Linen vs. Cotton: A Comprehensive Comparison

Which is better, linen or cotton? Get insights on everything from sustainability and texture to maintenance, ensuring you choose the best fabric for your needs.

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Linen vs. Cotton: A Comprehensive Comparison

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Key takeaways

  • Linen and cotton are natural fabrics, each with unique benefits and drawbacks. 
  • While linen and cotton offer several benefits, the right fabric depends on personal preferences, needs, and values.
  • Linen is generally considered a more environmentally friendly fabric than cotton. However, there are also some sustainable cotton options.


Linen and cotton are two popular natural fabrics. From everyday clothing and comfortable bedding to curtains and tablecloths, both fabrics serve various functions. But how do the two fabrics compare?

Whether you're a conscientious consumer looking to create a more sustainable wardrobe or one looking for a primer on linen and cotton, read on to learn the essentials you need to know about both natural fabrics.

What Is Linen?

Linen is derived from the fibers of the flax plant. It is one of the oldest natural fabrics in the world, and it has been used for hundreds of years to make various items, such as clothing, bedding, towels, home decor items, and even industrial products like rope.

Linen is made from the cellulose fibers found in the stem of the flax plant. To extract the cellulose fibers, the flax stems are first harvested and then dried. Afterward, the dried stems are soaked in water to soften the fibers. The fibers are then removed from the stem and spun into yarn. Finally, the yarn is woven into the final product — linen.

Types of Linen Fabric

Linen comes in various types, each different primarily depending on the texture and weaving pattern used. Some of the most common types of linen fabric include:

Damask Linen

Damask linen is an ornate type of linen known for its intricate patterns woven into the fabric and smooth texture. It’s mainly used to make tablecloths, napkins, and high-end linen clothes.

Plain-Woven Linen

Plain-woven linen is the most common form of linen fabric. It’s produced by weaving the linen fibers in a simple alternating pattern, resulting in a coarse texture. It’s often used in towels.

Sheeting Linen

Sheeting linen is a tightly woven form of linen with a soft, smooth surface. These qualities make it a top choice for bedding and casual clothing.

Loosely Woven Linen

Also known as loose weave linen, this form of linen is less durable but more absorbent than other linen types. This quality makes it ideal for reusable diapers and cleaning cloths.

What Is Cotton?

Cotton is a fabric derived from the fibers of the cotton plant. It is the world's most-grown natural fabric and the most commonly used natural fiber in the textile industry (Renewable Carbon News, 2019). Cotton is also one of the world's oldest natural fabrics, dating back to 6,000 years (Maestri, 2020). Like linen, cotton makes various textiles, including clothing, bedding, and home decor items.

Cotton is made from the cellulose fibers found in the seeds of cotton plants. Cotton bolls are first harvested and dried to produce cotton. Afterward, the dried bolls are opened to reveal the cotton seeds. The seeds are then removed, and the cotton fibers are separated from the seeds. The fibers are then cleaned and spun into long strands of yarn. Finally, the yarn is woven into the final product — cotton.

Types of Cotton Fabric

With its versatile nature, cotton comes in many variants, each with unique properties and uses. Some of the most common types of cotton fabric include:

Upland Cotton

Upland cotton is the most widely cultivated type of cotton. It's known for its relatively short to medium-length fibers and is used extensively in everyday garments and textiles.

Pima Cotton 

Pima cotton is an extra-long staple cotton known for its relatively long fibers. It’s often used to make high-quality bedding, towels, and clothing.

Egyptian Cotton

Egyptian cotton is another long-staple cotton that boasts long and fine fibers. It’s prized for its excellent softness, strength, and shape retention. These qualities make it a premium choice for high-end clothing, bedding, and luxury items.

Supima Cotton

Supima cotton is an American-grown, long-staple cotton that shares many similarities with Pima cotton. Like Pima cotton, it’s also used in high-end textiles.

Organic Cotton

Organic cotton is an eco-friendly cotton variant. It's grown without synthetic pesticides or fertilizers and isn't genetically modified.

