Cotton and linen are two of the most popular fabrics in the world, but they are slightly different. Both are made from natural plant fibres, but cotton is made from the cotton plant and linen is made from the flax plant.
Here are the main differences between cotton and linen.
According to the FAO, linen is one of the world’s strongest natural fibres It is even used to make paper money to help it last longer.
Cotton is also fairly durable, but linen is thicker and tends to be a more durable material.
Linen is a natural insulator, which may surprise some people because the fibres are hollow. This means that air moves through them naturally so you can keep cool with one layer. If you want to keep warm, layer up the linen to create a natural insulator.
Cotton is similar; you can layer up cotton to stay warm, but because the fabric is also natural, it is breathable. One layer will not insulate you.
Linen is a bast fibre that is made from the flax plant. It is initially very crisp, but it become softer and more supple as it is handled. On the other hand, cotton is made from fluffy fibre clusters that are all bolls. The bolls are very soft to the touch, and cotton is equally soft to touch.
If you have very sensitive skin, you may find that you prefer the softness of cotton on your skin, but both fabrics are natural and should not cause irritation.
When it comes to wrinkling, the fabrics are quite similar. Both will wrinkle quite a lot when they are new, especially linen as it is covered in a natural resin called lignan, which washes off over time. This makes the linen stiffer, but after a few washes, both linen and cotton will become naturally smoother.
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Both cotton and linen are natural fibres that quickly absorb water, but linen is more absorbent and is often referred to as nature’s wicking fibre. It can even gain up to 20 per cent moisture before starting to feel damp! This is why linen is often used to make towels and dressing robes.