Lyocell vs. Cotton Sheets — Differences and Benefits

Choosing bed sheets is a choice far more complex than simply which feels nicer. One must consider how sheets wash, what their cooling potential is, how they look, their price, their durability, and even more specific factors. In fact, finding the perfect sheets for your needs depends on a multitude of aspects. And much of the sheets properties come down to their raw materials.

Here is a comprehensive guide to cotton and Lyocell sheets, in order to help you decide what’s best suited to you.

Tencel vs Cotton Sheets
Cotton Sheets (left) Versus Tencel Sheets (right)

What Is Cotton?

Cotton is the most common and popular material found in bedsheets. It’s made from the fluffy fibers of the cotton plant, which has been used to create fabric for around 7000 years. Longer fibers give a softer and more luxurious feel. These fibers tend to be Egyptian or Pima cotton. Other 100% cotton will likely be of lower quality.

What is Lyocell?

Lyocell (also sometimes called Tencel or rayon) is a material made from wood cellulose. The cellulose fibers are most commonly from fast growing eucalyptus trees. The fibers of Lyocell are regenerated, meaning the pulp is broken down with chemicals and reformed into more easily woven fibers.

Lyocell was first developed by Lenzig Fibres for use in bedsheets in 1972, and the first US factory opened in 1990. Since its conception, Lyocell has been growing in popularity in terms of bedsheets.

Benefits Of Cotton

Cotton is an extremely popular bed sheet material. The reasons for this are various – it’s strong, breathable, easy t look after and tends to be good value for money.

  • Durability. Cotton is well known to last a long time – in fact, some think it actually gets better with age. Cotton fresh from the packet tends to have a very crisp feel; while after a few washes it becomes softer and less rigid.
  • Washing. Lyocell can’t be bleached, so in terms of deep cleaning, cotton sheets are much easier to care for. White cotton sheets are likely to look newer for longer too, thanks to this possibility of bleaching.
  • Ease Of Care. Cotton can be washed at high temperatures and dried with little to no risk of shrinking or thinning.
  • Price. If you’re on a tight budget, cotton may be a better choice. It comes in a wider range of price brackets, so you can potentially get better quality for your money.

Drawbacks Of Cotton

In spite of its popularity, cotton is not without its flaws. Some people find brand new cotton to be quite unpleasant in feel, and because of the wide variety it can be difficult to know if you’re getting a good deal.

  • Initial Feel. A brand new set of cotton bedsheets can feel quite rough, stiff and starchy. Although some like this crispness, they aren’t initially very smooth of soft. However, over time cotton tends to soften up.
  • Inconsistency. There is a huge variety in quality of cotton bedsheets. A high end, Egyptian cotton set of sheets may have little in common with a bargainous cotton-poly blend. It can be tricky to know exactly what you’re getting in terms of cotton sheets, so it’s important to do your own specific research.
  • Creasing. Cotton sheets, particularly fresh out of the drier, are notoriously prone to creasing. The best way to mitigate this is through ironing or by allowing the sheets to hang to dry naturally.

Benefits Of Lyocell

Lyocell is a more specialized, innovative fabric. It is particularly cool and smooth, and great at wicking sweat away from the body. Lyocell also has attractive environmental benefits.

  • Hygiene. Lyocell fibers are hydrophilic, which means water-loving. In terms of bedsheets, this means they move water particles away from the body. This means they’re far less likely to become mildewed and smell off. Lyocell sheets likely need less frequent washing than cotton.
  • Cooling. These hydrophilic fibers also mean far less sweat will collect between the body and the bedsheets, making Lyocell an ideal choice for hot sleepers or those in more humid countries.
  • Durability. Lyocell sheets last a long time before needing to be replaced. They wash well without become flimsy, thin or misshapen over time.
  • Sustainability. Lyocell sheets are created from wood pulp from very fast growing eucalyptus trees, a sustainable source. They are manufactured using what’s called a “closed loop process” – meaning almost 100% of the solvents used in its construction are recovered and don’t leak into the environment.
  • Surface Comfort. Lyocell sheets are usually constructed using sateen weave. This means the surface fibers of the sheet are longer, and thus the sheets feel very smooth and luxurious to the touch.

Drawbacks Of Lyocell

There are some potential disadvantages to Lyocell. It has a specific look which is not to everyone’s taste, plus it can be a more expensive bedsheet choice.

  • Appearance. Unlike the crisp, matte look of cotton sheets, Lyocell tends to have a slight sheen. While some may find this appealing, others can find it looks a bit satin-y or cheap. It’s really a matter of personal preference.
  • Price. Because Lyocell is a more specialized bedsheet fabric, it is difficult to find at a lower price. However, if you want it for a specialized reason it can be well worth it, and if it’s looked after properly, Lyocell can last a really long time.

Which Is Better?

Cotton is often still thought of as the gold standard of bedsheets, and with good reason. For its price range, it’s difficult to find anything as durable, strong and comfortable. If you’re sleeping comfortably with cotton, it may be that the grass isn’t necessarily greener. However, cotton is not without its issues.

Lyocell is a more specialized fabric. It’s a perfect choice for those with body temperature or sweating issues, or for those with sensitive skin aggravated by moisture.

Points To Keep In Mind When Buying

Often, the right choice in terms of cotton and Lyocell really just comes down to personal preference in terms of feel, look, durability, ease of care, and price. You should always take into consideration your budget, carbon footprint, body temperature and climate, washing preferences and, most important of all, how you personally like your bedsheets to feel.

Sleepopolis Recommendations

One of our top rated cotton sheets comes from Brooklinen. These 100% cotton sheets have a lightweight texture and an increasingly smooth, soft feel, and are available in a variety of modern designs and patterns. For more reviews, check out our Best Cotton Sheets rundown.

One of our top rated Lyocell options comes from Malouf. These sheets are extremely soft, offer great cooling and have a luxurious feel for a bargain price ($90 for a Queen). For a more extensive overview of all types of sheets, please refer to our Best Sheets page.

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Annie Walton Doyle

Annie Walton Doyle is a freelance writer based in Manchester, UK. Her work has appeared in The Huffington Post, The Daily Telegraph, Professional Photography Magazine, Bustle, Ravishly and more. When not writing, she enjoys pubs, knitting, nature and mysteries.

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