What is the difference between bamboo and cotton?

It goes without saying that your bedding is amongst one of the most important things to consider when furnishing your bedroom.

It is also one of the most confusing decisions you will have to make. With so many new alternative environmentally friendly bedding options popping up, it’s difficult to know what the right set of bedding for you could be.

For many years now, Egyptian cotton has been a byword for good cotton. In recent years, bamboo sheets have become synonyms with durability and coming from a renewable source. The question is overall, which are the better sheets?

Bamboo

Sustainability:

Bamboo is one of the most sustainable plants on Earth, making it more eco-friendly to grow than cotton. As the tree is one of the fastest growing trees on the planet, manufacturing the sheets poses no substantial environmental threats because the source is easily renewable.

Bamboo has a less of an environmental impact and a smaller carbon footprint than cotton. It also doesn’t rely on pesticides, fertilizer and water to grow. It is also naturally resistant to insects or infecting pathogens.

Manufacturing process:

Today there are three different types of bamboo fabric on the market, with the main differences between them being the manufacturing process of the fibres used.

Most bamboo sheets on the market are Rayon bamboo, made using the viscose process. This involves dissolving the bamboo cellulose in strong chemical solvents, such as chlorine bleach, sodium hydroxide, sulphuric acid and carbon disulphide. All these chemicals are both environmentally damaging as well as highly toxic for humans. Most bamboo sheets on the market are so heavily treated with chemicals, they no longer show any sign of the bamboo plant itself.

Tencel bamboo, also known as lyocell, is made with fibre through the lyocell process. This involves the use of non-toxic solvents to dissolve the bamboo, making it a minimal waste option with low emissions.

The production process of bamboo linen is the same as other linen fabrics, like cotton. Unfortunately, this tends to wrinkle easily and isn’t the softest material available.

Comfort:

Bamboo sheets are far more comfortable than your average low-quality cotton set. To get a luxurious cotton set, you are looking at buying certified Egyptian cotton with more than a 400-thread count. Softer bamboo fabrics require greater chemical processing and the end product is a softer feel.

100% natural bamboo bed linen, which is expensive and extremely hard to find, often isn’t as soft as bamboo rayon and in some cases not even as soft as cotton.

Durability:

Bamboo fabrics tend to be a more durable option than cotton but they do require a lot of attention. You have to be gentle when running cleaning cycles and you should make sure to follow the instructions regarding whether you should run them under warm or cold water. They can also be air dried or you can tumble dry them on a low-heat setting.

Cotton

Sustainability:

The cotton plant is not as environmentally friendly as bamboo and is grown using a lot of pesticides, with some of the chemicals used having been marked as hazardous to human health. Most people also underestimate the full environmental impact of cotton – it takes 2,700 litres to make one t-shirt.

Though organic cotton has gone great strides to make sure that their environmental impact is less, the process still isn’t perfect.

Manufacturing:

Cotton is not normally grown in the UK as it needs hot, wet and humid conditions and a sunny summer, so most cotton is imported from elsewhere. While being grown cotton also requires a great amount of water, pesticides and fertilisers. This being said, it is possible to grow cotton in a greenhouse or polytunnel in the south of the UK.

The process of making cotton sheets from cotton transforms the raw fibres into threads, yarn and fabric by following two processes: the spinning process, where raw cotton is turned into thread, and the weaving process, where the thread is woven into fabric.

Comfort:

Egyptian cotton sheets are considered the most luxurious type of bed sheets as they’re soft, comfortable and are designed with the sleeper’s utmost comfort in mind.

These sheets should offer a crisp but smooth feel with no snags in the material or annoying puckers from sleep. They’re constructed using multiple cotton threads that are woven together to create a large piece of fabric. High-end cotton sheets, typically known as Egyptian cotton, are constructed using long fibres instead of the short ones generally found in pure cotton sheets and will have a softer, silkier feel with each higher level of thread counts.

Durability:

Cotton bed sheets have a long lifespan, even if they’re used every day. Some people have owned the same cotton bed sheets for decades, with absolutely no sign of wear and tear. Although they may experience fading in colour over time, this doesn’t mean that they are ready for the trash. Many people find a second use for cotton sheets.

Conclusion

Authentic and certified bamboo sheets (just like Egyptian cotton sheets) are rare to find. Some bamboo bedding on the market can be hazardous for humans and the environment and the all-natural variety is nowhere as soft, durable or wrinkle resistant as cotton.

Cotton bedding is generally a much safer bet when compared to bamboo. This is because it isn’t chemically treated, remains softer, cheaper and more durable.

It can be difficult getting your hand on quality bedding that isn’t dangerous, uncomfortable or manufactured unethically. The textile industry isn’t heavily regulated, if at all. This throws customers in a pool of highly toxic products wrongly labelled as “Egyptian Cotton” Or “Eco-friendly Bamboo”. Your best option is to purchase your bedding from a trusted company with certifications on their sourcing, manufacturing and delivery.

Material

Bamboo-Based Fabric

Cotton

Pros

Breathable

Exceptionally soft if chemically treated

Eco-friendly (ONLY if mechanically processed)

Breathable

Exceptionally soft

Moisture absorbent

No chemical processing needed

Cons

Requires slightly gentler care

Most bamboo fabrics require great chemical processing

Highly toxic for human consumption and the environment

Prone to wrinkles

Less durable

Requires more water for growing


Cost

£50 and up for chemically treated bamboo

£250 and up for 100% natural bamboo

£50 and up for inferior cotton

£150 and up for superior cotton


Lifespan

5-10 years 5-10 years

 

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