If you’re looking to buy new sheets, you might be choosing between linen and cotton. Both fabrics are breathable, made from natural fibers and can last several years with the proper care.
There are pros and cons to both fabrics and one may be better suited for you than the other. Keep reading to learn more about linen and cotton bed sheets, their similarities and differences and which one you should choose for your bedroom or guest room.
What are Linen Sheets?
Linens isn’t just a blanket term for sheets— its own distinct fabric. Linens are made from flax plant stalks. They are made from thicker fibers and a looser weave pattern, which is why linen sheets typically have a thread count between 80 and 130. However, this isn’t an indicator of low quality sheets. Linen sheets are durable, great for hot sleepers and are considered a luxury fabric.
Linen sheets have a distinct coarse texture that might feel too stiff for some. The good news about linen sheets is that they get softer with every wash. And high-quality linens will never feel itchy and scratchy against your skin. Their feel is associated with rustic or beachy settings because of how strong and breezy linen is.
Linen sheets offer a lot of breathability thanks to that lower thread count. And the flax has moisture-wicking properties to it which helps keep you dry while using them. These qualities, when combined with the often lightweight feel of linens, makes them a great option for hot sleepers.
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Cleaning and Care for Linen Sheets
Linen sheets are easy to wash and care for. Most linen sheets can be put in the washing machine and in the dryer on a low heat setting. You will want to use cold water in the washing machine to prevent the sheets from shrinking.
Be sure to read the manufacturer’s care tag for instructions on how to properly care for your linen sheets. Linen is prone to wrinkling quickly, which requires some maintenance to press out.
RELATED: How to Wash Bed Sheets
What are Cotton Sheets?
Cotton sheets come from fibers from the cotton plant and are popular choices for bed sheets. They are so popular because cotton is comfortable, breathable and typically affordable. Cotton sheets vary in fiber length, weave, thread count and price range. What all cotton sheets have in common is that they are woven from natural fibers and are naturally hypoallergenic. With a wide variety of cotton sheets to choose from, there is truly something for everyone.
The feeling of cotton sheets depends on the weave style. The feel could range from a crisp, button shirt to buttery smooth and shiny. Some types of cotton are softer and more durable than others, which results in cotton sheets coming at different price points.
Cleaning and Care for Cotton Sheets
Like linen sheets, cotton sheets are known for being low-maintenance and hassle-free to clean. Most cotton sheets are machine-washable and can be put in a dryer on a low heat setting. We recommend washing sheets once a week to get rid of allergens and moisture that collects while you sleep. Cotton sheets are not wrinkle-resistant and might need steaming or ironing after drying. Again, be sure to thoroughly read the care instructions provided by the manufacturer.
What Types of Cotton Are Found in Sheets?
Different types of cotton sheets are made from different fibers, which are grown in various places all over the world. Each has a distinct feel and comes in a range of price points. Here are three popular types of cotton sheets to consider:
Egyptian cotton sheets have the highest thread count of any cotton sheets. Their thread count—typically between 400-700—makes them long-lasting and super soft. These are also the most expensive cotton sheets money can buy, but they make for a worthwhile investment for a luxurious feel.
When shopping for Egyptian cotton sheets, check for an Egyptian Cotton™ certification from the Cotton Egypt Association (CEA). This certification ensures that the cotton was indeed grown and sourced along the Nile river in Egypt. If sheets are claiming to be Egyptian cotton, but don’t have certifications to show for it, the sheets might not use true Egyptian cotton.
Sateen refers to the weave style and mercerization process of natural cotton fibers. Merceration occurs when cotton fibers are soaked in a sodium hydroxide bath and then rinsed in a neutralized acid bath. Then, they are woven in a “four over, one under” pattern to create lustrous, soft sateen cotton sheets. The result are medium-weight sheets that deliver the look and feel of luxury for an affordable price.
Pima cotton is still considered a luxurious fabric, but will not cost as much as Egyptian cotton sheets. Supima is a trademarked brand that sells pima cotton grown in the southwest U.S., and the term is sometimes interchanged with pima cotton. Pima cotton is made from long-staple fibers which make it ultra durable and breathable. Like Egyptian cotton, some brands sell counterfeit pima cotton by weaving sheets with shorter cotton fibers.
Linen vs Cotton Sheets – Which Material is Best for You?
Linen and cotton have some distinct differences, but they also have some similarities. Ultimately, which material is better comes down to personal preference and how you sleep. Here are some similarities and differences to determine which material is best for you.
- Linen and cotton sheets are easy to take care of and maintain. Both are usually machine-washable and dryer-safe.
- Both are made from natural fibers and have hypoallergenic properties. Sleepers with sensitive skin shouldn’t have to worry about breaking out from either linen or cotton sheets.
- Both fabrics are cooling and moisture-wicking, making them great picks for hot sleepers looking for good airflow.
- Lower-end cotton sheets are less expensive than lower-end linen sheets.
- Both materials are prone to wrinkle, but linen sheets are more wrinkle-prone than cotton sheets.
- Linen sheets are more breathable and cooling than cotton sheets.
- Linen sheets can last up to five years and are three times stronger than cotton sheets. Cotton sheets are fairly durable, but not as durable as linen sheets.
How Do You Tell the Difference Between Linen and Cotton?
The biggest difference in these two fabrics is the feel. Brand new linen sheets will feel a little stiff and coarse, but become softer with repeated washes. Whereas cotton sheets will already feel soft out of the package. Cotton sheets vary in texture from feeling like a crisp button-down shirt to silky smooth. Regardless, linen fibers are thicker and woven looser than cotton fibers, which are thinner and woven tighter.
Should I Get Linen or Cotton Sheets?
So, which sheets are best for you? It depends on what you like! Take a look below to see who each fabric might be best for.
Choose Linen Sheets If…
- You are an especially hot sleeper or live in a hot climate and are looking for ultra-breathable sheets.
- You want to invest in high-quality sheets that will last three to five years before showing signs of wear.
- You prefer fully biodegradable sheets. This is a great feature for eco-conscious shoppers.
Choose Cotton Sheets If…
- You are on a budget and don’t want to splurge on high-end luxury sheets.
- You want more weave, thread count and color options to choose from. Linen sheets typically come in less colors and patterns than cotton sheets.
- You are not a fan of the coarse texture of linen. Cotton sheets have different feels depending on their weave pattern (percale vs sateen), but will feel softer out of the package than linen sheets.
Is linen cooler than cotton?
Yes, linen sheets sleep cooler than cotton sheets. Although cotton sheets are also breathable, linen sheets are cooler than cotton sheets because of their loose weave pattern.
Are linen or cotton sheets better?
Whether linen or cotton sheets are better will come to personal preference. Linen sheets are better for hot sleepers or to use in the summertime, but cotton sheets are better for people who want more buying options like color selections or price range.
Is linen more breathable than cotton?
Yes, linen is more breathable than cotton. Linen fibers are thicker than long-staple cotton fibers, and are woven looser than cotton sheets. This results in a textured feel and maximum breathability for superior airflow.
How long do linen sheets last?
Linen sheets can last three to five years without showing signs of wear with proper care. Linen sheets will also get softer each time you wash them. Comparatively, cotton sheets typically last two to five years before needing to be replaced.
What’s a good thread count for cotton sheets?
Cotton sheets’ thread count ranges between 200 and 800. Thread count is essentially the number of threads per square inch of fabric. Sheets made from long-staple cotton fibers with thread counts over 400 feel luxuriously soft and will be more durable than shorter cotton fibers.