You’ve probably encountered the same issue when shopping for the perfect sheets…which is better, bamboo or cotton? Sheet shopping doesn’t have to cause nightmares! Today, we’re going to help you understand the differences between the two to help you make a more informed choice. Let’s start by looking at who benefits from each type.
You’ll love BAMBOO SHEETS if you:
- Like using something organic and are eco-conscious
- Are a “hot” sleeper and need sheets that are thermo-regulating
- Have allergies or sensitive skin
- Want a “safe” set of sheets for children
You’ll love COTTON SHEETS if you:
- Love the traditional feel of crisp bedding
- Want a sheet that can be used all year round
- Want sheets that are durable
- Want something more affordable
What is Bamboo?
Bamboo sheets are made from organic and all-natural fibers taken from bamboo plants. Bamboo can be grown on land that isn’t suitable for forestry. Because it’s considered a grass, rather than a tree, the roots remain in the ground after harvesting, allowing them to regrow. This makes it a highly sustainable resource. Chemical pesticides are not used in 100% natural bamboo.
On to manufacturing bamboo! The bamboo is shaved into very fine and soft fibers. This is then made into a pulp that allows it to be spun, turned into threads, and then woven into a textiles.
Bamboo sheets have a unique quality in that the threads are strong enough to be made into one long thread that covers the length of a sheet, rather than many shorter threads that can be prone to breaking.
There are a few types of bamboo fiber that is used for bedding.
Bamboo rayon is the first generation of cellulosic fibers. A wood pulp is created and then dissolved using a solvent. This is then pushed through an extruder to form fibers. It falls somewhere between being a natural and synthetic fiber. It comes from a natural source, but the process of making it into a viscose pulp creates something new/synthetic. Any residual chemicals used to make the viscose stay in in the waste product rather than in the sheet.
Tencel Bamboo (Lyocell)
Lyocell is a newer sustainable textile material that also leaves no chemical residue, only using non-toxic solutions in the manufacturing process. It’s created the same way as rayon, in that a wood pulp is created and then dissolved into a solvent. However, it uses fewer chemicals to produce than rayon. Tencel is a brand name for one version of lyocell.
Bamboo linen is processed the same way as normal linen. The woody part of the bamboo is crushed and then processed with a natural enzyme to break it down. This is then spun into a yarn. However, it isn’t very soft and can be wrinkle-prone. It does keep you cool though.
Bamboo Sheets: Pros & Cons
- They are super soft and non-irritating to the skin
- They are breathable and moisture-wicking to keep you cool and dry at night.
- They have natural hypoallergenic and antibacterial properties, as well as have the ability to resist dust mites, allergens, and mildew.
- They are very durable due to how they are woven
- They can be quite pricey
- They need extra care if you want them to last
What Is Cotton?
Cotton sheets have been the traditional go-to fabric for linens and sheets for many generations. They start out as fluffy bits, which look similar to cotton balls. These are turned into a weaveable fiber that is then used to make yarn. Cotton is a biodegradable and renewable fiber, however, it has more of an impact on the environment than bamboo. To grow cotton pesticides are needed due to the fragile nature of the plant. Chemical dyes, bleaches, and other toxic chemicals can be used as well. You can get organic cotton sheets, however, as these don’t use pesticides in the growing process.
Mature cotton that is ready to be harvested is referred to as a boll. Once harvested, they are sent to gins, where the fibers are separated from the seeds. These fibers can then be spun into thread and woven into a fabric.
There are several types of cotton that are used in making sheets and it’s the fiber length that makes the difference in all of these.
When you see 100% cotton on sheet tags, it is usually referring to Upland cotton. This is made in America, uses shorter fibers when weaving, and is the most affordable type of cotton you can get. The issue with Upland cotton is that the threads are much weaker and will fray easily, making them far less durable than other cotton fibers.
If you are environmentally conscious, organic cotton products are for you. This cotton isn’t treated with any harsh pesticides or toxic chemicals. Rather than using toxic dyes, organic cotton sheets can be colored with organic dyes or in their natural color. The only downside is that color choices can be limited.
This is the highest quality that cotton sheets come in. The cotton itself is grown in Egypt, which has the best conditions for growing cotton. Egyptian cotton uses fibers that are longer than any others, giving it that soft feel that we all know and love. Egyptian cotton sheets are the most durable but can also be on the expensive side.
Pima and Supima Cotton
Pima cotton is grown in America and uses fibers that are just a bit shorter than Egyptian cotton. It gives the sheets a soft and durable quality. Supima cotton is a version of Pima that uses staple woven, extra-long threads and is an American trademark name used for premium cotton.
Cotton Sheets: Pros & Cons
- They are very breathable and keep you feeling cool.
- The more you wash them, the softer they become.
- Cotton sheets can be used year-round.
- They are more affordable in most cases.
- They have strong moisture-wicking properties that help keep you dry.
- Cotton sheets can last up to 5 years and are not as durable as bamboo.
- The moisture-wicking makes them take a lot longer to dry.
- They wrinkle quite easily and, if untreated, have a tendency to shrink.
The Comparison: Bamboo vs. Cotton Sheets
Ok, it’s time to look at these two side by side so that we can see how they compare.
