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How do linen and cotton sheets stack up?

We compare the price, feel, and environmental impact of both fabrics.

A woman sleeping in her bed with sheets. Credit: Reviewed / Jackson Rucker

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Choosing your next set of bed sheets can be a daunting task because of the sheer number of different fabrics to choose among.

Two of the most popular bedding fabrics are cotton and linen. Both are natural fibers, as cotton comes from the cotton plant and linen comes from the flax plant. Fun fact: Although cotton is the most widely used fabric for bedding, sheets are called “linens” because that fabric was used by Egyptian kings to make bedsheets as early as 3000 B.C. For anyone wondering how cotton stacks up against the OG of bed fabrics, we compared the differences and merits of each.

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Texture and feel

A woman sleeping on her bed by the side.
Credit: Reviewed / Jackson Rucker

Choosing sheets with the right feel is important for comfortable nights.

Twice as strong as cotton and extremely breathable, linen allows for extra airflow, making it an ideal choice for sleepers who run hot between the sheets. When compared with cotton, linen fibers are longer and thicker and are woven together in a density that is cooler and more comfortable. Linen fibers are also antibacterial and stain-resistant and don’t shrink the way cotton does.

“For someone that finds cotton sheets too heavy, linen will absolutely be worth the money as it's an airier material,” says Jamie Ueda, a New York City-based textiles expert who’s written for Reviewed.

By contrast, cotton sheets are typically smoother to the touch. “[Linen] feels rougher than cotton, so if someone has sensitive skin, they may not want to invest in linen sheets,” says Ueda. However, higher quality linen sheets tend to feel softer, so it is worth splurging on an expensive set if you’re able to.

Though linen sheets initially feel scratchier than cotton, that’s an indication of their durability, and they soften with washing and use over time. To ensure this process happens as quickly as possible, it’s important to wash your sheets weekly, ideally using a mild detergent.

Sustainability

Field of flax plants
Credit: Getty Images / Ruud Morijn

Fibers are extracted from flax to create linen fabrics.

As natural fibers, both cotton and linen are recyclable and biodegradable. However, linen is a more sustainable fabric all around. That’s because cotton manufacturing and cultivation relies on processes that lead to numerous environmental problems, including pollution from pesticides and wasteful, excessive water use. By contrast, linen requires less energy and water than cotton to produce the same amount of material. While less than 1% of linen is organically grown worldwide, organic linen doesn’t use synthetic fungicides, pesticides, and herbicides, which is healthier for local farms and their surrounding communities.

In other words, buying organic bedding can help reduce the amount of pesticides used in production that might harm the environment.

Durability

Linen has a reputation for being especially strong as far as fibers go. Cotton sheets tend to lose their texture and vibrancy after 2 to 3 years of use, while linen can last for decades with proper care. However, both cotton and linen bedding are made to last, as long as you treat it with proper care. Be sure to follow the care instructions on the label to prevent wrinkling and discoloration, and pre-treat stains with color-safe detergent or oxygen-based bleach. “As long as you're getting high-quality sheets, both cotton and linen are going to be durable and last a long time,” says Ueda.

Price

The best bed sheets we tested are made by Brooklinen.
Credit: Reviewed / Jackson Ruckar

We love Brooklinen’s cotton sheets, but they cost as much as linen ones.

Linen sheets tend to cost more than cotton sheets, but this isn’t always true. The Cutiver’s linen sheets, one of Ueda’s top picks, start at $160 for a queen set. You can get also a queen-size set for $170 from Quince, another one of Ueda’s favorites.

The price of cotton sheets can range based on thread count (the threads per inch of fabric) and cotton origin and quality. Our current favorite cotton sheets, the Luxe Core Sheet Set from Brooklinen, cost $179 for a queen set. We also recommend the California Design Den Cotton Sheets, which are $85 at full price and are of good quality.

That said, if you’re looking for sheets that are more breathable and leave less of an environmental impact—and are willing to care for them in a way that will make them last for years—it could be worth it to spring for linen, provided you like how they feel on your skin.

The product experts at Reviewed have all your shopping needs covered. Follow Reviewed on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, and Flipboard for the latest deals, product reviews, and more.

Prices were accurate at the time this article was published but may change over time.

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