Linen vs Cotton: Which one is better in 2024?

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December 22, 2023

In the world of textiles, two fabrics often stand out in the spotlight – linen and cotton. These fabrics, each with their unique characteristics and benefits, have woven their way into the fabric of human civilization for thousands of years. But the question remains – linen vs cotton, which one is better? Let’s find out!

Key Takeaways

  • Cotton and linen have been used by humans for thousands of years, each offering unique benefits in terms of texture, breathability, and durability.

  • Linen is more sustainable than cotton due to its lower water consumption, reduced chemical use, and higher biodegradability.

  • The selection between cotton and linen fabric should be based on the specific application as well as personal preference, and budget considerations.

The Origins of Linen vs Cotton

Both fabrics stem from nature, but they originate from different plants. Linen, a durable fabric known for its natural fibers, owes its existence to the flax plant. As far back as 36,000 years ago, humans were spinning, dyeing, and knotting linen fibers, a testament to the fabric’s age-old popularity. Fast forward to the 21st century, and linen still holds a prominent place in our wardrobes and homes, especially in warm climates, thanks to its breathability.

On the other hand, cotton has a 6,000-year-old agricultural history, with cotton plants providing the cotton fibers that are spun into yarn and then woven into a cotton fabric. From Egyptian cotton to Pima cotton, the variations of cotton fabrics are as diverse as they are numerous. Cotton’s versatility makes it a staple in clothing, bedding, and even home furnishings.

The Flax Plant and Linen Fabric Production

Flax, the plant responsible for making linen, involves a meticulous process before it transforms into the linen fabric we know and love. After the flax plant is harvested, the flax fibers are separated from the plant stock, softened, and then woven into linen fabric. The weaving techniques used for linen are varied, with sheeting, loosely woven, damask, and plain woven linen being the primary techniques. Each weaving method gives linen its unique qualities.

For instance, sheeting linen, with its smooth surface and dense weave, is highly durable, while loosely woven linen offers high absorbency. Yet, regardless of the weave pattern, linen shares a common trait – it becomes softer with every wash.

The Cotton Plant and Cotton Fabric Production

The journey from plant to fabric is a little different for cotton. After the cotton plant is harvested, the cotton fibers are spun into yarn and then woven into a fabric known for its superior quality. The resulting cotton fabric can take on many forms, from luxurious Egyptian cotton to the everyday Upland cotton variety.

This adaptability has made cotton a common choice for clothing and bed sheets, with Egyptian cotton, Pima cotton, and Supima cotton being the most popular varieties.

Characteristics of Linen vs Cotton

While the two popular fabrics are each made from a natural material, they each offer unique textures, breathability, and durability.

Texture and Feel

When it comes to texture, linen and cotton offer distinct experiences. Different weaving techniques can further influence the texture of these fabrics.

  • With its coarse texture, linen feels initially stiff to the touch. However, its charm lies in its transformation over time. With each wash, the natural fibers become softer, gradually losing their stiffness and offering a uniquely comfortable feel.

  • In contrast, cotton offers a more familiar feel. Its texture can range from crisp to silky smooth, providing a soft and comforting sensation right from the start.

  • Linen wrinkles slightly more, giving it a casual, lived-in look that many find appealing.

  • While soft and comfortable, cotton pills over time, especially with frequent washing and use.

  • While sheeting linen is known for its smooth finish and high durability, loosely woven linen offers high absorbency due to its lower thread count, making it an excellent choice for bath towels and bed linens.

  • On the other hand, sateen cotton sheets are known for their lustrous and soft texture, offering a luxurious feel similar to damask linen.

Breathability and Temperature Regulation

When it comes to breathability and temperature regulation, linen takes the lead. Its long, hollow fibers allow air to circulate freely, making it an ideal choice for hot sleepers or hot climates. While cotton is breathable, it doesn’t quite match up to linen’s superior air circulation.

The breathability of these natural fibers can greatly influence your comfort, especially when used in bedding. Linen sheets offer greater breathability and temperature regulation than their cotton counterparts, ensuring a cool and comfortable sleep even on the warmest nights. Cotton sheets, while breathable, may not offer the same level of temperature regulation.

Durability and Longevity

Both linen and cotton offer impressive durability, but linen pulls ahead in the long run. Known for its robustness, linen is more resilient than cotton, making it a durable choice for items like reusable diapers and bed linens. The strength of linen is so impressive that it’s touted as being three times stronger than cotton, which is no small feat.

