would include a video showing you making cotton paper from cotton clothing. I am skeptical of that working. If I have a t-shirt made of 100% cotton, why doesn’t it dissolve when I let it soak for hours in the washing machine? I hope you will include a video of this process in the future to prove it can be done.

    • Because you don’t leave it soaking in an alkaline solution that breaks down the cellulose structures in the cotton, that combined with blending the fabric scraps, a stage your washing machine skips out reduces the fabric to a pulp. The fabric hasn’t dissolved, it has just been changed through chemical and mechanical processes.

      • Is there anything other than gelatin that can be used for sizing when making paper from cotton?

        Natural substances that may be fairly readily available to you include rosin, which comes from pine trees. This can be used as an internal and/or external sizing.

        Starch derived from potatoes, wheat or corn can also be used as internal or external sizing. To do this, you would start with thoroughly cleaned potatoes, wheat or corn. Crush or blend the product into very small bits.

        Combine it with clean water (five or ten parts water to one part crushed starchy material) in a large pot on the stove. Bring the mixture to a gentle simmer and then reduce the heat to keep it simmering for about 45 minutes, stirring occasionally.

        When the mixture has thickened to a milky consistency, turn off the heat and allow the liquid to cool. Strain it through a cheesecloth or fine mesh sieve. Keep the liquid, and throw the solids into your compost heap or bin.

        The liquid may be thick. This is alright for use as an internal sizing. As a final external coating, you may need to thin it with water. For precise amounts, you may need to experiment a bit and, of course, consult the instructions for the type of paper you are making.


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