Linen vs. Cotton Sheets
Many people don’t look beyond cotton sheets when it comes to bedding. And it makes sense – cotton can be an excellent choice for a good night’s sleep. But if you’re comparing cotton to other bedding materials, linen should be on your list. Here’s how cotton and linen sheets stack up, and what to keep in mind in your pursuit of the dreamiest sleep possible.
Linen vs. Cotton Sheets at a Glance
At first glance, cotton and linen seem pretty similar. Both come from natural fibers and are breathable, hypoallergenic, and durable. Both have been used as bedding materials for generations. But take a closer look, and you’ll start seeing the differences. Cotton and linen sheets have separate plant fiber sources and typical thread counts, and there’s a noticeable difference in feel, too. Here’s how they compare.
|Linen sheets||Cotton sheets|
|Material||Made from flax, a flowering plant||Made from the boll of cotton plants|
|Typical thread count||80-150; but better measured by weight per square yard||200-400|
|Breathability||Highly breathable||Average breathability|
|Feel||Smooth, slightly textured, softens with time but can feel a little coarse at first||Varies depending on the cotton type and weave, but can be crisp or silky smooth; soft|
|Typical care||Machine washable but easily wrinkled, so expect a rumpled, lived-in look||Machine-washes and dries well|
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Linen Sheets: Overview
Linen is a lightweight, durable fabric made from the flax plant. That’s what gives it such a distinctive textured appearance and feel. Linen sheets have an extensive manufacturing process that includes washing, drying, and threshing the flax stalks, polishing the fibers, and spinning them into yarn. Then, the yarn is woven into a strong, breathable fabric.
Linen is a thick material, but breathability is one of its standout features. It’s two to three times stronger than cotton, but the length and width of each individual fiber makes the linen fabric ultra-light and breathable. It also absorbs moisture well, which is why it’s so prized in hot climates. And because it’s temperature-neutral, it’s makes a great year-round bedding option.
Thread count isn’t a reliable indication of quality for linen sheets, because the thick fibers can’t make a tight weave. Instead of thread count, linen bedding manufacturers often list weight per square meter – and the heavier, the higher the quality.
Linen sheets have an impressively long lifespan because the material is so strong. That level of durability, along with their biodegradability and natural plant source, puts linen sheets into the environmentally-friendly bedding category.
Generally, linen sheets can be machine-washed in cold water and dried on a low heat setting, though line drying is often recommended. It’s important to follow individual manufacturer instructions to ensure proper care and the longest lifespan. You’ll also want to avoid bleach, which deteriorates the linen fibers.
The textured feel of linen sheets may feel a little coarse initially. But linen sheets soften a lot over time with repeated washings, and they won’t pill like other fabrics do. If you want linen sheets to feel a little softer right out of the box, look for those that have been garment or enzyme washed, which means they’ve already been through multiple washing cycles.
Keep in mind that because linen doesn’t have much elasticity, it wrinkles easily. For linen lovers, that rumpled aesthetic is casually elegant, but it’s worth keeping in mind if you’re new to the material.
Linen Sheets: Pros and Cons
- Breathable, lightweight, and moisture-absorbing, making them ideal for hot sleepers
- Durable for an impressively long lifespan
- Softens over time
- A luxury bedding material, which means a high price point
- Fewer options for colors and prints
- Textured feel means they won’t ever feel as soft as cotton
Shopping Tips for Linen Sheets
- Don’t stress about thread count. Remember, it’s not about the tightness of the weave but about the weight of the material.
- Check the country of origin and manufacturing process. Reputable brands will be pretty forthcoming about where they source their flax and their general production process, so make a point of digging for details. They should be easily accessible on a company’s website.
- Look for safety certifications. Those like OEKO-TEX Standard 100 signify that stringent safety standards have been met and no harmful chemicals were used during processing.
- Check your mattress dimensions before buying. Linen sheets don’t have much elasticity, so they won’t stretch to accommodate an oversized mattress. Before you buy, double-check that they’ll fit.
Cotton Sheets: Overview
Most people are aware that cotton sheets come from the fiber of cotton plants, which is woven into thread and spun into various textiles. Cotton can vary in quality, and the highest quality comes from the extra-long staples of Pima and Egyptian cotton which are durable and soft.
Cotton sheets are breathable, but not to the same degree as linen. The tighter weave of cotton sheets means less air can pass through, though they will wick away moisture if you tend to sweat while you snooze.
Thread count, or the number of vertical and horizontal threads per square inch, may have been a reliable indication of quality at one point, but these days, it’s largely become a marketing ploy. You’re better off looking for cotton sheets made with long-staple fibers and single-ply threads than focusing entirely on thread count.
