Even natural fibers have differences. With raw materials coming from nature it may be hard to tell one from the other unless you are comparing silk to hemp. But nature doesn't make everything uniform and you will see differences between the fabrics.
The main difference between cotton and linen is the plants that they come from. Linen comes from the flax plant while cotton comes from, you guessed it, the cotton plant. Both have been around for thousands of years and used from ancient societies to modern ones.
To learn about the differences between these two natural fabrics, just continue to read our article. It has the information you want to know about in order to use both fabrics to their fullest potential. Don’t be surprised to find many similarities though.
To help you find the differences between these two fabrics when you are busy, here is a quick comparison chart keeping the differences, short, sweet, and easy to read:
|Point of origin||The cotton plant||The flax plant|
|Texture||Can be fine but not as fine as linen||Much finer than cotton but not as fine as silk|
|Wrinkles||Cotton does not get as many wrinkles as linen does||Linen needs more ironing as it gets lots of wrinkles|
|Breathability||Cotton may breathe a little better than linen||May not breathe as well but keeps you warmer|
|Bed sheets||Good for winter but you may over heat during the night||Allows you to breathe the whole night through|
|Color options||A myriad of colors to choose from||Limited number of colors available|
|Weaves||Cotton has more weave options||Not as many as cotton has|
|Durability||Durable but not as strong as linen||Very durable and strong|
|Hypoallergenic||Not as good as linen||Better than cotton may not be as good as bamboo|
|Cost||Very affordable||A lot more expensive than cotton|
|Sustainability||Needs lots of water for plants to grow||Very hardy and needs less water than the cotton plant|
Cost-wise one would say that cotton is better as the fabric will fit your clothes budget a lot easier than linen well. That is the way it will go throughout this comparison. Cotton is better in some categories while linen is better in others.
For durability, strength, and texture, linen is probably the better material to use in your sewing projects. While cotton would be better in design and color options as well as softness. Linen is better at hypoallergenic care while cotton makes the room look a lot better.
For your use, it will depend on your family situation and lifestyle. You are not going to suffer if you choose one fabric over the other. Both have their positive points that make them ideal for everyday use and special events.
Since cotton comes in more attractive colors it is the better one for a fashion statement but you can dye linen easily to make it look just as good as cotton.
There are a lot of similarities between the two fabrics that make it hard to define each one. Linen is great for those hot and humid days as it allows you to breathe a lot easier. Plus, linen has moisture-wicking capabilities while cotton may absorb more moisture and put you in more embarrassing situations.
Both fabrics dye well but that is not usually needed with cotton as it comes in a wide array of colors and designs than linen does. To dye cotton it only needs to be done when there are bleach mistakes or other stains or the color has faded.
Then cotton plants can be grown almost anywhere in the world. This advantage helps cut the cost of the material. Linen is not so fortunate and the flax plant needs specific regions to grow well. This drives up the cost even though it may use less water than the cotton plant does.
Flax is not like cotton and cannot be grown anywhere there is soil. It is native to the Fertile Crescent all the way down to India whereas cotton can be found almost anywhere. This difference in the habitat influences the price somewhat.
Even though flax is grown on the Canadian prairies and other locations it is not always used for making linen. This drives the cost up even more. Which makes linen more expensive than cotton.
Cotton may suffer from a high demand but it can be grown in large quantities helping meet that demand and keeping the cost low. Even though both fabrics enjoy a long and storied history, used as long as 5000 years ago, that history has done nothing to lower the cost of flax or linen.
Lower qualities of both fabrics may be cheap to buy but linen still may be the more expensive of the two even in those low-quality categories.
They say that linen is more sustainable than cotton and that is because the flax plant needs less water than cotton does to survive. Also, it takes less water to turn the flax plant into a fiber than it does cotton.
Then since flax is a hardy plant, it doe snot need as many pesticides to keep it healthy when growing. Cotton does as it does have the boll weevil to contend with. That insect eats cotton for breakfast, lunch, and supper so more pesticides are needed to keep the plant healthy and producing a lot of cotton.
Then linen is more eco friendly than cotton as fewer chemicals to turn the flax fibers into linen fabric. Cotton is a very needy plant that needs lots of chemical help. With the large acreage needed to grow cotton a lot of valuable land is needed to grow that crop.
Flax can grow in poor soil and does not need a lot of it.
According to most people, they would take linen over cotton when they live in a high humidity region of the country. Linen works well in that type of environment making the cotton second bet.
While both fabrics have great breathing capability, linen may have the edge. Overnight it is possible that the cotton sheets may cause you to overheat a little while the linen should have you resting comfortably throughout the night.
Along with its great breathing ability, linen dries fast so you should not see or feel any sweat marks when you wake up. Cotton is no slouch here but it doesn’t perform as well as linen can especially when the humidity levels get too high.
Cotton has a lot of great attributes and it is cheaper than linen thus that may be the reason why so many people choose the former fabric over the latter.
We have been trying to avoid saying, it depends on your preference as most comparison categories are so close between these two fabrics that it really does depend on your preference.
When placed on your bed at night, both fabrics perform really well and help you get a nice comfortable rest. Both cotton and linen soften up as you wash them, so you are not going to sacrifice any nice feel by choosing one over the other.