Cotton, on the other hand, is a fairly durable fabric and can withstand multiple washings before showing signs of wear and tear. However, it may not stand up to the test of time as well as linen. In the long run, linen’s superior durability and longevity can make it an economical choice, despite its higher upfront cost.

Caring for Your Linen vs Cotton Items

Taking good care of your fabric items can help maintain their quality and increase their lifespan.

Washing and Drying Linen

When it comes to linen, gentle care is key. Pure linen items should be machine-washed using a gentle cycle, cold water, and a mild detergent. This approach helps to prevent shrinkage and damage to the fabric. However, not all detergents are created equal. Choose a laundry detergent that is recommended for washing linen items as it is gentle on the fabric and can help to maintain its quality.

Air drying is the best option for linen items. Line drying helps to preserve the fabric’s integrity while avoiding direct sunlight can prevent color fading.

Washing and Drying Cotton

For cotton items, a gentle approach is also recommended. Cotton clothing can be machine-washed or hand-washed in cold water using a mild detergent. Warm water, between 40 to 60 degrees Celsius, is typically recommended for washing cotton clothes. Whether it’s a cotton t-shirt or bed sheets, a gentle wash cycle will help to maintain the fabric’s quality and longevity.

When it comes to drying, cotton items are best dried on low heat to prevent shrinking. However, line drying is equally effective and can help to maintain the fabric’s shape and size.

Ironing and Steaming

Proper ironing and steaming, apart from washing and drying, can also affect the lifespan and appearance of your linen and cotton items. For linen, the optimal temperature for ironing is 445 degrees Fahrenheit (230 degrees Celsius). However, ironing linen requires a delicate touch. It’s best to avoid pressing the iron on the fabric for too long or using high heat, as that can damage the fabric.

Cotton fabric, on the other hand, requires a slightly different approach. When ironing cotton, it’s recommended to allow the heat of the iron to penetrate the fabric before ironing to prevent gumming up the iron. Additionally, using a damp pressing cloth between the iron and the fabric can protect it from damage.

Sustainability and Environmental Impact

Both cotton and linen have an environmental impact, but the extent of this impact can vary significantly. Linen, for instance, is often considered to be more eco-friendly than cotton, thanks to its lower water consumption, reduced chemical use, and higher biodegradability.

Water Consumption

When it comes to water consumption, linen is the clear winner. Producing a linen shirt requires only 6.4 liters of water, while to manufacture a cotton shirt, thousands of liters are needed.

Conventional cotton farming is particularly water-intensive, requiring significant irrigation in addition to natural rainfall. This high water consumption, coupled with the use of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, can lead to water pollution and depletion of water resources.

Organic cotton farming typically uses less water than conventional cotton farming. This is achieved through the use of organic fertilizers, which help to improve soil health and water retention, reducing the need for irrigation.

Conversely, the flax plant, from which linen is derived, requires less water. It can grow in poor-quality soil and requires less irrigation, relying mostly on natural rainfall. This makes the water footprint of linen significantly lower than that of cotton.

Chemical Use

In conventional linen production, chemicals are used during the retting process, which helps to separate the flax fibers from the rest of the stalk. This process often involves the use of enzymes or chemicals like alkali and acids. In addition, linen is often bleached to give it a pure white color, and sometimes it is treated with additional chemicals to make it wrinkle-resistant.

Similarly, conventional cotton production is associated with heavy pesticide use. Cotton crops are often treated with insecticides, fungicides, and herbicides. These chemicals can have detrimental effects on the environment and can also remain in the final product, potentially causing skin irritations for some users.

In contrast, organic production aims to minimize chemical use. Organic linen is produced using mechanical retting processes that do not require chemicals. In addition, organic linen is often left unbleached or is bleached using safer alternatives, and it is not treated with wrinkle-resistant chemicals.

Organic cotton farming avoids the use of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers. Instead, it relies on natural pest control methods and organic fertilizers. This not only reduces the environmental impact but also results in a final product that is free from pesticide residues, making it a safer choice for individuals with sensitive skin or allergies.

In conclusion, while both cotton and linen production can involve chemical use, organic methods significantly reduce this usage, resulting in a more eco-friendly and skin-friendly product.

Biodegradability and Recycling

Beyond water and chemical use, the environmental impact of cotton and linen is also influenced by their biodegradability and recycling potential. Here are some key points to consider:

  • Cotton and linen are natural fibers and therefore biodegradable, meaning they can break down naturally over time.

  • Linen is often considered more environmentally friendly than cotton because it has a higher biodegradation rate.

  • Both cotton and linen can be recycled to create new textiles, which helps reduce waste and promote sustainability in the textile industry.

