Bamboo vs. Linen vs. Cotton Sheets – What’s the Difference?
You’ve probably been bombarded with all sorts of advice about how to sleep better.
The one thing you don’t hear much about is which bed sheets will give you the best rest. But that’s about to change.
What you need is a simple guide to help you compare the three most popular natural fabrics for sheets:
Bamboo, linen, and cotton.
And that’s precisely what you’ll find here:
No beating around the bush and no double-talk, just simple facts about the bedsheets that suit you best.
Untangling the Differences
Three fabrics, each with their pros and cons. So, how do you decide which is best in linen vs cotton sheets?
You focus on what’s important. There’s a vast number of differences between these fabrics, but most of them are irrelevant to you.
What you really want to know are the differences that matter. Here are the things that you need to know:
- Thread count
- Temperature control
That’s not an exhaustive list, but it’s enough for you to make an informed decision.
If you’re wondering about why any of those are featured there, don’t worry. You’ll get a breakdown of each and what makes it important.
The first is also the easiest to think of in quantifiable terms:
The “count” in thread count is the number of individual strands of fiber the sheets are woven with. If 50 threads are going lengthwise, and 50 going widthwise, the fabric has a thread count of 100.
It’s an important number, and you generally want a higher thread count with bedsheets. Higher thread counts are softer, but other factors also influence the comfort level.
But, here’s the catch:
A higher thread count isn’t always better, for two reasons.
If you pick a sheet that has an inordinately high thread count, it will trap heat too well and overheat you. The other reason concerns the little tricks manufacturers use to inflate the thread count artificially, such as using multiple yarns woven together.
Good cotton sheets typically fall in the 200 to 800 thread count range. Going far beyond that in either direction isn’t a good idea.
Bamboo bed sheets tend to have a lower thread count than cotton, around 250 to 350. However, the reduced thread count doesn’t necessarily mean a lower-quality sheet.
Bamboo fibers are naturally a little softer than cotton. A bamboo sheet will be as soft as a cotton sheet, with roughly twice the thread count.
Linen will typically have the lowest thread counts of these three fibers.
The thread count of linen sheets is in the 80-150 range.
However, linen’s unique structure makes the thread count an unreliable measure. Therefore, some manufacturers use weight instead. High-quality linen sheets will be in the 200g/m2 range.
The fibers are extracted from the stalks of flax plants and tend to be quite thick. This can be a big advantage, though.
The lower thread counts make linen much more breathable. In turn, this breathability makes linen ideal for staying comfortable during warmer nights. This is good to know when deciding between linen vs cotton sheets.
Even the best bed sheets in the world will need to be replaced eventually. But you shouldn’t have to worry about replacing them every other month.
Like everything else, though, there’s a trade-off:
Generally, the more durable a fabric is, the less comfortable it will be.
For instance, canvas is exceedingly resilient, but you’d never want canvas bed sheets.
Cotton has moderate tensile strength, so it will tear under stress. Still, it’s stronger when wet, so it easily withstands numerous washings.
Under normal conditions, cotton sheets can last anywhere between two and ten years – depending on the frequency of use. A more realistic life expectancy for any of the fabrics listed in this article is two to five years.
If you want to extend the lifespan of your cotton bed sheets, here are a few tricks:
- Choose a higher grade of cotton, it’s pricier but makes up for it in durability.
- Wash them with cold water and use a mild detergent.
- Avoid using bleach when washing.
Bamboo fibers used to make fabrics are longer than cotton, which makes the material more durable. The long fibers are less likely to tear or separate in the course of regular use.
Still, washing them on a gentle cycle and in cold water is the best practice to ensure their longevity.
Bamboo sheets are typically woven in two patterns:
Twill weave and sateen weave.
The sateen weave is silkier and softer to the touch and looks sleeker. However, the twill weave is substantially more durable.
Linen sheets, with their beefy fibers, persist substantially longer than cotton. They’re not prone to shedding or pilling, which helps their lifespan as well.
Properly cared for, linen sheets not only last a long time, but they also get better with age.
