Linen vs Cotton Sheets: Which is Best for You?

A common debate between those who love natural fibers is which is better, linen vs cotton sheets? We’ll compare these top textiles to help you decide.

By Nicole Gleichmann

For people looking for cooling, luxury bed sheets, linen and cotton are the two top contenders. These sheet types are both naturally derived from plant fibers and offer optimal breathability and comfort. Sow do you choose between the two?

We’ll give you an overview of cotton sheets and linen sheets separately, then compare the two so you can find out in the battle between cotton vs. linen sheets, which is best for you?

West Elm linen sheets

Quick Summary: Cotton vs Linen Sheets

Cotton and linen sheets offer similar levels of cooling, luxurious comfort. Cotton sheets tend to have a smoother feel while linen sheets have a more unique texture. Linen is also slightly thicker–although still breathable–and tend to come in less variable patterns and style. The final difference between the two is how you measure their quality. Cotton sheets are measured by thread count while linen sheets are measured by grams per square meter (GSM).

What are Cotton Sheets?

Cotton is the most popular textile used in bedding today. Most of us grew up with cotton sheets, and as a result, tend to choose cotton over other, less familiar, textiles. Cotton sheets are made from the fluffy fibers that surround the seeds of the cotton plant. Because there’s more than one type of cotton, there’s a variation in the quality and feel of cotton sheets.

Related: Best cotton sheets

There are three varieties of cotton that you’ll encounter when shopping for bedding: Egyptian cotton, Pima (or Supima), and American Upland. Because these types of cotton have different lengths of cotton fiber, they differ in feel and durability. The longer the fiber, known as its staple, the higher the quality cotton. Egyptian boasts extra-long-staple cotton, Pima long-staple cotton, and American Upland short-staple cotton.

Pros of Cotton Sheets:

  • Breathable and moisture-wicking
  • Sleeps cool
  • Affordable options
  • Softer with age

Cons of Cotton Sheets:

  • Short-staple cotton is prone to pilling
  • High-end options are costly

What are Linen Sheets?

Linen sheets have been a top contender in luxury bedding for decades. Linen is naturally cooling and gets softer as the years go by, and with quality linen lasting many decades, they’re an investment in the future.

Related: Best linen sheets

Linen fabric is made from the flax plant. Flax stalks go through a manufacturing process that yields wide, long linen fibers that are woven to create textiles. The resulting fabric has a unique crinkly appearance that appeals to many consumers.

Pros of Linen Sheets:

  • Breathable and moisture-wicking
  • Sleeps cool
  • Softer with age
  • Incredibly durable
  • Hypoallergenic

Cons of Linen Sheets:

  • Expensive
  • Rough texture when new

Linen vs Cotton Sheets: How to Decide Which is Best?

Linen and cotton sheets are both cooling, luxury bed sheet options. Linen sheets have better temperature regulation and durability. Cotton sheets have a more soft, comfortable feel and come at a more affordable price. It’s up to you to decide which type of sheets you prefer.

But with many similarities between linen and cotton, it can be tough to choose which type of sheets is best for you. We’ve compared cotton and linen to give you the information you need to make an informed choice.

Related: Polyester vs cotton sheets

Temperature Regulation

One reason why cotton and linen are both popular is because they provide optimal breathability and wick away perspiration from the body. This makes these textiles a solid choice for those who sleep hot or for use during warm summer months.

While linen and cotton are both superb when it comes to temperature control, linen’s fibers are long and wide, allowing air to more easily circulate through the fabric when compared to cotton’s thin fibers. This is because fine fibers are more closely weaved together, trapping heat.

And when it comes to breathability, the nicer the cotton sheets, the less breathable they are. High-thread count cotton, which is smooth and durable, has a tight weave that doesn’t allow for as much air circulation as does lower thread count cotton or linen sheets.

But keep in mind that cotton sheets are much more breathable than synthetic fibers and certain natural fibers, like wool. Only those who are exceptionally heat-sensitive are likely to have any trouble with cotton, as it does sleep quite cool.

Winner: Linen

Comfort and Feel

When you purchase a quality set of sheets, whether linen or cotton, they’ll soften over time. This increased comfort is one reason why many people become lifelong connoisseurs of these natural fabrics.

But the initial hand feel makes cotton the clear winner. Before linen fabric is worn in, it has a noticeable texture that is somewhat coarse and stiff. Cotton is soft right out of its package. Additionally, different weaves of cotton result in an array of options. Percale weave cotton is light, crisp, and cool, while sateen weave cotton is buttery smooth.

Winner: Cotton

Durability

The longevity of linen bed sheets is second-to-none. When you take good care of a quality set of linen sheets, you can see 20+ years of use. And with linens becoming softer with age, these final years are quite sumptuous.

The durability of cotton sheets is largely dependent upon the type of cotton that is used and the thread count. American Upland cotton sheets will last an average of 3-5 years. If you purchase a sheet set that advertises itself as 100% cotton, this is most likely the type of cotton used. Pima and Egyptian cotton sheets both tend to last longer than 5 years thanks their long fiber length. You may get 10 to 15 years out of a high-quality Pima or Egyptian cotton sheet set.

Lastly, the durability of cotton sheets tends to increase with thread count. Look for sheets with between a 200-600 thread count made using Egyptian or Pima cotton for increased longevity.

Winner: Linen

Aesthetics

Once you’ve seen enough cotton and linen sheets, you’ll be able to tell the difference between the two simply by looking at them.

Linen sheets are wrinkle-prone and give off a crisp, bohemian appearance. Cotton sheets can range is aesthetic from crisp and smooth to silky and drapey. One is not better than the other, but depends on your style.

One benefit of cotton is that it’s easily dyed and widely popular, resulting in countless colors and patterns. But there are still a variety of linen options, with either type of sheets complimenting most any interior décor.

Winner: Based on personal preference

Cost

The best-of-the-best cotton and linen sheets each cost well over $500. Fortunately, there are less expensive options of both that are still incredibly comfortable and durable.

But the trouble with linen is that it requires a rather involved manufacturing process to produce fabric from the flax plant stalks. All of this effort is passed along to the consumer via a heftier price-tag. This means that you’re more likely to find budget cotton sheets (costing less than $50) as well as high-quality cotton sheets at a competitive price.

When it comes to the best bang-for-your-buck, we recommend Pima (or Supima) cotton sheets. They’re noticeably more luxurious than Upland cotton sheets while costing a fraction of the price of many Egyptian sheet options. You can find some Pima sheet sets for less than $100.

Winner: Cotton


The Verdict: Cotton vs Linen Sheets

Linen and cotton sheets are two of the leaders when it comes to luxury sheets and cooling fabrics. Linen is the winner when it comes to durability, but cotton takes the lead when it comes to overall comfort and cost. Ultimately, the best fabric for you comes down to personal preference.


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