Linen vs Cotton Sheets: Which is Best for You? (2020)

while linen bedsheets on bed

If you are here, it’s likely because you are having issues deciphering what are the best possible sheets for you.  With so, so many products available to be bought, it can be very, very confusing to find the right one for you.  You see all kinds of names, numbers, and facts thrown around, and all they serve to do is to confound you. 

Whereas you’d think that online shopping would be easier, it is in fact more difficult.  Today, we are going to help you cut through the clutter and get right to the heart of the matter by taking a look at linen and cotton sheets.  Our guide is going to compare the two so that you know exactly which one does what- and why- and to hopefully help you pick a path between one of the two.  So, let’s get started! 

Cotton & Linen Bedding Introduction

While there is much in the world that is changing, with new materials being used everyday, seemingly, for sheets, there is some good news in that cotton and linen don’t appear to be going anywhere anytime soon. 

Both of them have been around a long, long time, therefore it only makes sense why we would compare the two of them heads up as you try and make a bid to find better, more restful sleep. 

It is possible that you may assume that since neither are new that they don’t have a lot of positives, but that cannot be further from the truth.  They each have only been used for so long due to their ability to work extremely well. 

What are Linen Sheets?

Let’s start off here with linen.  Linen and cotton are both made from plants.  Linen comes from the flax plant and is thus a ‘natural’ fiber.  We’ll touch more on that a bit later… Nonetheless, linen has become a tradition in many families, with sheets being passed down from one generation to the next due to their immense quality and durability. 

What are Cotton Sheets?

Like linen, cotton also comes from a plant, with it being the cotton plant, obviously.  The types of cotton do vary more than linen, though, so you do have to factor that in and know that they can differ quite a bit from one offering to the next. 

Sheet Types Breakdown

We’ll try and keep this section brief, but it is vital to understand that a label of ‘linen’ or ‘cotton’ does not make something uniformly great. 

Hand Picked vs Machine Picked Linen

With linen, the thing to look for is whether it is hand picked or machine produced.  A hand picked cotton fibers is going to be stronger due to the fact that the fibers don’t get condensed.  This helps add up to more quality.  As for cotton, there are a few different ‘levels,’ so to speak of it.  You have Egyptian cotton, Pima, organic, and then ‘regular’ cotton. 

Egyptian Cotton

Egyptian cotton is considered to be the most premium and luxury feel but also comes at a higher cost. 

Pima Cotton

Pima is fairly close to it, but it tends to be slightly more durable, less costly, and a bit rougher. 

Organic Cotton

Organic cotton is a type that is used without any pesticides or chemicals present, which is a definite consideration for so many folks.  Then, you have regular old cotton.  This type is rougher than most other kinds, but it also can be quite cheap to purchase, making it ideal for those on a very tight budget.  With that out of the way, let’s pit linen and cotton head to head! 

Linen vs Cotton Sheet Durability

The first thing we will look at regarding the two subjects today will be the durability of them.  While both linen and cotton are extremely good at lasting for a long time, relative to other types of sheets, there is a clear winner here.  It is linen that wins by a landslide.  Remember how we mentioned that some families pass down their linen sheets? 

This sounds unlikely, but it does happen, meaning those sheets have to be superior to most anything you see out there.  Unlike most things you see and purchase, linen actually really does get stronger over time.  Most everything you see on a shelf is going to come apart as you go, so it’s nice to see this trend being reversed for a change. 

As for cotton bedding, it is largely a very durable option as well.  However, it is just not going to hold up for as long as linen does.  Even the tippy top options of cotton are not going to last you as long, such is the way the plant operates.  Compared to most sheet types, it’s going to be just fine, but against linen it definitely fails to live up to standard. 

Softness of Linen and Cotton Sheets

When you put your hands on a set of sheets, you want to feel a certain characteristic to them.  For some of us, we want supreme softness.  For others, we want something crisp and substantial on our bodies. 

With cotton and linen, you are going to get varied approaches.  It does depend on what kind of cotton you get, but generally cotton is going to be softer than linen is.  This is not a good or bad thing, as this is a subjective area. 

Linen is quite coarse, especially when you first get them, so this can be off putting, to say the least.  If you are someone that enjoys a very soft touch, cotton is the no-brainer here for you.  If you like something that is crispy and packs more of a punch, then linen is the way for you to go. 

Thread Count Comparison

Regardless of the type of sheets, you just can’t ever avoid the topic of thread count, unfortunately.  Though it is not a real consideration, or shouldn’t be, it is too often given such a distinction. 

