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Linen vs. Cotton Sheets: What’s the Difference?

We spend much of our lives in bed, so it’s important to choose wisely when it comes to bed sheets. Do you want super soft sheets? Bedding that will stand the test of time? Or are you simply looking for an affordable, everyday set to throw on your guest bed?

To help you narrow things down, let’s compare and contrast two popular bed sheet fabrics to see if either meets your needs. If you’re confused about the difference between linen and cotton sheets, we’ve got you. We’ll explain how each is made, what they feel like, how expensive they are, and how easy they are to maintain.

What Are Linen Sheets?

Linen is a luxury fabric that’s made using the long cellulose fibers found inside the stem of the flax plant. Producing linen is a laborious process – it involves soaking the flax stalks to remove the fibers from the stem, before drying and further processing to separate the soft inner fibers from the unusable outer fibers. These are then combed through and spun into yarn, and the yarn produces a high-quality, breathable, and durable fabric. 

As linen is made from thick fibers with a loose weave, the thread count tends to be lower than other fabrics, though this doesn’t indicate low quality.

What We Like About Linen Sheets

  • Breathable – Linen’s low thread count makes it a super breathable fabric that’s ideal for use in the summer or for people who tend to sleep hot.
  • Durable – Its long, thick fibers make linen an incredibly durable fabric that should stay looking new wash after wash.
  • Moisture-wicking – Linen is highly absorbent, but more importantly, it dries quickly. This means it will wick sweat away from your skin without becoming damp and icky.
  • Eco-friendly – Linen is one of the most sustainable fabrics out there and the process to make it produces very little waste. Plus, its durability means it should last you for years before it needs replacing. 100 percent linen is fully biodegradable, further reducing its environmental impact since it won’t stick around for too long in a landfill once you’re done with it. 

Potential Drawbacks of Linen Sheets

  • Expensive – Linen is expensive to produce, which is reflected in its higher price. However, with proper care, you should be able to enjoy your linen bedding for years to come, so the initial upfront cost may be a worthy investment. 
  • Wrinkled look – Linen fibers are thick with minimal elasticity, which means the fabric can wrinkle easily. However, some people regard this as one of linen’s charms, giving it a relaxed, lived-in look. If you prefer a smoother surface, you may need to iron your bedding after washing, which can make the fabric a little high maintenance. 
  • Can feel coarse – Linen has a distinct texture that may be too rough for sleepers who prefer the feel of buttery soft bedding. 
  • Limited color options – You may have noticed while shopping for bedding that linen bed sheets tend to come in fewer color and pattern options than other fabric types, which can be more limiting when it comes to complementing your decor.

Who Should Buy Linen Sheets?

Linen is an ideal fabric for people living in hot climates as it’s incredibly moisture-wicking and breathable, helping to keep you at a comfortable temperature while you sleep. It’s a great choice for shoppers who can spend a little more upfront, in exchange for sheets that will last them for years. Eco-friendly shoppers may also appreciate the fabric’s eco credentials. 

What Are Cotton Sheets?

Cotton is made from the fluffy white fibers that grow around the seeds of the cotton plant. These fibers are removed from the seed, before going through a process that involves cleaning, combing, and drying. This is then spun into yarn. 

Cotton lends itself well to bedding as it’s soft, breathable, and incredibly versatile, available in different types, weaves, and thread counts. 

Explore: Best Cotton Sheets

Types of Cotton Sheets

Egyptian Cotton

This is the most luxurious cotton, and it is softer, smoother, and more durable than other types of cotton. It’s also the most expensive type of cotton, and Egyptian cotton sheets tend to have a higher thread count than cheaper types of cotton. 

The name refers to where the cotton is sourced – genuine Egyptian cotton is grown along the Nile Delta in Egypt, an area known for its rich, fertile soil, and the perfect climate to grow cotton that has extra-long fibers. It’s these long fibers that give Egyptian cotton sheets their incredible softness, durability, and breathability. To ensure you’re buying a genuine product, look for a Cotton Egypt Association certification.  

Pima Cotton

Pima is another high-quality cotton made from extra-long fibers that give it superior durability, softness, and breathability. This type of cotton is primarily grown in Peru and parts of the United States as it requires a warm, dry climate. Though Pima cotton is considered luxurious, it’s less expensive than Egyptian cotton.

Upland Cotton

Upland cotton is the most common type of cotton as it’s the easiest to grow, which makes it the most affordable. Upland cotton has shorter fibers than Egyptian or Pima cotton, so it’s less soft and more prone to breakage and pilling. The majority of cotton farmed in the U.S. is upland cotton. 

