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What is Cotton Duck?

Mary McMahon
Updated Feb 04, 2024
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Cotton duck is a type of textile. It is used in a wide range of industries, and can be used in the manufacture of shoes, slipcovers for furniture, work clothes, sails, bags, and a variety of other things. As a general rule, the fabric is plain but very strong. The classic color is unbleached white, but many manufacturers also dye their duck to meet consumer demand for other colors. It is available by the yard (or meter) at many fabric stores.

For those readers visualizing waterfowl made from textiles, the origins of the term are unfortunately more mundane. It comes from a Dutch word, doek, which means “linen canvas.” The “cotton” is added to distinguish it from traditional duck. Cotton duck is, however, involved with the history of duct tape, sometimes called duck tape. The original duct tape was in fact made from this fabric, treated with a special adhesive.

There are 10 grades of cotton duck, from one, the most heavy, to ten, the most lightweight. The grades refer to the weight and thickness of the material, and are standardized across most of the textile industry. Grades are assigned on the basis of how much a piece of fabric of a specific size weighs. Individual traditional names for each grade are still used by some people, but they do not have specific grades attached.

The durability of cotton duck makes it a great choice for situations in which a strong, hardy fabric is needed. Many hard laborers, for example, swear by the quality of garments made with this material, which protect them from the perils of the workplace. Popular brands of shoes are made with it, which also appears on director's chairs, tents, and pillowcases for outdoor furniture. White duck can be bleached if it is soiled, making it an excellent choice for hard wearing environments.

Like other textiles made from cotton, duck is relatively easy to care for. In most cases, it can be washed and dried at any temperature. It will become more soft and flexible with time, ultimately breaking down at areas of high stress. Cotton duck also takes dye readily. When used as a garment, the fabric can be stiff and unwieldy at first, but it will settle within a few washings and wearings, and it should start to feel like a second skin.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WiseGeek researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By anon266255 — On May 04, 2012

Yes, cotton duck is known by many names and various types: cotton canvas, duck cloth, chair duck, naught canvas, numbered duck, plied ducks, single fill duck. The names usually refer to a specific weight range of canvas. Chair duck is usually in the 18-ounce range. Single fill is typically under 15 ounces. Numbered ducks or plied yarn ducks are usually between 15 ounces and 30 ounces with one exception. Army duck is usually 8 to 10.10 oz but is still a plied yarn or numbered duck because of the weave construction.

By anon166846 — On Apr 10, 2011

I came across some discounted cotton duck draperies in a mail order catalog. Was wondering if they might be appropriate to put on two sides of the pergola surrounding my hot tub. Looks like the catalog offers a color which might match the patio furniture cushions. What do you think? Thanks

By FirstViolin — On Sep 18, 2010

My grandfather was a big fan of cotton duck pants for his work. He was always outside either working with animals or sailing around, and he would always wear these brown cotton duck pants -- that's one of the things I remember most about him, actually.

Funny the details that stick in your mind.

By pleats — On Sep 18, 2010

I remember when I was little my grandmother being so into her Sure Fit cotton duck sofa covers. I personally don't see that much difference between cotton and canvas covers, though I suppose it could make a difference in terms of texture.

I guess it's just a matter of preference.

One thing I have never been able to get behind though, is cotton duck curtains or drapes. They just look too nautical for me.

By TunaLine — On Sep 18, 2010

I had no idea what this was until my mother-in-law tried to give me some cotton duck slipcovers for our outdoor furniture. While we found the cotton duck material a bit too rough for a slipcover, I can see how somebody might really like to keep their patio furniture covered with a cotton duck slipcover as opposed to, say, canvas fabric. I think it looks a bit more natural.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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