Cotton may have the edge when it comes to softness but when it comes to the night sweats linen may be the champ there. It will depend on the quality of the sheets as higher thread counts do make a difference.
Good Egyptian cotton may be hard for a top linen sheet to beat in all categories. When you have a high thread count in your sheets, you know you are going to be treated very well.
The higher the thread count in the napkins will determine which material is better. Usually, cotton has a higher thread count and makes using those napkins easier. But both fabrics add a touch of style and class to any table.
No one will really notice which material you are using for napkins because while the fabrics are different, they are absorbent, soft, and look good.
Linen napkins may be more hypoallergenic than cotton which would give it the edge here but with cotton’s myriad of color and design options, you have more chances of matching your table cloth and runner with that fabric.
Your pocketbook may also have a say in which fabric napkin you will use as linen will be more expensive than cotton ones. On the other hand, linen is stronger and more durable than cotton so that fabric may have the winning hand.
Here is a category where cotton really shines. It is one of the most absorbent fabrics you can buy today. Linen and wool come n a close second and third to this top fabric. When you have big spills, you should turn to cotton to wipe up the mess.
This is important as usually, linen is the stronger more durable fabric. It just doesn’t quite get the edge of cotton in this situation. Cotton can absorb 25% of its weight in moisture which is a very good figure.
Where linen would top cotton, in this case, is that it will dry faster than cotton and be ready for more spills a lot quicker. But with cotton’s absorbency rate there may not be more spills to clean up.
Make your own choice as cotton is cheaper and you can buy more cotton napkins etc., to absorb all the spills you want.
When traveling or having to sleep in a hot room, linen is the fabric you want around. Not only is this material lightweight, but it also dries faster than cotton will. That is good when you get to your hotel and need to make a quick change before your meeting starts.
Also, cotton usually has more of a relaxed look when worn. There are top cotton dress shirts but linen seems to add an air of elegance when you are wearing that fabric instead of cotton.
Then linen shouldn’t make you sweat but if you are an abnormal perspiring type person, you may want to wear an undershirt underneath the linen shirt to hide any sweat or sweat stains. This fabric is not good at keeping those types of secrets.
It is just a good thing that linen dries so fast so you may not show any embarrassing sweat stains if you do happen to sweat.
In the beginning, cotton shirts may feel like the next best thing to a soft pillow and comfortable sheets but over time that fabric may lose some of that quality and you will be looking for a new shirt to recapture that softness.
With linen, it seems that the more you wash it and the older it gets, the softer its feel. So if you have time to invest in a good linen shirt, you shouldn’t lose that soft comfortable feeling any time soon.
The time of year will also determine which shirt is best. Linen is great for hot and hum,d weather while cotton will be perfect all year round. Cotton can insulate better than linen so when the cold weather comes, leave the linen shirts for the warmer days of the year.
If you hate wrinkles go with the cotton shirt over the linen one every time.
Cotton absorbs better than linen does and can hold up to 25% of its weight. That is a good characteristic to have when you have to hand dry the dishes. This is although linen fibers are fatter than cotton ones.
If you ever wondered why the linen thread count was always lower than cotton’s it is because cotton fibers are thinner and more can be placed in the towel. But those thicker fibers do not seem to absorb as much moisture than cotton dish towels can.
That is one of the aspects you should look for when shopping for dish towels. As with other cotton fabrics, like sheets, shirts, socks and more, the cotton dish towels should come in more colors and designs than the linen ones will.
That makes it easier to match your kitchen’s decor.
It is almost a match made in heaven. Linen does blend well with other fabrics and making cotton its fabric partner is an ideal combination. You get the colors and less wrinkle factor that cotton owns.
That is something you want as certain linen qualities don't dye very well and you are stuck with the limited color range. Then in reverse, the linen part of the blend makes your clothing better suited for the upcoming humidity.
Linen’s durability helps the cotton material last longer and your clothes should keep you nice and cool as both fabrics breathe well. Also, linen’s fast-drying ability makes sure you stay looking your best even when the temperatures get a little hotter than normal.
It is almost impossible to lose when you buy a top-quality cotton and linen blend. You will notice we said top quality because the lower quality blends may not be so good
For all the positive qualities that 100% linen has, some negative ones make the linen-cotton blend better than the 100% pure linen fabric. The thicker pure linen fibers are not particularly great for dress shirts.
But for dress pants, 100% cotton or 100% linen is better than the cotton-linen blend. Then the blend is better for softness and a lack of wrinkles. Pure linen will wrinkle a lot more and a lot faster than the blend will.
Then the blend should last longer, be more resilient, and so on. Both are good for the summer helping you to look good and stay cool for as long as you can. If you want to go light weight go with the blend as it may be tougher to find pure linen in lightweight styles.
Linen and cotton are two fine natural fabrics. They both have great characteristics but it is the differences that set them apart. Of course, the biggest difference, their cost, influences more people to buy cotton over linen every day.
But if you want durability as well as top breathability, then you may want to pay the extra and go with the linen fabric. The choice is up to you and which fabric you prefer.