However, the biodegradability of these fabrics can be influenced by certain treatments. For instance, chemical treatments, such as bleaching and the application of softeners or resins, can alter the biodegradation rate.

Choosing Between Linen vs Cotton for Different Applications

Choosing between linen and cotton often depends on the specific application. Whether you’re in the market for comfortable linen cotton bedding, stylish clothing, or durable home textiles, both cotton and linen have their distinct advantages.


Linen bedding is more breathable, making it an ideal choice for hot sleepers or for use in the summer. Additionally, linen sheets are more durable, with the potential to last up to five years, and are three times stronger than cotton sheets.

On the other hand, cotton bedding is still fairly durable and may be more suitable for most seasons.


Linen clothing has a high capacity for sweat absorption and heat dissipation, making it a suitable choice for warm and humid climates.

On the other hand, cotton clothing, while not as efficient at managing sweat, is also a good choice due to its breathability and comfort.

Whether you prefer the rustic charm of linen fabrics or the familiar comfort of cotton, both are excellent choices for clothing.

Home Textiles

Both fabrics are durable, breathable, and soft, making them excellent choices for curtains, towels, and tablecloths.

Cotton is typically more affordable and easier to clean, while Linen offers a cooler and crisper feel.

Linen, however, is thought to be more eco-friendly than cotton, though sustainable cotton options are available.

Ultimately, the choice between cotton and linen will depend on your personal preference, needs, and budget.

Allergies and Skin Sensitivities

Allergies and skin sensitivities can significantly influence the choice between cotton and linen.

Linen is renowned for its hypoallergenic properties, making it a suitable option for those with allergies and skin sensitivities. Cotton, on the other hand, is also naturally hypoallergenic, though it may not be as effective at inhibiting the growth of bacteria and pathogens.

However, it’s important to note that not all cotton and linen fabrics are created equal. The use of chemicals during softening treatments, for instance, can present a concern for those with sensitive skin. Therefore, it’s essential to consider not only the natural fiber itself but also the treatments it has undergone when choosing between linen and cotton.

By choosing certified cotton or linen, you can ensure that your fabric is produced free from harmful chemicals and safe for human use.

Price and Affordability

Lastly, we come to a deciding factor when choosing between cotton and linen fabric: the cost. Linen is generally more expensive than cotton due to the increased manufacturing costs. However, investing in linen pieces offers numerous advantages that make the cost worthwhile.

On the other hand, the mass production of cotton textiles allows for more accessible prices. However, despite its lower upfront cost, cotton fibers may not stand up to the test of time as well as linen fibers. With its impressive durability and longevity, linen can be an economical choice in the long run, despite its higher upfront cost.


Both linen and cotton fabrics have their unique charms and advantages. From their origins in nature to their distinct textures and durability, cotton and linen offer varied experiences that cater to different needs and preferences. Whether you prioritize sustainability, comfort, or style, the choice between cotton and linen often comes down to personal preference. After all, in the world of textiles, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution. Instead, the beauty lies in the diversity and versatility of fabrics like cotton and linen.


What Is Linen?

Linen is a natural fabric made from the flax fibers of the flax plant, Linum usitatissimum. It’s known for its strength, breathability, and durability. Linen has a distinct texture and feel, which becomes softer and more comfortable with each wash. It’s a popular choice for clothing and home textiles, particularly in warm climates, due to its exceptional breathability and moisture-wicking properties.

What Is Linen Made Of?

Linen is made from the flax fibers of the flax plant, Linum usitatissimum. The flax plant fibers are extracted and processed into yarn, which is then woven into linen fabric. This natural fiber is known for its durability, breathability, and high absorbency, which makes it a popular choice for linen clothes, linen bedding, and other home textiles.

Is Cotton Linen?

No, cotton is not linen. While both are natural fibers and used in textile production, they come from different plants. Cotton fibers come from the cotton plant, while linen fibers are derived from the flax plant. Both have their unique characteristics and uses.

Are Linen Sheets Comfortable?

Yes, linen sheets are known for their unique comfort. While they may feel slightly rougher than cotton sheets when new, they get softer with each wash, becoming incredibly comfortable over time. The breathability of linen also adds to its comfort, making it an excellent choice for hot climates or hot sleepers. So, while the feel of linen is different from that of most cotton sheets, many people find the experience of sleeping on linen sheets exceptionally comfortable.

Is Linen Breathable?

Yes, linen is highly breathable. Its long, hollow fibers allow air to circulate freely, making it an ideal choice for hot sleepers or for use in the summer. While cotton is breathable, it doesn’t quite match up to linen’s superior air circulation.