The durability of cotton sheets will vary depending on the quality of the cotton and the weave. Percale is a tightly-woven weave that has a smooth, crisp feel. When it’s made with long-staple cotton, it’s a reasonably durable option. Sateen, a silky-smooth weave, tends to pill a bit more easily and can lose its sheen over time.
Easy maintenance is a hallmark of cotton bedding. They can be machine-washed and dried, but some weaves, like percale, are prone to wrinkling. Make sure to follow the manufacturer’s directions for washing, drying, and ironing. Keep in mind that cotton will shrink, so you may want to line dry or air dry to avoid that.
Cotton sheets have a wonderfully soft feel, but they can also be crisp or silky depending on the weave. Percale has the crisp feel of a freshly-ironed button-down dress shirt, while sateen is incredibly smooth and luxurious. Brushed cotton is incredibly soft, with a flannel feel.
Cotton Sheets: Pros and Cons
- Wide range of weaves, patterns, and prints
- Easily maintained
- Suits every budget
- Not as durable and long-lasting as linen sheets
- Prone to shrinking
Shopping Tips for Cotton Sheets
- Look beyond thread count. Remember to prioritize long-staple fibers and think about the feel you want. That will help you find the right weave.
- Factor in your budget. Cotton sheets come in all price points, but a high-quality set is typically between $150 and $250. Keep in mind, you’ll pay more for higher-quality cotton.
- Consider breathability. If sleeping cool is important, cotton sheets with a light, crisp percale weave will likely be a better option than sateen.
Who Would Prefer Linen Sheets?
- Shoppers who sleep warm.
- Shoppers who are willing to pay a little more for sheets that will last longer.
- Shoppers who prioritize eco-friendly materials.
- Shoppers who like a casually rumpled look.
Who Would Prefer Cotton Sheets?
- Shoppers on a budget.
- Shoppers who prioritize softness in their sheets.
- Shoppers who want a lot of options for weaves, thread count, colors, and patterns.
- Shoppers who prefer a clean, tailored look.
Popular linen sheet brands
The linen collection from Parachute is made in Portugal with 100 percent European flax that meets OEKO-TEX Standard 100 certification. The company’s linen sheets are garment washed for a soft, lived-in feel and come in a range of neutrals and earth tones.
This U.K. brand is known for its stonewashed linen sheets in a wonderful range of colors and classic prints, like stripes and gingham. The company’s bedding is sold in sets and singles from linen made with 100 percent European flax. Plus, it’s all OEKO-TEX certified.
Quince is a direct-to-consumer brand with a focus on affordability, and its linen collection features midweight linen from 100 percent European flax. The company’s linen bedding is garment washed for softness, with lots of options for colors.
Popular cotton sheet brands
Brooklinen sells percale and sateen cotton sheets with an emphasis on quality and affordability. The brand’s popular bundles come in a handful of standard colors and a fun selection of limited-edition colors and prints.
The Company Store sells all sorts of bedding, but its wrinkle-free sateen sheets are a bestseller for a reason. They’re available in tons of colors, with options for deep pockets to accommodate oversized mattresses.
Coyuchi is another purveyor of various bedding materials, but the company’s organic crinkled percale sheets are a popular pick. A proprietary spinning and weaving process creates a slightly rumpled effect for a casual aesthetic.
Frequently Asked Questions
Which is better for sheets, linen or cotton?
It all comes down to personal preference and budget. Hot sleepers may prefer the breathable and moisture-wicking properties of linen sheets over cotton. But since linen sheets are generally considered a luxury bedding material, they can get pricey. However, they’re also incredibly durable, so you can expect a long lifespan.
Cotton sheets are priced for all budgets and are generally soft and comfortable. Another benefit is that they’re easy to maintain – just toss them in the washer and dryer for clean, soft sheets.
What are the benefits of linen sheets?
Linen sheets are naturally cooling because they’re among the most breathable bedding fabrics you can buy. They’re also incredibly durable, which means they’ll last for years. And while some linen can feel a little coarse, these sheets soften over time.
Is linen better than cotton for hot weather?
Yes. Linen is one of the most breathable materials you can buy for your bed. If you’re looking for the coolest sheets for hot weather, linen is a better choice than cotton.
There’s no question that both cotton and linen make for wonderful bedding materials. Deciding which is right for you will come down to personal preferences. If you want the softest, most affordable sheets, you’re probably better off with cotton. If you prefer something breathable that will soften over time and you don’t mind a lived-in look, you’ll find linen a great pick.
5 things to know before buying sheets. (2022). https://www.consumerreports.org/sheet/things-to-know-before-buying-sheets-a9843459169/
Flax fiber offers cotton cool comfort. (2005). https://agresearchmag.ars.usda.gov/ar/archive/2005/nov/fiber1105.pdf