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This may be in relation to the $\ce{-O-H}$ group present in cellulose, but I would like to have a more specific answer.

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  • $\begingroup$ I think this has something to do with the hydrophobic nature of synthetic clothing materials. Cotton "absorbs" water while synthetic clothing allow water to evaporate quickly, and like you say, it might just have to do with the hydroxyl group and hydrogen bonding. $\endgroup$
    – Dissenter
    Jun 16, 2014 at 19:21

2 Answers 2

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Cotton fiber is primarily cellulose:

Cellulose

The red atoms are oxygen, and the white atoms are hydrogen. Whenever you have hydrogen attached to something extremely electronegative (such as oxygen), there is a potential for hydrogen bonding to occur:

Hydrogen Bonding in Water

As you can see, the electronegative oxygen atom draws electron density away from the more electropositive hydrogen atom, which results in a very polar bond. The positive charge on one molecule attracts the negative charge on another, and a very strong physical bond forms.

Now compare cellulose with something like nylon:

Nylon

Since water can hydrogen bond to cellulose, it "sticks" much better - we say that it is hydrophilic. Since it can't form hydrogen bonds to nylon, we say nylon is more hydrophobic.

The same is true for most synthetic polymer fibers, and as a result, cotton absorbs water much more readily than other fibers, and tends to "hang on" to the molecules for longer - which means cotton fibers take longer to dry.

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Cotton is very absorbent so the reason it takes longer to dry is physical not chemical. It has capillaries which is why it is so absorbent.

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  • $\begingroup$ Do you have a reference for this? $\endgroup$
    – canadianer
    Jun 17, 2014 at 0:07

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