Cotton Sheet Thread Count

First and foremost, it must be said that thread count is important with cotton.  With all other materials, though, it is not all it’s cracked up to be.  Many materials use something else to measure the quality, therefore you should overlook it.  With cotton, it is important, but you also should not allow yourself to be tricked, either. 

If you think something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.  They could be using inferior threads at a rapid rate in order to increase the number.  Obviously, this is not what you want to see and should be avoided.  As for the count itself, just know that a lower number basically equates to a thinner sheet.  If you want more warmth and durability, more threads should help.  But, again, this number can be tampered with by clever marketers and manufacturers that are of lower quality, so be careful. 

Breathability & Cooling Attributes of Cotton and Linen

One of the most important aspects to getting the best sleep is making sure that your body is at an adequate temperature.  This is not the easiest thing to do, by far, with some of us overheating rather easily at night.  If you get those night sweats and just cannot find relief, don’t fret. 

There are answers for you, but you do have to do a bit of research.  Breathability refers to the ability- or possible the lack thereof- of a fabric to allow air to flow.  If a sheet traps air, it is thus not going to be very breathable, perhaps helping cause those terrible nights sweats you have been forced to deal with.  The good news is that both linen and cotton are pretty good answers here in this category. 

Neither of them are going to be among the least breathable out there, like microfiber would be considered.  With that said, though, linen does just about edge it here due to having wider and lengthier fibers, plus due to its hollow state as well.  It makes it a bit more of a natural insulator, thus helping you to breathe better and not sweat quite as much.  Again, though, both are good options for breathability, so if that is a chief concern, you can do a whole lot worse than these two materials. 

Maintenance and Upkeep of Sheets

We have discussed durability already, but what we have not talked about is a large part of that- the maintenance of your sheets.  If you have the most top notch materials in the world but you neglect them and don’t properly care for them, then they will not last as long. 

This is an area where the two come to a ‘push.’  Some would assume that linen would be much, much harder and more cumbersome to deal with than cotton.  Cotton is relatively simple to take care of.  You can wash it and dry it, and it’s not much of a chore.  But linen does not take a lot of special care to get the most life out of it possible.  While stains do come out easier on linen than they do on cotton, overall it does not take much more work to care for linen. 

Wrinkling, believe it or not, can occur in any and all types of sheets, regardless of the materials, but it is also more likely to happen to linen than to cotton.  If you leave any of them, mind you, in the washer or dryer for too long, though, you’re bound to see wrinkling no matter what you do.  So just be aware of that aspect of it.  As far as ridding you of potential picks and pills, you can also count on linen over cotton.  It just fights them off better than most.  Plus, there is much less lint to go around, too.  This may tip the scales in the corner of linen to some, but we’ll call this a push for now and move on. 

Price Comparison of Linen and Cotton Sheets

The price you pay is always worth a consideration, and to many is the biggest thing that they look at.  The thing with price is that you have to also consider value.  You throw durability into the equation, and it can even things out. 

Cotton is going to be cheaper to be up front than linen in almost every occasion, no doubt, but that does not mean that linen is a bad choice.  Due to the long lifespan of the material, it can actually pay off in the long run when compared to cotton.  Then again, you also don’t want to pay above your means.  If you don’t have the money to pay a high price, we’re not asking you to go into debt to do so.  Just keep in mind that while cotton, on the whole is cheaper, that the durability can balance things out and actually yield you with ‘more bang for your buck’ when you go with linen. 

How Long Do Linen and Cotton Sheets Last?

We will close out our comparisons today by taking a look at how the two types of sheets are going to react over time.  We know that linen does start off more coarse and rough than cotton, but the beauty of it is that it does get softer and softer after each wash. 

The opposite can be said of cotton.  You may start out with super soft cotton, or a more ‘rough’ version, but sooner or later, it will stiffen and go the other direction.  This could be a deciding factor for you, so it’s no doubt worth putting some time into it to have a think about it. 

Conclusion & Final Recommendations

Picking out your best bedding seems like it would be quite an easy process to go through.  You just get online and type in sheets and then boom, you’ve got the perfect set for you.  Unfortunately, though, this is not the case.  It’s not like sleep is, either, mind you.  Do you really just go lay down and go to sleep instantly?  Likely, the answer is no. 

We all have struggles finding and getting good sleep, and much like this, it is imperative that we consider a range of things for our sheets.  Your sheets, whether you want to think about it or not, are going to play a rather large role in your sleep- or lack thereof.  Now, you’ll know the key differences- and maybe some similarities- between cotton and linen.  That way, you’ll be able to achieve it and rest much more soundly! 

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