What We Like About Cotton Sheets

  • Soft – Softness varies when it comes to cotton, as this is dependent on the type of cotton and weave that’s used. However, in general, cotton is a soft fabric from the get-go, so your new bedding should feel comfortable from the very first use. 
  • Breathable – Cotton is a naturally breathable fabric as it’s made using porous fibers that allow air to flow through. This can help keep you feeling fresh, especially in those warmer months. 
  • Choice of weaves – Bed sheets made using cotton are available in a range of weaves, such as sateen, percale, jersey, and twill. This makes the fiber extremely versatile, producing a wide variety of textures and feels. 
  • Huge choice of colors and patterns – As a popular bed sheet fabric, cotton is sold in a wide variety of colors and patterns, allowing you to create the bedroom aesthetic of your dreams. 
  • Affordable – The huge variety of cotton bedding means there’s something for all budgets, big and small. 

Potential Drawbacks of Cotton Sheets

  • Retains moisture – Although cotton is highly breathable, it’s also incredibly moisture-absorbent, so you may wake up with damp, heavy sheets if you sweat excessively. Moist cotton also loses its ability to regulate your body temperature, which could be a concern in the summer months. 
  • Creases easily – Natural fibers like cotton are prone to wrinkles, which can involve extra work on your part to keep your bedding looking smooth. 
  • Shrinkage – Cotton is prone to shrinking, which can be frustrating. 
  • Pilling – Cotton is made with short fibers that are more susceptible to breakage, which can result in pilling. This is when broken fibers tangle together, forming a tiny ball. Thankfully, you can usually remove pills with a fabric shaver or lint roller.
  • Environmental impact – The production of cotton requires a huge amount of water, and non-organic cotton is incredibly chemically intensive, using a lot of pesticides to protect the crops. 

Who Should Buy Cotton Sheets?

With so many different varieties, we’d argue that cotton sheets are for everyone. If you’re looking for an affordable, everyday set of sheets that tick the boxes for softness and breathability, you should be able to find a set of cotton sheets within your budget. 

At the more luxurious end of the scale, Egyptian or Pima cotton bed sheets offer superior softness, durability, and breathability. A great thing about cotton bedding is that it’s available in a wide variety of colors and patterns, so you’re sure to find something that fits the look of your bedroom. 

Linen vs. Cotton Sheets

Let’s compare these two fabrics side by side when it comes to important factors like comfort, temperature regulation, and cost. 


Linen and cotton are both breathable fabrics, but linen offers more breathability than regular cotton as it’s made with a looser weave, which allows more air to flow through. High-end cottons like Egyptian and Pima are more breathable than upland cotton because their longer fibers allow for more air circulation. 

Feel and Comfort

The great thing about cotton is that it feels soft straight out of the packaging and usually gets even softer with each wash. However, softness varies depending on the quality of the cotton, and the weave of the fabric. The thick fibers used to make linen can make the material feel slightly coarse, although the fabric does tend to soften over time. 


If durability is your main concern, then linen could be the one for you. The natural flax fibers used to make linen are strong and thick, creating a robust, quality fabric. However, Egyptian cotton and Pima cotton are also known for their durability because they’re made with extra-long fibers, which minimize breakage. You’ll pay more for the more durable options, but it may be worth it in the long run as the sheets should last longer than cheaper alternatives.


Linen will absorb moisture but it doesn’t hold onto it in the way that cotton does; it’s much more efficient at wicking away sweat and releasing it from the fabric. Cotton’s tendency to retain moisture affects its ability to regulate temperature, which may make linen a better choice for hot sleepers or those in warmer climates. 

Cleaning and Care

Both linen and cotton are prone to creasing, but cotton is a little more resistant to wrinkles, which may make it a preferred option for people who prefer lower-maintenance bedding. Linen requires a little extra care for washing, as heat can affect the quality of the fibers, while cotton is known for shrinking when washed. However, the good news is that both fabrics can be machine-washed at home; just be sure to check the care label and follow instructions carefully. 

Learn More: How Often Should You Wash Your Sheets?


Cotton is usually cheaper than linen as it’s more widely produced, and the process of producing linen is much more labor intensive. However, luxury cottons like Egyptian and Pima also come with a hefty price tag, which reflects the premium quality. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Are cotton or linen sheets better?

This is entirely subjective – regular cotton can be a great choice for shoppers seeking affordable, breathable, soft bedding. If you’re looking for luxury and have a higher budget, you might sway towards linen bedding, which is incredibly breathable, durable, and eco-friendly. However, some luxury shoppers may not like the slightly coarse texture of this fabric and could prefer the super-soft feel of Egyptian or Pima cotton.

Do hotels use linen or cotton sheets?

Most hotels will use cotton bed sheets, with more premium hotels using higher quality types like Egyptian or Pima cotton. Budget hotels may use cheaper upland cotton or a poly-cotton blend. You might find linen bedding in more upscale or boutique hotels.

Is linen bedding scratchy?

Linen bed sheets can feel more coarse than cotton because they’re made from flax fibers, which are thicker than cotton fibers. Linen does tend to soften over time, but it likely won’t ever feel as soft as Egyptian cotton.

Lisa Bowman

Lisa Bowman


About Author

Lisa is a content writer for Sleep Advisor, which combines two of her greatest passions – writing and sleeping. She can also be found writing about fitness, sustainability and vegan food.

Combination Sleeper