Ideas + Advice


What Is Linen Fabric? (Difference Between Linen & Cotton)

Made from the flax plant, linen makes for a durable, fine material for furniture. Because they are taken from a natural source, linen fibers are more porous than other materials. This makes linen a popular option for bedding and sheets, as higher porosity delivers a breathable, cooler feel. However, linen is found essentially everywhere – there are linen options for sofas, headboards, drapes and even rugs in home décor.

A Closer Look at Flax Plant

So, linen comes from the flax plant – common knowledge for those who own textile-producing farms, but a fact esoteric for most everyone else. To help you get a better feel for linen (pun intended!), here’s a brief deep dive into everything flax plants and how they bring us the soft, cozy goodness we know and love today as linen.
  • Flax is a blue-flowering plant that thrives in cooler temperatures.
  • Along with fabrics, flax is primarily used for its seeds to produce oils known as flaxseed oil and linseed oil. Linseed oil can be found in paints, varnishes, linoleum floors, while flaxseed oil is produced for dietary consumption.
  • The fibers in the stem of the flax plant are soft – and the source of that smooth feel found in sheets, napkins and other linen textiles. While 100% linen offers a distinct softness and breathability, these stem fibers can be and are also blended with cotton for a more affordable and even more porous choice in product.

Differences Between Linen and Cotton

Cotton and linen are similar materials and often confused for each other for how they feel. In terms of feel, features and durability, cotton and linen in fact have distinctions that set them apart from other fabrics – and from each other. Here are a few of the main differences.

Cotton Is Softer

While there are different weaving techniques that can affect how a cotton sheet feels, cotton is generally going to be softer to the touch than linen. Linen sheets, compared to cotton sheets, are just a tad stiffer (but still soft). This discrepancy is due to the natural fluffiness of cotton; the fibers of the flax stem, on the other hand, are denser.

Linen Is Cooler to the Touch

Linen sheets lack the warmth that cotton sheets bring, which can be a good thing or bad thing depending on how you prefer to sleep. Go with linen if you tend to sleep hot and cotton if you want to feel a tad cozier in colder seasons.

Linen Is Lighter

Linen fibers are loosely woven together whereas cotton products (such as sheets) feature a tighter pattern. The makeup of the flax stem (where linen comes from), features thinner fibers, so while cotton is fluffier, flax is better for breathability.

Cotton Is Easier To Care For

One final difference to note between cotton and linen is its care requirements. While both materials can be machine-washed, both materials can also shrink – so keep the temperatures in mind when drying either. Cotton does have a higher temperature threshold compared to linen; the instructions on most linen products will say to air dry, while cotton can be machine dried on low settings.

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Editorial Disclaimer: Articles featuring tips and advice are intended for educational purposes and only as general recommendations. Always practice personal discretion when using and caring for furniture, decor and related items.