Linen vs Cotton: Key Differences 

While linen and cotton are natural fibers with several similarities, they aren't quite the same. Here are some notable differences between the two fabrics:


Cotton offers better elasticity and flexibility than linen. However, it isn’t as durable as linen. Linen offers better durability because its cellulose fibers are longer, stronger, and more closely woven than those in cotton yarn, enhancing its longevity. These qualities also make linen fabrics less prone to wear and tear.


Linen has a textured surface that’s slightly coarse yet soft to the touch, while cotton has a softer, more velvety texture.


Both linen and cotton are highly absorbent. Cotton is more absorbent, though. It can hold up to 27 times its weight in water, slightly more than linen (Ravandi & Valizadeh, 2011). 


Linen has excellent moisture-wicking qualities, which means it dries fast. Cotton also wicks moisture relatively well, but it doesn’t wick moisture as well as linen. Cotton can also give a musty smell when dried improperly. This quality makes linen better suited for items like towels.


Both linen and cotton offer excellent breathability, making them ideal for warm climates and summer clothing. Both fabrics allow air to circulate freely throughout the fabric, keeping the body cool and comfortable. 

Cotton offers good breathability, but it depends on how the fibers are woven together. Cotton that's loosely woven offers better breathability than cotton that's tightly woven. For instance, loosely woven cotton weaves like muslin and flannel offer better breathability than closely woven weaves like denim and percale. 

Linen fabric offers slightly better breathability because its fibers are more spaced out than cotton fibers. This quality makes it a top choice for bedding and summer clothing.


Linen and cotton aren't ideal for fall or winter clothing compared to natural fibers like wool. However, certain cotton variants like flannel offer better heat insulation than linen fabrics. But it's advisable to layer both fabrics with other textiles to combat the cold.

Hypoallergenic Properties

Like many natural fabrics, linen and cotton are great for people with allergies. However, linen is better suited for people allergic to dust because its loose weave is less likely to trap dust and particles.


Linen and cotton are more affordable than natural fabrics like wool or silk. However, linen is more expensive than cotton because it isn't as widely grown and is more labor-intensive to produce. 

Conversely, cotton costs less than linen because it's widely grown and less labor-intensive to harvest. However, textiles made from long-staple cotton variants like Egyptian or Pima cotton usually cost more than those made from standard cotton.

Linen vs. Cotton: Which Fabric Is More Eco-Friendly?

Like many natural fabrics, linen and cotton are eco-friendly. However, linen is generally considered more sustainable than cotton.

Flax, the plant linen is derived from, requires less water and pesticides than many other crops. Linen processing also consumes less energy than the production of many other natural fibers. Furthermore, linen production generates minimal waste, as nearly every part of the flax plant is used during production.

Conventional cotton farming, on the other hand, requires heavy pesticide use and lots of water. In 2013, it was estimated that cotton production accounted for nearly 11% of the world’s pesticide use (Johnson et al., 2020). Additionally, it takes roughly 10,000 liters of water to produce one kilogram of cotton (The World Counts, n.d.). In comparison, flax cultivation requires 60% less water than cotton (Roux, 2021). Moreover, cotton production consumes lots of energy and generates plenty of waste.

Nonetheless, while linen is a more sustainable fabric than cotton, here are some key things to remember when choosing eco-friendly natural fabrics:

  • Look for fabrics made from organic fibers: Natural fabrics made from organic fibers like organic cotton are grown without synthetic pesticides and fertilizers, making them more environmentally friendly.
  • Buy fabrics from sustainable fashion brands: Purchase natural fabrics from fashion brands committed to reducing their environmental impact, such as People Tree, Tentree, Patagonia, Pact, and Eileen Fisher.
  • Choose fabrics with sustainable clothing labels: Look for garments with eco-friendly certified labels, such as the OEKO-TEX, Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS), or Forest Stewardship Council labels.


Which is better: linen or cotton?

