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Linen vs Cotton Sheets: Which Makes For Better Bedding?

It’s always so exciting updating rooms in your house, especially your bedroom.

My bedroom is my sanctuary and is the most relaxing room in my home.  I recently decided to get myself some new bedding and couldn’t believe how many varieties of sheets are out there.

I found myself standing there trying to decide between linen and cotton sheets.  It’s not as easy a decision as you might think!

I ended up going back home, sheetless, to do a bit of research on linen vs cotton sheets. I wanted to see which of these two were best for getting a good nights sleep and the easiest to care for.

Here is what I found…

You’ll love LINEN SHEETS if you:

  • Want bedding that will last for years
  • Live in warmer climates
  • Like the sturdy feel of linen on your skin
  • Have allergies or sensitive skin

You’ll love COTTON SHEETS if you:

  • Live in a warmer climate
  • Don’t want to spend a lot of money on bedding
  • Prefer softer feeling sheets
  • Like to buy new sheets every couple of years

What is Linen?

Loving the Linen Feeling When Sleeping

The hollow fibers and loose weave of linen = insulation (winter) + airiness (summer)

Linen sheets have been the go-to for generations.  They come in a variety of thread counts and have a crisp yet smooth texture.   Linen threads are a lot longer and thicker than the threads in cotton sheets, which makes them more durable.  One interesting tidbit I learned about linen sheets is that the smooth stiff texture can have a bit of a massaging effect.  This is all down to the material having microscopic breaks in them.

Because of its breathability, linen is a great year-round option.  It will help keep you cooler during the summer months and warmer in the winter.  It’s also a good choice if you suffer from night sweats or tend to feel overheated during the night.

During my linen sheet fact-finding mission I discovered you can get them in organic and non-organic versions.

Organic or non-organic?

As far as quality goes, there isn’t much of a difference between the two.  It’s the color choice that is affected.  With the organic version of linen, you only get the choice between a cream color or its own natural color.  It’s the process of dying the sheet that makes it non-organic.  For me, it’s the non-organic option because I love my colors.

Who makes the best linen sheets?

The flax plant that linen sheets are made from is quite hardy and can be grown virtually anywhere.  However, linen that comes from Europe is said to be the best.  This is because many countries in Europe have been cultivating flax for generations.  With that in mind, it’s more about the growing season of flax than it is about where it’s grown.  The better the quality of the crop, the nicer the linen sheets.

Linen Sheets: Pros & Cons

Pros: 

  • Very durable and has a long life
  • Unique filtering properties makes them anti-allergic
  • Breathable fibers keep skin dry and cool
  • Lowers the number of germs and allergens
  • Anti-static properties safe for sensitive skin
  • It’s biodegradable and considered to be environmentally friendly
  • Cleans easily at 60 degrees
Cons: 

  • Has a courser feel than you get with cotton
  • Doesn’t stretch very well
  • Can take quite some time and many washes to get them to feel soft
  • They get more expensive the higher the thread count goes
  • Can lose its shape in the dryer

What is Cotton?

What is Cotton?

Cotton is KING, and the “free-range” of fresh bedding is Egyptian cotton!

 

My next search was on cotton sheets.

Cotton sheets have also been used for generations and this is because cotton is very accessible.  It’s the fluffy bit of the cotton plant that is used to create those soft cotton sheets so many people love.  Multiple cotton fibers are weaved together to make a thin yarn, which is what gives these sheets their strength.   Cotton has that super soft texture right out of the package.

One word of warning, cotton can shrink.  I once bought cotton sheets for my queen-sized bed. If you’ve bought sheets before you will know that the price goes up the bigger the bed.  Well, these were a lot cheaper and looked really good.  I took them home, tried them on the bed to make sure they fit and then gave them a wash.  I made sure I followed the care instructions, then hung them out to dry.  When I went to put them back on the bed, to my horror, they had shrunk a bit and wouldn’t stay on the corners.

Not all cotton sheets will do this mind you. Many of the non-organic cotton sheets are treated with chemicals to reduce the chance of shrinking or wrinkling.

To make things a bit trickier, I found cotton sheets come in a few types.  Talk about making it harder to choose!  The different varieties are a result of fiber length that is used in their making.

It boils down to three things when choosing cotton sheets: material, how it’s made, and thread count—in that order.

Egyptian Cotton

Egyptian cotton is considered to be the best quality of cotton for sheets.  This cotton is grown in, guess where?  That’s right, Egypt! It has the longest length of fiber.  It’s also really soft and luxurious feeling.  This is a good choice for those who want durability and softness.  Keep in mind that these can also be on the expensive side if the sheets are made of 100% Egyptian cotton.

Pima Cotton

Pima cotton comes in second place to Egyptian cotton, with fibers that are just a tad shorter than Egyptian cotton fibers.  The quality is good and very soft.  The only real difference between the two is that Pima cotton is grown in America.

Supima Cotton

Supima is another version of Pima cotton.  The difference is that Supima uses extra-long, staple woven threads.  Pima is a generic term that is used for premium cotton, whereas Supima is an actual trademark for American grown cotton that has those extra-long fibers.

Upland Cotton

Also grown in America, Upland cotton has much shorter fibers and is more affordable than the previous two.  While it still gives that softness that we all love, the quality can vary.  There is a tendency for the threads in this weave to be weaker, causing them to fray or poke out, so it won’t last as long.

Organic Cotton

This is a more eco-friendly cotton that has not been grown or treated with harsh toxic chemicals and pesticides.  Organic dyes are used to color these sheets but this means less of a variety.  Also, because they are untreated with chemicals, they may shrink and wrinkle quite easily.

