The place where you rest your head at night is your escape, your oasis. You want to be lying down on a fabric that cradles you like the day you were born. Your sheet needs to be soft and gentle to the touch so you can stretch out and be lulled to sleep.
Cotton has led the sheet industry for centuries, stretching over beds in every corner of the world. However, bamboo is taking the bedding world by storm with its quality texture and eco-friendly qualities.
So which of these fabrics is the right one for your bed? Bamboo or cotton? What about Egyptian cotton sheets and other cotton counterparts? Read our thoughts below about bamboo and cotton sheets to discover the advantages of each and our top choice for bedding material.
Different bamboo fibres
Bamboo fibres come in three varieties. Read below about the different types and their advantages/disadvantages.
Tencel (lyocell) bamboo
The Bamboo lyocell process is a method used on all fiber-based textiles and involves dissolving the material into a pulp which is later reconstructed by dry jet-wet spinning. Bamboo lyocell sheets are some of the more common on the market.
This method is much more environmentally friendly than the viscose process, which produces the pollutant carbon sulphide. Today, lyocell is one of the more expensive textile-making processes, but climate and textile scientists are researching ways to make it cheaper.
Rayon is chemically treated cellulose. The fibres from a plant go through several different chemical treatments, literally deconstructing and then reconstructing the cellulose in the process. It was initially intended for home furniture.
Due to the number of chemicals used in the process, rayon bamboo production is not environmentally friendly. It also tends to yellow with age.
However, it is moisture, odor, and bacteria resistant. It’s also smooth to the touch and breathes well like all bamboo fibres.
This bamboo fibre is created from a liquid. The bamboo pulp is dissolved in an acid bath, and then that mixture is treated with carbon disulfide. Afterward, the mixture goes through a few more states and chemicals before becoming an impressively soft and smooth material which is then made into threads.
Just like rayon, the use of all these chemicals makes viscose bamboo not as ideal relative to lyocell for the environment. It is a cost-effective method to process bamboo. It’s also used for drapes, couch covers, tablecloths, and cloth napkins.
Also known as mechanically produced bamboo fibre, this bamboo material is made all mechanically, without chemicals. Manufactures take the thicker and denser part of the bamboo and crush it with a machine, then are washed by a natural enzyme that extracts the fibre. Then it is spun into threads.
This process is better for the environment than viscose and rayon, but it is also the lowest reviewed. Consumers of bamboo linen products have described them as rough and uncomfortable like cotton linen sheets. They rank low on the softness charts.
Like regular linen, the material is very thick, making it durable but also easy to wrinkle and stiffer than the other fabrics.
The advantages of bamboo bed sheets over cotton
Let’s look closely at bamboo sheets benefits and what might give them an edge vs cotton sheets.
They breathe well
Bamboo is a renewable textile fibre and is one of the best materials for temperature regulation. The fibres have a unique moisture-wicking property, which prevents them from sticking to the skin, unlike cotton sheets. The small air space between your skin and the sheet allows cool air to circulate so you won’t overheat in your sleep.
Because of the moisture-wicking, bamboo fibre is thermal regulating, which can keep you cold in hot environments and warm in cold ones.
They are silky smooth
Depending on the thread count and the fibre refinement method, sheets made from bamboo are some of the softest on the market. In many tests, these sheets have been graded higher than cotton sheets in terms of comfort. A higher thread count means even more comfortable bamboo sheet sets for your dream bed and best sleep. People report sheets made of bamboo having a similar softness to silk.
It’s hypoallergenic and antibacterial
Bamboo is very unlikely to cause an allergic reaction in sensitive individuals. A bamboo skin allergy is rare, and little to no one has reported a rash from a bamboo fabric product. They are super gentle on sensitive skin.
The same chemical composition that makes bamboo moisture resistant also makes it antibacterial. Bacteria have a hard time sticking to the slick fibres, and so the sheets don’t hold contagions for very long.
Wrinkle-resistant, easy to dye, easy to wash
Bamboo clothing and sheets can be ironed at a lower temperature than cotton and are a lot more difficult to wrinkle. They also shrink less when washed in warm water.
Dye also soaks in bamboo more quickly than cotton or Egyptian cotton. They also require less dye to complete a piece. When they are finished drying, the colours are even more radiant and fade more slowly.
Bamboo can be machine washed at a cool temperature for the best results. Make sure to hang it up to dry to eliminate the risk of shrinkage.
Bamboo grows faster than cotton and can be harvested sustainably. As long as the fibres are made in an eco-friendly way, the bamboo industry is much better for the Earth than cotton. You can sleep well knowing your sheets aren't hurting the environment.
The disadvantages vs cotton
Nothing is fully perfect, and bamboo isn’t either. Look at the list of drawbacks below.
Can be made with chemicals
While there are clean methods for producing bamboo fibre (like in bamboo linen and the lyocell process), the most common methods involve a chemical process. rayon and viscose methods are not suitable for the environment, and purchasing bamboo products made through these methods isn’t much greener than buying cotton products.