The ultimate goal of bed sheets is to keep you at a comfortable temperature. Not too cold, but not too warm either.
Higher thread-count fabrics allow less air to pass through, which can make them trap heat and moisture a little too well.
Ideally, you want a breathable fabric so that you won’t sweat. And one that also traps heat effectively, so you don’t get cold.
Cotton fits the bill perfectly, as the original “performance fabric”. Natural fibers are exceedingly breathable and great at staying warm. However, as mentioned in the thread count section, there is such a thing as too high a thread count.
With thread counts into the thousands, cotton sheets can act almost like a plastic bag. Trapping everything under them and creating a steamy environment.
So, cotton is fantastic at keeping you warm but might be a little too warm in the milder months.
The lower thread counts of bamboo sheets make them very breathable and comfortable. Choosing a simpler weave pattern will also help with the airflow.
In the temp-control department, bamboo and cotton sheets are roughly comparable.
Linen is a standout here as well.
Because the fibers are so thick, they can’t be woven very tightly. The looser weave makes linen great at allowing airflow, but not so great at trapping heat.
During colder nights, you might find that linen bed sheets aren’t quite enough to keep you warm.
To some, the ultimate criterion for bedsheets is whether they’re comfortable or not.
Indeed, it’s an important question.
The National Sleep Foundation cited comfortable bedding as an important part of getting a good night’s rest. And adequate sleep is well-known to be conducive to overall good health.
Cotton is at the peak of the comfort curve. Cotton sheets are renowned for their comfort and consistently rank as the most comfortable option.
Their comfort comes primarily from their softness. The fibers are short and fluffy, so they feel cushiony and velvety to the touch, which is critical for comfort levels.
They’re also breathable, as discussed above, so they won’t make you feel stifled.
And, most importantly, cotton is moisture-absorbing. People who suffer from night sweats will especially appreciate the wicking action of cotton.
But since cotton comes in so many varieties, it’s easy to end up with sheets that aren’t as comfortable as well. For the best experience, you should look for Egyptian cotton in a mid-range thread count.
Bamboo is also an excellent choice in terms of comfort. Even with lower thread counts, bamboo is as soft as cotton. And sometimes, even softer.
It’s not quite as good at absorbing moisture, though. Bamboo is naturally water-resistant, so while it will pull some moisture away from you, it won’t handle night sweats too well.
In linen vs cotton sheets, on the other hand, linen can initially be a bit stiff and prickly. It’s not quite as soft as cotton or bamboo, and some people even find it abrasive.
But here’s the exciting part:
Linen gets better the older it is.
After repeated washings and regular use, linen softens and becomes more flexible. A year or two into its use, linen is among the most comfortable and softest fabrics you’ll find.
So, if you think it’s worth the initial investment, you’ll reap the rewards down the line.
And if you’re wondering about moisture absorption, linen is excellent at that as well.
It can absorb and hold about 20 percent of its weight in moisture – pretty close to cotton’s 25 percent.
Finally, you’ll surely want to know about the differences in price between these options.
They can be significant. But it all depends on the quality of the sheets.
Thread counts rear their head once more in this section as they strongly dictate the price of sheets.
The price of cotton, particularly, correlates strongly to thread counts. Higher thread-count cotton is more expensive, almost as a rule.
Egyptian cotton, also known as extra-long-staple cotton, has a sterling reputation and commands the highest prices.
Bamboo is considerably cheaper than cotton, most of the time. However, with thread counts into the 400’s it can get quite pricey.
Linen sheets are often among the most affordable options. Since thread count isn’t that much of a factor, you can get away with lower counts that are still quite comfy.
The Best-Fitting Sheet for Your Bed
Now you’ve got a solid foundation to start from when you’re buying your next set of bed sheets.
All three fabrics are excellent choices, but some may better-suit your needs.
Cotton tends to be the most comfortable to sleep on, bamboo is the softest, and linen is ideal for people who tend to get hot in their sleep.
Pick the one that’s best for you and sleep well!