Cotton Sheets: Pros & Cons

Pros: 

  • Much softer
  • Breathable, which makes their surface feel cool
  • The more they are washed, the softer they get
  • Can be used year-round
  • More affordable
Cons: 

  • Not as durable, with most lasting between 3 to 5 years
  • They tend to take longer to dry due to a stronger moisture-wicking property
  • Untreated cotton tends to shrink
  • Wrinkles easily
  • Harder to get stains out if washed in lower than 60 degrees

Threadcount Counts: But Not as Much as You Think

There seems to be a bit of a myth going around where thread counts in sheets are concerned.  Thread count is the number of threads that are found per each square inch of material.  It doesn’t indicate a better quality as many people believe.

That said, lower thread counts are good if you want light sheets, where higher thread counts give you a heavier sheet.  For example, if you like to sleep with just a sheet in the winter, a high thread count cotton sheet would be a good option.

You may see sheets out there boasting a 1,000 thread count…be wary!  Many of these are made of lower quality.  Thread counts really shouldn’t go over 600.  Many of the top rated sheets on the market have a rating of between 300 to 500 thread count.  You need to take into consideration the fiber that is being used as well.   Linen tends to have a lower thread count than cotton due to its thicker threads but is seen as the more superior option.

Finally, the optimal thread count depends on the weave, i.e. percale sheets weave optimal range is between 200-500 and sateen sheets weave is between 300-600.

Now that I’ve covered a bit about each type of sheet, let’s do a side by side comparison of the two where it counts most.

The Comparison: Linen vs. Cotton Sheets

Durability

Both linen and cotton sheets are quite durable. However, linen comes out on top for longevity, being around 30% stronger than cotton sheets. Where cotton sheets can last for up to 5 years, linen sheets can last anywhere from 20 to 30 years.

Verdict: Linen wins out in the durability category.

Breathability

Cotton fibers are breathable and absorbent, allowing a good airflow through the fabric. This helps keep you feeling cooler at night. Cotton can absorb a lot of moisture, which makes them more insulated.

Linen is just a bit more breathable because of the width and length of its fibers. Also, flax fibers are naturally hollow, allowing for both moisture and air to freely flow through it. This makes linen a more natural insulator. Linen is also hypoallergenic, which is a good option for those who have respiratory issues or allergies.

Verdict: Looks like linen wins this category too.

Ease of Care

Between the two, linen is a bit easier to care for. Stains come out more quickly than in cotton sheets and they tend to stay cleaner longer. Both tend to get wrinkled easily but you can iron both cotton and linen sheets on high heat settings.

Verdict: One more point for linen!

Comfort

Comfort is one of the top qualities I look for in sheets. In this category, it’s cotton that wins. Because the weave itself has no natural pattern or texture, its super soft. They give an added warm and comfy feeling throughout the night.

Linen has a more textured feel and look, and is a bit thicker than cotton. With linen’s breathability, it also has that cool to the touch feel. It’s not as insulating as cotton, however, it will keep you comfortable for those hotter summer months. Linen can take up to 3 years before it reaches that soft cotton-like feel.

Verdict: Sorry linen, cotton wins this round!

Cost-effectiveness

Cotton can range in price depending on its type. However, even top quality cotton sheets can be less expensive than linen. The durability of linen, on the other hand, means they will last longer. You won’t be paying as much overtime to replace them every 3 to 5 years as you would with cotton. Cost-effectiveness really depends on whether you see linen sheets as a good long-term investment.

Verdict: Budget-wise, cotton wins in this category.

Environmental impact

Out of the two, linen has less of an environmental impact than the production of cotton. Both are renewable and biodegradable, however, its how cotton is produced that can have an impact on the environment. Cotton is a much more fragile plant where insects are concerned, meaning pesticides are often used in the growing process. This contributes to the growing death of bees and isn’t great for the environment. There are a lot of bleaches and chemical dyes used to color cotton sheets, as well as other toxic chemicals to keep them less wrinkled.

Organic cotton doesn’t use pesticides, which means its easier for the environment. However, non-organic dyes used to color them can hurt the environment. There is also the added fact that cotton is less durable, meaning you will buy more cotton sheets than linen over time. Cotton is biodegradable

Linen is made from more durable flax fibers. Growing flax requires very little in the way of water and energy resources to produce it. Also, the entire plant is used in the making of linen. Linen is biodegradable and can be recycled.

Verdict: Looks like linen wins again!

Health Factors

Both cotton and linen are breathable, natural fibers. They both help to absorb moisture and keep the skin cool. This is great if you are like me and get night sweats, or just tend to feel warmer than most people at night.

While both cotton and linen are naturally hypo-allergenic, linen has a looser weave than cotton. This means that fewer allergens and dust are trapped in the fibers. Linen fabric also has tiny breaks in it, which gives it a massaging quality. This helps to stimulate blood flow and can promote relaxation. Linen has an added naturally occurring antibacterial property that helps suppress microflora, fungi, and bacteria. Cotton, on the other hand, needs to be treated to offer the same protection.

Verdict: Linen wins once more!

Cotton vs. Linen Sheets: The Takeaway

After combing the internet for all of the information I could find on linen versus cotton sheets, I have finally decided on what I want. It’s linen sheets for me all the way! The main things that drew me to this choice were the fact that they last longer and I personally like the way linen looks and feels. I live in a warmer climate so linen is better for me. But if you live in a colder area, cotton may be more beneficial.

Of course, your preference may be different depending on what you like. Hopefully, all of the information I’ve gathered here will help you out when it comes time to buy some new sheets for yourself.

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