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Bamboo vs. Cotton Sheets

Or how to settle an endless debate.

Bamboo vs. Cotton Sheets
Updated 
Dec 7, 2021

Some debates have raged through history. Was Farlap Kiwi or Aussie? Did the pav come from Australia, New Zealand or somewhere else entirely? Who really did invent the flat white? We don't have the answers to any of these. But what we do have is some insights into which makes the best bed sheets: bamboo or cotton.

Bamboo sheets

A bamboo sheet is a bamboo sheet right? Not quite. For starters, there are 3 different types of bamboo and 3 different weaves. Let's dive in.

Types of bamboo sheets

You'll find the following types of bamboo sheets:

1. Rayon or viscose

Rayon / viscose bamboo sheets are the same thing, just a different name. Most bamboo sheets you'll find are made from bamboo rayon. Chemicals are involved in making rayon / viscose sheets so they're not the most environmentally-friendly option, but the final sheets are normally free from chemicals.

Rayon / viscose bamboo sheets are naturally hypoallergenic and resistant to moisture, smell and bacteria. This makes them a good choice for sensitive skin, like babies or people with eczema. Like all bamboo fibres, rayon / viscose bamboo sheets are smooth to the touch, breathable and absorb moisture.  

2. Lyocell or Tencel

Again, different name, same thing. Lyocell / Tencel is made from bamboo cellulose. Unlike rayon / viscose, no harmful chemicals are used during the manufacturing process. This makes them great for eco-conscious consumers or anyone who wants a non-toxic night's sleep.

3. Bamboo linen

Bamboo linen is made entirely mechanically, with no chemicals involved. This makes it the most eco-friendly bamboo option. The downside? Bamboo linen can feel rough and uncomfortable, like regular linen sheets. Although it's thick and durable, it wrinkles a lot and is stiffer than the other bamboo types.

Weaves

The weave of a bamboo sheet impacts on a lot of things, including how it feels and performs. Here are the weaves you'll come across sheet shopping:

1. Percale

A percale weave is a 1 thread over, 1 thread under pattern. This gives a light, crisp feel and good breathability, making it worth considering for hot sleepers. You might find it wrinkles easily though.

2. Sateen

A sateen weave is 1 thread under, up to 4 threads over. This results in a silky, shiny material with a luxurious feel that won't wrinkle as much. Because it's a so much tighter / bigger weave, sateen tends to trap heat. Beware night sweats and snags too.

3. Twill

A twill weave is very like the weave you'll see in denim: diagonal, parallel ribs. It's not as smooth as the other 2 weaves but it is very durable.

What bamboo sheets feel like

Although the feel of a bamboo sheet will depend on the type and weave, generally speaking they're the softest sheets you'll find on the market. They're known for being super soft and silky smooth.

Bamboo sheets pros

Bamboo sheets are great because they're:

  • Incredibly soft. If comfortable, soft and silky smooth sheets are what you're after, bamboo sheets will deliver.
  • Breathable. Ideal for high temperatures and hot sleepers, bamboo sheets allow more air to flow around the bed, helping to keep you cooler.
  • Moisture wicking. No more sticky sheets as they'll wick away moisture quicker than you can say 'get off'.
  • Thermo-regulating. Bamboo is smart. As well as keeping you cool in summer, it'll help you stay warm in winter.
  • Highly durable. Bamboo sheets wash well with little shrinkage and should last.
  • Somewhat eco-friendly, depending on the material used. Bamboo linen is chemical-free. Bamboo is quicker to grow than cotton though, uses less water than cotton and can be harvested sustainably.

Bamboo sheets cons

Bamboo sheets are not-so-great because they're:

  • Often made using chemicals. So not quite as green as some brands claim.
  • Expensive. In comparison to most cotton (generally speaking, anything that's not high end Egyptian cotton), you pay more for bamboo.
  • In need of some care. They might wash well but warm water increases the risk of shrinking. They do best on gentle settings with mild detergents.

Cotton sheets

Let's start with the basics about cotton bed sheets. Like bamboo sheets, they come in a range of types and weaves.

Types of cotton sheets

Cotton is one of the most popular fabrics in the world and you'll find it in a lot of things, from bedding to clothes. There are generally 3 types of cotton.

1. Egyptian

Arguably the most well-known cotton type, Egyptian cotton has longer fibres than other types, making it soft and durable. Egyptian cotton sheets tend to be high quality sheets. They also help you sleep cool all night long.

