Linen Vs. Cotton — Which Fabric Is The Eco-Friendly Choice?

Make a conscious choice today.

Even though both linen and organic cotton are valuable natural fibers, there are certain drawbacks and benefits each one brings to your wardrobe and the planet. Also, the prices, comfort, texture, and sustainability features of these two fabrics are quite different. So, please keep reading to find out the pros, cons, and differences between linen and cotton in today’s debate on linen vs. cotton!

On a positive note, though, we have some exciting news for both linen and organic cotton lovers!

Linen vs. cotton — which is a more sustainable fabric?

linen vs. cotton
Pyne&Smith | ForDays

While linen is eco-friendly, it may not be the most practical or easily accessible option for many consumers. It is an expensive fiber with a labor-intensive manufacturing process. Cotton fabrics, however, are widely available, making them a more appealing choice. Linen clothes are lightweight and also dry quickly, making them the preferred choice while traveling. While cotton clothes are beautiful, they can become threadbare and lose their shape after repeated washing. 

How is linen produced?

Most of us likely have a lot of linen-based clothing in our closets. But how well do we know it? This article will provide the necessary information to answer the burning question, “Is linen sustainable, and how is linen made?”

linen vs. cotton

Did you know, linen is made from a natural source, a plant, in the very same way that cotton is. Linen is produced from fibers that grow naturally as part of the flax plant (which grows pretty much all around the world). Because linen production is relatively simple, the fabric has been used in the textile industry for a long time. But, with so many sustainable fabrics in the market, the question is, in the linen vs. cotton war, how far does linen go in terms of sustainability.

Advantages of linen

To begin, the answer to your question, “Is linen sustainable?” is a loud ‘yes!’ Let’s take a look at the pros of this popular fabric.

1. Easy to dye with a beautiful natural color

When it comes to the difference between linen and cotton, one of the most appealing aspects of linen is its amazing natural color. Depending on how the flax plant’s natural fibers are treated, linen can be perfectly creamy white or light tan. Furthermore, linen dyes very well, making it one of the best choices for a variety of colors and patterns!

2. Linen is environmentally good

Since linen is made of natural materials, it is completely biodegradable. This means that once you’ve finished using the fabric, it won’t end up in landfills (point to team linen!) As a result, when natural material is grown for linen, it must be free of pesticides and other toxic chemicals. And, like other sustainable fabrics, if it isn’t produced organically, linen is just as harmful to the environment, like other conventional fabrics.

linen vs. cotton
Svitlana/ Unsplash

3. The fabric uses less water during production

Unlike organic cotton, linen can be grown with significantly less water. All it needs is enough rain, whereas cotton is known as the world’s thirstiest crop.

4. Quite strong and durable

There’s a reason that linen is known as the best fabric for sustainability. Unlike cotton, the material does not fade, adding to its longevity. Also, did you know that well-cared-for linen clothes can last up to three decades? Finally, in most cases, the same linen bedding can be used by multiple generations of one’s family, which is exactly the notion of sustainability we live for!

5. Becomes softer over time, is lightweight & breathable

When it comes to linen vs. cotton, most of you know that linen is what your skin often deserves and craves. The fabric gets softer the more you wash and wear it; so your love for your linen pieces will only grow, making them wardrobe staples for years to come. It is also one of the best summer sustainable fabrics as it’s lightweight and breathable, allowing air to pass through the fabric easily.

How is cotton produced?

linen vs. cotton

For those who are wondering, ‘is cotton sustainable?’; well, here’s our take. Cotton accounts for more than 85% of total production in eight countries, with 25.9 million tonnes produced each year globally. Cotton is traditionally grown in warmer climates and harvested by hand. However, while mechanical harvesting has taken over in the US, manual cotton picking is still common in the remaining countries producing it. As a result, supply chain transparency is needed to ensure that cotton workers are paid a fair wage and that no child labor or forced labor takes place.

Advantages of organic cotton

Cotton is the ‘fabric of life,’ while the coconut tree is the ‘tree of life.’ So, is cotton sustainable too? The answer is ‘Yes!’ So, let’s weigh the benefits and drawbacks of organic cotton in this linen vs. cotton debate.

1. Natural, plant-based fiber

Cotton, like linen, is one of the best fabrics for the environment as it is natural and renewable. Organic cotton fabric avoids the pitfalls of synthetic fibers like polyester, which are linked to the toxic side of fashion — microplastics — and the petroleum industry. Cotton as a sustainable fabric is not only renewable but also biodegradable.

linen vs. cotton

2. Cheaper production cost

When comparing linen vs. cotton, one of the primary reasons for cotton’s preference is its low production cost. This is because cotton fabric eliminates toxic and harmful chemicals and grows natural cotton seeds rather than processed cotton seeds. Genetically modified seeds, on the other hand, are more expensive to purchase as chemicals are needed to make non-organic cotton resistant to diseases and pests.

4. The fabric can be recycled, aiding in waste reduction

Cotton is one example of a sustainable fabric that you can recycle into clothing. Since you can use almost all parts of the cotton plant, the plant’s leftover stalks and leaves are plowed back into the soil to enrich it. Cotton can thus help to reduce waste when its leaves and stalks are used. As stated, this helps keep textiles out of landfills and reduces cotton’s environmental footprint.

5. Great at avoiding skin allergies and concerns

Since the introduction of #organiccotton, this sustainable fabric has largely benefited people who would otherwise suffer from skin allergies or chemical sensitivity. In addition, because organic cotton clothing contains no chemical residue, it feels better on your skin. Those who swear by it agree that organic cotton is better than regular cotton (if not linen).

The cons and differences between linen and cotton

linen vs. cotton
Linen – ParachuteHome

  • The disadvantages of linen are not necessarily due to the fabric itself, but rather to how quickly it wrinkles. And, even though it absorbs dyes faster, it is a drawback as the sustainable fabric loses its biodegradable properties when bleached or dyed. As a result, untreated linen is more sustainable. Also, unfortunately, some companies use pesticides and chemicals even if the flax plant does not need them.

linen vs. cotton
Cotton – PotteryBarn

  • While organic cotton is a growing industry, it still accounts for less than 1% of all cotton grown globally. The seeds used to produce organic cotton are non-GMO and free of synthetic chemicals; however, there are drawbacks. While organic cotton may sound better than conventional cotton, it consumes more water, energy, and land resources. In addition, it is more labor-intensive and time-consuming; it is not always completely ‘organic’ as harmful natural pesticides are often used.

So, which is the more sustainable fabric — linen or cotton?

In terms of raw materials, linen usually has a lower environmental impact. Compared to cotton, it requires far less water and chemicals to grow. However, the sustainability of a material is highly dependent on the practices used at each stage of the supply chain. These include the sustainability practices used by farmers, fabric manufacturers, and factories producing finished garments. Both fabrics are eco-friendly in their own way. But their environmental impact varies depending on its usage by consumers as well, and how the fabric is washed or cared for.

The final take

linen vs. cotton
GoodGuilt / Canva

Choosing plant-based and organic fabrics grown in fair trade conditions as often as possible is one of the first steps you should take to help the environment. Even though it will cost you money, your habit of only choosing sustainable fabrics will benefit both you and the planet in the long run.

So, if you had to choose between linen vs. cotton, which one is more eco-friendly? Unfortunately, the answer isn’t that simple. However, when you purchase either of the two, the chances of your clothing or bedsheets ending up in the trash are reduced! So, whatever you choose between linen and cotton, consider your budget, color, and texture, and buy whatever you will use for a longer time.

To start your own ethical wardrobe, read this quick guide to thrifting, visit thrift stores, or try these donation programs for your used clothing.

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