However, this appears to be changing with more providers offering eco-friendly bamboo products and solutions.
It’s priced at a premium
The thing about bamboo bedding is that, in most situations and markets, bamboo fabric will cost more than cotton. This high price is because bamboo is less commonly cultivated for fabric, and also, the process to make it is longer and more involved.
These prices can vary, and some high thread-count cotton brands will be more expensive than bamboo. Keep in mind bamboo also feels premium with a silk-like material that is highly pleasant to sleep and dream in.
Delicate to wash
Cotton is so old that scientists can’t even put a date on its origins. We know that there was once a 7,000-year-old piece of cotton cloth found in a cave in Mexico. So it’s at least that old. From the 1600s to the early 1900s, cotton was one of the world’s biggest cash crops. Entire economies, including the southern United States, were based around the cultivation, harvesting, and distribution of the plant.
Today, it represents the standard in the fabric industry. The majority of clothes, bedding, carpets, and many other cloth-based products are made out of cotton.
Most popular cotton for sheets
There are hundreds of different types and varieties of cotton. For this article, we will focus on the ones related to cotton bed sheets: upland cotton, Egyptian cotton, and Pima cotton.
Upland cotton is the most common variety of regular cotton. It makes up about 90% of cotton products, but people consider it of lower quality than Egyptian cotton or Pima cotton. It’s tough, it wrinkles fast, and it shrinks easier.
Egyptian cotton is one of a high-quality cotton type called extra-long-staple cotton. Cotton from this plant has longer fibers which makes them more comfortable and durable. Egyptian cotton sheets This cotton is primarily grown in Egypt around the Nile River.
Pima cotton is made from the same plant variety as Egyptian, the extra-long-staple cotton. The only difference in Pima cotton vs Egyptian cotton is primarily grown in the U.S.
The advantages of cotton sheets
Let’s take a look at the advantages of cotton sheets.
They are more durable
One thing that makes cotton sheets a good choice is their owners claim they have higher durability and are more challenging to tear than their bamboo counterparts. This positive review, of course, depends on the quality and type of cotton. The highest quality cotton sheets have more durability than bamboo.
Easier to clean
Cleaning cotton sheets is easier relative to bamboo. The material is compatible with every washing machine globally and can survive shrinking under most temperatures (depending on how it’s dried). If you need tips on washing your sheets, check the care instructions.
It becomes softer over time
Everyone has that cotton sheet from their childhood they remember fondly. The fuzzy exterior with Buzz Lightyear or Pikachu is incomparable with the fresh store-bought sheets of our adult apartments.
This softening phenomenon happens with all cotton sheets as the fibres loosen and become softer with use and washing. Thread count is also crucial in the softness of your cotton sheets as to their durability.
The disadvantages of cotton sheets
Now let’s see what the disadvantages are to cotton.
It's less eco-friendly
The cotton plant requires a lot more pesticides and water to cultivate. It’s also not sustainable, and land, where farmers have harvested it more than three or four times, becomes unusable for decades.
Bamboo grows much faster, requires less water, and can be grown in the same place repeatedly. This fast regrowth means it has a much smaller footprint vs cotton sheets which leave a rather large ecological mark.
Most cotton is at risk for easy shrinking. You’ve probably experienced this with your shirts or socks when washing and drying them at high temperatures. The worst is there’s no limit to the shrinkage, and your sheet can lose its ability to fit your bed.
Now, let's answer some common questions.
Are bamboo sheets cooler than cotton?
Yes. Bamboo sheets are extremely breathable and moisture wicking, properties that cotton cannot match.
his is due to the lower thread count required for bamboo, leaving more room for air to circulate through between the sheets.
And you don't lose out on any softness because of the natural silky properties of bamboo.
We wrote recently on why we think bamboo sheets are great for hot sleepers.
Are bamboo sheets better than cotton?
When it comes to bamboo vs cotton, bamboo is better for the environment, softer, stronger, and wrinkle resistant. They may be slightly more expensive than cotton or Egyptian cotton sheets, but if the quality is your priority, then the price difference is negated.
In today’s warming climate, we need to do everything in our power to decrease our environmental impact. If you want a sheet that shrinks your carbon footprint and not itself, then bamboo is the way to go.
If you're a more budget focused shopper and less concerned about higher end sheets, cotton might be the best bet for you.
- Nayak, L., Mishra, S.P. Prospect of bamboo as a renewable textile fiber, historical overview, labeling, controversies and regulation. Fash Text 3, 2 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1186/s40691-015-0054-5
- The Story of Cotton, cotton.org (2021)https://www.cotton.org/pubs/cottoncounts/story/index.cfm#:~:text=caves%20in%20Mexico%20found%20bits,into%20cloth%203%2C000%20years%20BC.
- Egyptian cotton vs pima cotton: what's the difference, Pima cotton (2021) https://www.pimacott.com/blog/egyptian-cotton-vs-pima-cotton-whats-the-difference