Both linen and cotton are great natural fabrics with unique benefits and drawbacks. The right fabric for you will depend on your needs, preferences, and values. Linen is a good choice if you want an absorbent, breathable and durable fabric. Alternatively, cotton is a good choice if you want a soft, comfortable, and affordable fabric.

Additionally, you might prefer linen if you consider sustainability a priority. Compared to conventional cotton, linen requires less energy, water, and pesticides to produce, making it a more eco-friendly fabric. 

Is 100% cotton the same as 100% linen?

No, 100% cotton is not the same as 100% linen. Cotton and linen are two distinct natural fibers with different properties. Cotton comes from the fibers of the cotton plant, and it's known for its softness and comfort. Conversely, linen comes from the fibers of the flax plant's stem, and it's known for its breathability, durability, and slightly coarse texture.

Is linen hotter than cotton?

No, linen isn't hotter than cotton. Both linen and cotton offer excellent breathability, making them excellent choices for warm weather. However, linen is often considered a cooler fabric because of its superior heat-regulating properties. It allows air to circulate freely, helping to keep the wearer cool. It's also exceptional at wicking away moisture, helping to keep the wearer from feeling sweaty.

However, linen and cotton fabrics can feel hot depending on the specific weave and color of the fabric. For instance, wearing a tight-fitting, black, linen, or cotton shirt in warm weather will make you feel hotter than wearing a loose-fitting, white, linen, or cotton shirt.

Is linen more luxurious than cotton?

Linen is often considered more luxurious than cotton. Compared to most cotton variants, linen requires more labor to cultivate and isn't grown as widely, making it costlier. Linen also has a unique, slightly coarse texture that softens over time, making it a top choice for luxury clothing, bedding, and home decor.

However, some cotton variants are also considered luxurious. For instance, long-staple cotton variants like Supima and Egyptian cotton are often deemed luxurious because of their superior quality.

Ultimately, choosing between linen and cotton for luxury items usually comes down to personal taste and the specific qualities one values in a fabric.

Why choose linen over cotton?

Linen offers several benefits over cotton. If you want a durable, absorbent, and breathable fabric ideal for hot weather, you might prefer linen over cotton. Additionally, you might prefer linen over cotton if you prioritize sustainability.

Is linen a luxury fabric?

Yes, linen is generally considered a luxury fabric. It is pricier than many natural and synthetic fabrics. It's also more durable, breathable, and absorbent than many natural fabrics. Moreover, it has a distinct, rough texture and lavish look, making it a popular fabric for high-end textiles.

Why is linen so expensive?

Linen is more expensive than other natural and synthetic fabrics for various reasons. First, the production of linen involves several labor-intensive steps, from harvesting to production, which drives up its cost.

Second, compared to more widely grown fabrics like cotton, linen isn’t widely grown, contributing to its higher cost. 

Finally, linen is associated with luxury and is often used in high-end fashion and home textiles. As a result, consumers are willing to pay a premium for linen products.


Linen and cotton are great natural fabrics with unique pros and cons. While linen offers excellent breathability, absorbency, and durability, it's costlier than most cotton variants. Conversely, conventional cotton is more affordable but less durable, breathable, or eco-friendly. So, while both fabrics offer several benefits, consider your needs, preferences, and values when choosing between the two.


Natural Fibres and the world Economy July 2019 - Renewable carbon News. (2019, August 22). Renewable Carbon News.

Maestri, N. (2020). The domestication history of cotton (Gossypium). ThoughtCo.

Ravandi, S. a. H., & Valizadeh, M. (2011). Properties of fibers and fabrics that contribute to human comfort. In Elsevier eBooks (pp. 61–78).

Johnson, S. R., Echeverria, D., Venditti, R. A., Jameel, H., & Yao, Y. (2020). Supply Chain of Waste Cotton Recycling and Reuse: A review. AATCC Journal of Research, 7(1_suppl), 19–31.

The world counts. (n.d.).

Roux, L. (2021). Know your basics: Linen. Impakter.

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Alyciah Beavers

Committed to promoting sustainability and am pleased to have the opportunity to share my enthusiasm with you.

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