Morphological and quantitative frictional measurements have been carried out on cotton fibres in dry air and in a liquid environment using friction force microscopy (FFM). Height and friction images acquired by FFM revealed that the cotton surface was damaged over 20 detergent-only wash cycle, but the inclusion of conditioner in the detergent formulation was found to cause a reduction in the amount of damage. The distribution of the fabric conditioner at the surface was examined by static secondary ion mass spectrometry (SSIMS). The friction–load relationship was found to obey Amontons' law in both dry air and water. The coefficient of friction increased with the number of wash cycles, and was reduced by treatment with fabric conditioner. Similar trends were observed in the variation in surface properties with wash treatment for measurements made in both air and liquid. To model the attachment of microencapsulate onto fibre surface, a poly(methyl methacrylate) (PMMA) encapsulate has been attached to the AFM cantilever to measure the frictional force. The same trend in the coefficient of friction was observed to that of measured by normal AFM cantilever.