2. Pima

Pima cotton is similar to Egyptian cotton. It's made of extra-long fibres too. The difference? It's made in the US, not Egypt and can feel rougher than Egyptian cotton but are still soft to touch. Pima cotton sheets tend to get softer with every wash.

3. Regular cotton

The least high end cotton materials? That'd be regular cotton. It's generally considered lower quality than both Egyptian cotton and pima cotton. It's not as soft or durable and it can wrinkle and shrink easier. It is the most affordable cotton fabric though.

Weaves

Cotton sheet weaves are the same as bamboo sheet weaves. As a reminder, they are:

1. Percale

Like bamboo sheets, the same 1 over, 1 under weave pattern is used in cotton sheets. Cotton percale is breathable and moisture wicking so ideal for hot sleepers. They tend to be durable and get softer with each wash.

2. Sateen

Again, same as bamboo sheets, sateen cotton sheets have 3 or 4 threads that go over for 1 thread that goes under. Sateen cotton sheets look silky and shiny and drape well. Although they're not prone to wrinkling, they might snag or pill. You'll also sleep hotter on sateen than percale - they trap more heat.

3. Twill

Twill looks like denim thanks to its diagonal ribbing. Not generally as soft as other cotton sheets, they're one of the most durable options.

Bonus: jersey

Not a weave, jersey is a knit. Jersey cotton bed sheets feel like your favourite t-shirt which is almost certainly made from cotton jersey. Think soft and cosy.

What cotton sheets feel like

Depending on the type of cotton, cotton sheets generally feel soft and get softer the more machine washing it has. Thread count (more on that coming!) is really important when it comes to the softness of your cotton sheets.

Cotton sheets pros

Cotton sheets are great because they're:

  • More affordable generally, although that might not be the case with Egyptian cotton sheets.
  • Really breathable. For hot sleepers, cotton is a great choice. It's also moisture wicking.
  • Extremely durable. Cotton has been used for decades, in part because of how well it lasts. Quality cotton sheets should last years.
  • Easy care. Machine washable, they wash well with nothing special needed.
  • Softer over time. Bamboo bed sheets might start buttery soft but cotton sheets will get there too, with repeated washing.

Cotton sheets cons

Cotton sheets are not-so-great because they:

  • Wrinkle easily. But hey it's bed linen, who's going to see (or care)?
  • Are more prone to shrinkage. Over time you might find that your sheets don't fit your bed like they used to.
  • Aren't as eco-friendly. The cotton plant needs a lot of pesticides and water to grow. The land it's harvested on multiple times becomes unusable for years so it's not sustainable either.

What's the difference?

By now, you probably know a lot about bamboo and cotton sheets. Heck, you could probably sit an exam on them. What you might not be so sure on yet is what the difference is between them. We don't blame you - it's pretty hard to tell. We've put together a handy overview.

Thread count

Thread count is the number of horizontal and vertical threads woven into 1 square inch of fabric. It's intended to tell you how soft a fabric is.  Traditionally, the higher the thread count on cotton sheets, the higher the quality (and price). In Egyptian cotton sheets, the thread count can be as high as 700. In bamboo, it's normally within 250 and 350.

But bamboo fibres are naturally softer, more breathable and lighter weight than cotton fibres. So regardless of thread count, bamboo sheets are going to feel softer. Plus, this lower thread count leaves more air to circulate which is why bamboo is known for its breathability.

Winner: neither - thread count can't be compared between the two.

Durability

Follow the care instructions and your bamboo sheets should be very durable. Cotton sheets are known for their durability too and will soften over time.

Winner: tie.

Comfort

Bamboo sheets are naturally smooth and soft, whereas cotton becomes softer over time. Percale sheets usually feel a little rough to start.

Winner: bamboo (just).

Breathability and temperature control

As a natural fabric, bamboo is breathable and moisture wicking. It's also thermo-regulating, keeping sleepers cool in summer and warm in winter. Cotton is both breathable and moisture wicking but isn't known to be thermo-regulating.

Winner: bamboo (just).

What's better?

Honestly, it's up to you. If you've got environmental concerns, bamboo might be a better choice. The material and production of it can be cleaner than cotton, although some processes still use chemicals.

Price-wise, bamboo sheets are generally more expensive than cotton (unless it's Egyptian). Hot sleepers will do well with either, as they're both breathable and wick moisture.

TL;DR - choose bamboo if:

You're after the softest, silkiest sheets possible with a lower environmental impact and don't mind the extra cost and care needed.

TL;DR - choose cotton if:

You're after easy care sheets that'll last well and get softer over time, plus are more affordable.