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Flax Linen vs Cotton - Which One Makes For Better Bedding?

6 min read

Flax Linen vs Cotton - Which One Makes For Better Bedding?

Flax Linen vs Cotton - Which One Makes For Better Bedding?

Linen vs Cotton - Which one leads to a more relaxing sleep? As adults, we start to pay attention to these things.  Let's face it, the older we get the more we become creatures of comfort. The choices we make about our bedding have a major impact on sleep comfort and therefore the quality of our sleep. One of the most important questions we can ask ourselves is best natural fabric to sleep on?

Linen or Cotton, these two stand out as the most popular natural fibers that are the best materials for bed sheets. Each of them has their own strengths and weaknesses, depending on how you use them. 

Linen certainly has a je ne sais quoi finesse about it that conjures dreamy fantasies of ruggedness, romance and royalty. Flax Linen Sheets have rightfully earned their place on beds in finest boutique hotels & ski chalets, as well as daybeds in cottages of french countryside. Linen has even made it as the fabric of choice on the beds of the Queen of England.

The utility of Cotton cannot be ignored, be it the cozy feeling of natural jersey flannel, to cool and crisp with percale, and silky and smooth finishes with pima cotton. Depending on the season, sheets made from certain types of cotton material may prove inadequate against the cold winter chill and scorching summers. Due to it's texture, breathability and durability, Linen is often linked with style and comfort of all seasons.

Cotton and Linen Go Way Back
Flax harvesting and Linen making in Egypt

Linen is a part of some of the oldest textiles in the world. In fact, archeologists discovered something particularly curious about the famous Egyptian mummy King ‘Tut’: they found linen woven with inscriptions in his tomb.  Egyptians also used linen as currency, and the use of flax plant to make this currency dates back to 8000 BC. The earliest evidence of flax-into-textile conversion comes from Dzudzuana Cave, the modern-day Republic of Georgia, thirty thousand years ago. 

Flax Linen vs Cotton - Which one is better for bedding?

Cotton was discovered while searching the Caves in Mexico researchers found balls of cotton and some small bits of cotton cloth that proved to be at least 7000 years old. It turns out that Mayans had grown cotton just like how it was grown at the inception of the US.

The Indus River Valley which was once India and now Pakistan has long had a cotton trade spun and woven into cloth 3000 BC until modern industrial times. Even the acclaimed humanitarian Gandhi was known to spin his own cotton fabric. Also approximately 3000 BC, Egypt’s Nile valley were making and wearing cotton clothing. These regions and Turkey continue to be mass producers of the garments and bedding made from cotton.

Cotton Fields in Turkey - Linen vs Cotton | FlaxLinens Blog

Arab merchants brought cotton cloth to Europe about 800 A.D. When Columbus discovered America in 1492, he found cotton growing in the Bahama Islands. By 1500, cotton was known generally throughout the world.

As far as the history of cotton in the USA, cotton seed are believed to have been planted in Florida in 1556 and in Virginia in 1607. By 1616, colonists were growing cotton along the James River in Virginia.

Cotton will forever be associated to the slave trade and has been marred and tainted by the early slave domination of colonial white over African Slaves in the US and child labor in India. That does not make us at Flax Linens rest that easy.

History of Cotton Fields Slavery and Child Labor in Georgia, USALinen on the other hand only became popular after the industrial revolution, upon the establishment of cottage industries. While linen has been commonly used throughout history, it is currently going through a second renaissance along with other sustainable fibers like hemp and nettle.

Cotton vs. Linen Fibers
Flax vs Cotton Fiber
Both of them come from naturally occurring cellulose fibers, extracted from two different plants – flax in case of linen and cotton plant in case of cotton.
  • Under the microscope, it resembles а collapsed, spirally twisted tube with а rough surface.
  • The thin cell wall of the fiber has from 200 to 400 convolutions per inch.
  • Under the microscope, the hair like flax fiber shows several sided cylindrical filaments with fine pointed ends.
  • The fiber somewhat resembles а straight, smooth. 
    Highlighted underneath are some of other major comparison points between the two

    The Durability

    Linen is infamously one of the world’s strongest fibers. Cotton by contrast is softer and fluffier. Linen fibers are longer than Cotton, more intricately wrapped and therefore, less susceptible to damage. Cotton tends to pile on with the more you wash it.  This is due the cotton yarn being weaker than linen fiber.
    Long Flax Fibers - Linen vs Cotton for Bedding | Flax Linens Blog
    If we are talking about bang for you buck, we must consider short term gratification vs longevity of use. Alternatively, manufacturers strengthen cotton by adding yarn to the fabric leading to higher thread counts then cotton. Cotton does not have enough durability to sustain itself for years so holes are more likely to form quicker in Cotton Sheets vs Linen ones.