Comfort & Feel
Bamboo sheets have a very soft and smooth texture. They are more breathable than cotton sheets and have a better moisture-wicking capability as well. This means they can keep you feeling cool and dry, even on hot nights. The natural temperature regulating capabilities make them useable for all seasons.
Cotton is also a breathable and moisture-wicking fabric. The higher the quality of cotton, the better the threads, which means a softer sheet. Thinner threads mean a higher thread count, making for a more durable sheet as well. However, cheaper cotton can feel a bit rough.
Verdict: Bamboo wins because it feels softer than the highest quality cotton sheet.
This is an important quality if you are a hot sleeper or want a sheet that works all year round. Bamboo is very breathable and wicks away moisture from the body. It also has a natural coolness to it thanks to its temperature regulating capabilities. The actual fiber itself is a few degrees cooler than cotton fibers.
Cotton is also breathable and moisture-wicking, however, it can retain heat more than bamboo does. This is perfect for cooler nights, but maybe not so good if you are a hot sleeper. It also depends on the thread count and quality of the cotton used.
Verdict: For me, Bamboo wins again because, being the hot sleeper that I am, they keep me the coolest.
Because of the way that bamboo threads are made, they are quite durable. The super long threads have a much greater tensile strength than cotton threads. This means they are less likely to pull apart. You also don’t get threads ending in the middle of the sheet, making them weaker and more prone to fraying. 100% Bamboo sheets can last up to 15 years if they are cared for properly.
In comparison, traditional cotton sheets usually only last a year or two before they need to be replaced. It does of course depend on the quality of the cotton used. An Egyptian cotton sheet will last much longer than a sheet made with lower quality cotton.
Cotton sheets also have a tendency to pill with shorter staple threads. Thread count also makes a difference, with higher thread counts being more durable than lower thread counts. Premium bamboo sheets, on the other hand, use a cutting-edge process that ensures your sheets will never pill or tear.
The other issue with cotton is that it absorbs body sweat and skin oils, which can make them discolor over time. In contrast since bamboo sheets never soak up your sweat and body oils in the first place, they don’t yellow or gray over time.
Verdict: This was a difficult one but in the end, bamboo won me over.
Ease of Care
Both bamboo and cotton sheets will need a bit more care than an average sheet if you want to prolong their life. As with any high-quality sheet, it’s important to follow the care instructions given by the manufacturer. Bamboo needs to be washed on a gentle cycle, on its own, in no more than 85°F, and with a mild detergent.
Cotton is a bit more low-maintenance in comparison to bamboo sheets. They tend to wrinkle more, which may mean more ironing unless you dry them on a wash line. You can usually use a normal detergent when washing cotton sheets.
Verdict: This time cotton wins for being less “needy” in care than bamboo.
As I mentioned earlier, bamboo sheets can be pretty pricey, even costing more than Egyptian cotton in some cases. Cotton can come in a range of prices that are more affordable. A lot will depend on your preference and need for comfort. You can get blended bamboo or cotton sheets, or sheets with a lower thread count that will lower the cost, however, you won’t reap the benefits that 100% bamboo or cotton can offer.
Verdict: Cotton wins in this category because it comes in a range of prices that can fit anyone’s budget.
Bamboo is a highly sustainable fiber that grows rapidly. Because the roots are left during the harvesting process, it will continue to grow after every harvest. Bamboo is hardy and doesn’t need pesticides or chemicals during the growing process and you get more fiber per acres of land than you do with cotton. Bamboo has less of an impact on the environment. Bamboo can also convert pollutants into oxygen 35% faster than a grove of trees.
Cotton, on the other hand, is not as hardy and is considered to be a crop that is pesticide-intensive. This makes cotton more harmful to the environment. It needs to be replanted after each harvest, making it less sustainable. Cotton production also used more water than bamboo.
Verdict: It looks like bamboo wins in this category.
Bamboo is well known for its natural hypoallergenic properties, with some species of bamboo being resistant to diseases and insects. Also, as mentioned earlier, harmful pesticides and chemicals aren’t used in the growing process. This means there are no harmful chemical traces in your sheets that can cause an allergic reaction or irritate sensitive skin. Where allergies are concerned, bamboo is anti-bacterial and resistant to dust mites, mildew, and allergens that are often the cause for allergies to start acting up.
Cotton doesn’t really have the health-related benefits that bamboo does. However, it is gentle on the skin. Because it is breathable and cooling, it can help you get a better nights sleep, which we all know is beneficial to our health.
Verdict: Bamboo wins again, with its many health benefits.
Cotton vs. Bamboo Sheets: The Takeaway
Personally, I feel bamboo sheets are the winner here. Even with them being more expensive than cotton sheets, they make a good investment in the long-run. You can still have soft luxury sheets with cotton, and a lot of it is down to personal preference and needs. If you are an allergy sufferer or have a skin condition, bamboo sheets make more sense to have. If you don’t have skin or allergy problems, cotton will work just fine. Some like that crispier feel of cotton than the soft buttery feel of bamboo. It also depends on whether you’re a hot sleeper. Bamboo keeps you cooler in this case, but cotton is a great year-round choice too.
For me though, it’s bamboo all the way!