Bed Sheets Guide: Cotton vs. Bamboo vs. Linen vs. Tencel

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All we want is bed sheets that feel good and last long. But just like mattresses or pillows, shopping for bed sheets can be a daunting task for Aussies these days. It entails being confronted with a maze of options: Cotton, Bamboo, Tencel, Linen, the list goes on. Additionally, there are many things to consider too, like will the textile alleviate your sweaty summer woes? What type of sleeper you are, the upkeep, is it harming the environment? Where you live, the look of the sheets, and of course, your personal preferences.

Each of these fabric materials have their own characteristic feel, attributes, pros, cons and more. So, lets take an in-depth and find out what material may work best for you.

Cotton Sheets

Cotton fabric sateen weave

First and foremost, we must discuss cotton. Cotton is the most popular and most versatile among all the fabrics used in making bed sheets. It comes in a myriad range of weaves which also give it a characteristic feel. Like it can be crisp if it’s percale, silky when it’s sateen and fuzzy when it’s flannel. 

The cotton weave is such that it lets air through and so won’t mould to your body. Instead, it will keep you cool in the summers, or if you are a hot sleeper, it will help you better regulate your body temperature.

However, despite maintaining everyone’s favourite and an all-time go-to bed sheet fabric, cotton does have some chink in its armour. Although there are many advantages of having and using a natural fibre like cotton, it runs the risk of getting damaged by moisture or mildew. And unfortunately, water is everywhere, even in our beds, in the form of sweat or natural oils that our body secretes.

Another drawback of cotton is that it lacks elasticity, which causes cotton to shrink. Cotton is also not colourfast, which means it will fade away sooner than other fabrics. Shorter cotton fabrics are also likely to loosen and result in lint. 

Care Instructions:

Your best to stick to the care instructions mentioned on the packaging, but some tips would be to wash bedding in its own load, to avoid both the heavy-duty cycle and extra hot water that can break down cotton fibres more quickly. And always choose a gentle detergent.

Bamboo Sheets

Bamboo Fabric Close Up
Image credit: Guaduabamboo.com

Eco-friendly, hypoallergenic, super durable, wildly breathable, and most importantly, odour resistant; these are just the many adjectives for bamboo bed sheets.

Bamboo, again a natural fibre, has thousands of species and varied manufacturing styles to achieve the desired fabric. In general, after the plant is harvested, the cellulose is dissolved and added to the solution, allowing the fibres to be regenerated and drawn off the plant.

Bamboo’s antibacterial, moisture-wicking and thermo-regulating qualities help keep you cool (or warm) at night, depending on your body temperature.

However, ‘greenwashing’ or false advertising techniques have deemed Bamboo as highly efficient for the environment. Many US companies have also been charged for false advertising, misleading or what is commonly referred to as bamboozling consumers. In 2009, four manufacturers were charged for selling rayon products as Bamboo.

Care Instructions:

Like other fabrics, bamboo sheets will always have personalised care instructions and when in doubt, it’s best to follow the instructions. As a general rule, wash your natural fibre sheets in a gentle cycle. If you have stains or spots you need to get rid of, soak them sheets and always separate lights and dark.

Linen Sheets

Linen fabric close up
Linen fabric close up

Linen is made from fibres derived from the stems of the flax plant. Linen is a natural, environmentally friendly material. It is hygroscopic, conducts moisture well and is often used for the manufacture of shoe insoles. In the summer heat, this linen sheet will help to avoid increased sweating. It’s natural white colour reflects the sun’s rays and makes for an excellent fabric for people living in hot climates. This also helps with regulating temperature while you are sleeping.

However, with so many advantages comes a hefty price tag and so linen is expensive. Also, flax is known to crumble and prone to some serious shrinking.

Care Instructions:

Linen sheets are delicate, so strictly follow instructions. As a general rule, while machine laundering your linen sheets, keep the cycle on delicate and keep it short. After you are done washing your linen sheets and garments, air dry them on a hanger to avoid them from wrinkling.

Tencel Sheets

tencel fabric close up
Image credit: tencel.com

Synonyms with eco-friendly, Tencel is a sustainable fabric regenerated from wood cellulite.

Tencel starts as trees grown on low-grade land. Rainwater is the main source of water used for irrigation for a Tencel plant. During harvest, the trees are cut into chips, which are then converted into pulp. The pulp is then blended with water and solvent to produce Tencel, a pure white cellulose fibre. The whole process is environmentally friendly.

As bedding, Tencel results in a great combination of luxurious, smooth and skin-friendly textile. Tencel’s special biostructure also leads to a deep and long-lasting colour. 

However, Tencel is sensitive to temperature and is easy to harden in hot and humid environments. Tencel sheets come at a higher price-point because the production process is expensive and an equally costly maintenance process.

Care Instructions:

Again, read and follow instructions. Many Tencel sheets recommend ‘dry-clean’ only, but as a general rule, wash them with cold water, with a mild detergent with the washing machine on delicate settings.

Cotton vs. Bamboo vs. Linen vs. Tencel Fabric Comparison

Material

Pros

Cons

Cotton

  • Natural
  • Affordable option
  • Hot weather favourite
  • Versatile
  • Insulating
  • Non-allergenic
  • Strong
  • Absorbs moisture, therefore likely to damage and form mildew
  • Prone to wrinkles
  • Prone to lint
  • Does not mould 
  • Not colourfast

Bamboo

  • Eco-friendly
  • Soft feel
  • Strong fabric
  • Breathable in summer and warm in winter
  • Water absorbent
  • Tends to shrink
  • Super wrinkly
  • Low production quantity makes it relatively expensive

Linen

  • Natural
  • Hygroscopic- releases water quickly, best for hot weather
  • Strong
  • Light
  • Super wrinkly
  • Prone to shrinking
  • Affected by mildew and perspiration
  • The care is somewhat high maintenance

Tencel

  • Eco-friendly, biodegradable
  • Easy to wash
  • Lustrous feel
  • Breathable
  • Moisture permeability 
  • Not the most durable on the list
  • Expensive

So, what are the best bed sheets anyway?

There is nothing like the ‘Best’ when it comes to bed sheets and certainly ‘Best’ doesn’t necessarily mean the most expensive. The right way to pick a sheet is to learn about the attributes and characteristics of the fabric. What suits you and your environment should take precedence over what looks good.

Check our picks for the best bed sheets in Australia to make an informed choice. 

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