    The Softer Texture

    Linen is often presumed to be coarser than Cotton because of the structured flax fibers. The coarseness is dependent upon the kind of flax used in the making of the linen fibers. Most linen used for bed sheets undergo a process called stonewashing. Belgian style linens are pre-washed, whereas Irish linens are not and are therefore tend to be coarser to the touch and not a great choice for bedding.

    Alternatively, the Cotton is smoother to touch. Though generally cotton is softer than the average Linen, stonewashed and high quality linen used in the making of bed sheets is much softer than the average cotton.

    Cotton comes out of the package softer and smoother but roughen up over time whereas Linen softens considerably the more it is used. This softening of linen is prolonged. 

    The Wrinkles

    Both of them, Linen and Cotton, wrinkle easily. Because of the naturally occurring lignin in the linen fibers, which causes its relative rigidity and stiffness, they crease more easily than cotton. The wrinkles become less likely as the fabric becomes softer with time. 


    Moisture Absorption

    Linen sheets have a high rate of water absorption, gaining up to 20 percent water before it gets wet. Cotton is around 13 percent. In fact, linen is nature’s wicking fiber. Hence, it gains strength when it absorbs the moisture. On the contrary, cotton becomes weaker after you expose it to moisture.

    The higher rate of absorption also gives linen the ability to prevent bacterial growth, which is what makes it the perfect fabric for kitchen and bathroom towels.

    Linen vs Cotton - Different Fibers Moisture Absorption Table | Flax Linens

    Impact on Health

    Did you know that ancient Egyptians used Linen for its bacteria-repelling and anti-allergen properties? Historically, linen aided the sleep routine of skin-sensitive people. Moreover, linen also reduces the symptoms of conditions as serious as arthritis and dermatitis because of how soft and flexible it is. It is often linked with alleviating the symptoms of menopause for women as well as it thermos-regulates night sweat and hot flashes. Not only that, it has been proven that a good night’s sleep provides a chance for the brain and body to heal, increases metabolism, boosts memory, and sharpens attention.

    Environmental Sustainability

    Compared to Cotton, Linen cultivation and fabric production is less resource-intensive. For the same amount, linen fabric extraction from the flax plant utilizes much less water and pesticides as compared to the cotton production method. Additionally, linen takes up less surface area and leaves behind minimal wastage because of its biodegradability – as compared to cotton, which leaves a lot of wastage and harmful by-products behind affecting the water table of the local area where it is grown

    Flax fields in Normandy France - Linen vs Cotton | FlaxLinens Blog

    Insulation Properties

    Owing to the fact that Linen fibers are heavily spaced and hollow in nature, they naturally allow for greater flow of hair and moisture. This means that linen is a naturally occurring insulating fiber. Hence, linen traps the cold when it’s summer and retains the warmth when it’s chilly.

    On the contrary, Cotton provides better comfort, in terms of insulation, as compared to synthetic materials. They have just the right amount of weight to nest you comfortably. Both of these qualities of the linen and cotton are naturally occurring properties of the fiber itself.

    Hypo-Allergenic Properties

    Cotton and linen are both naturally occurring fibers, which means that they are both great for people who suffer from allergies of dust or hay fever. Linen has an edge over cotton because of its extra loose fibers, which are less prone to capturing dust and allergy-intensive substances.

    Which One Makes For Better Bedding: Cotton or Linen?

    Cotton may be preferable for clothes, Linen bed sheets have to be hands down the winners in the sleeping comfortably department. Not only does Linen have high durability and make you feel like its hugging your body, but it will keep you cool and comfy on the hottest of all nights. Add to that the fact that it’s moisture absorbent which mean no waking up in uncomfortable sweats.

    In Summary:

    Cotton is produced on a wide-scale, soft, less wrinkly and resilient, requires more water and pesticide which has an effect on the environment. Depending upon the season, sheets made from certain cotton material may prove inadequate against the cold winter chill and scorching summers. It is also difficult to forget that cotton is linked with a history of child labor and slave trade.  

    Linen is smoother, softens over time, eco-friendly and durable with its crop being very sustainable with an ancient history. As bed sheets, linen will last for generations to come and people often pass linen sheets down generations. In fact, in Europe, linen is considered to be the best quality fabric to sleep in.

    Alas, cotton and linen do live in harmony in one place which touches our daily lives. Most people do not even realize, the US currency is currently printed with 75% cotton and 25% linen which gives it a distinct look and texture from other currencies. 

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