Cotton vs. Linen: The Ultimate Showdown for Hot Weather Comfort
Before comparing the two, it's helpful to know the composition of cotton and linen fabric. Cotton is made from the natural fibers of the cotton plant. The cotton material that makes the fabric is grown in the cotton boil. The linen fabric is made from natural cellulose fibers that grow in the stalks of the flax plant. Linen is also one of the oldest cultivated plants in human history.
Comparing Cotton and Linen Fabrics
For starters, linen has lower heat conductivity compared to cotton. OK…so what are we saying here… well, linen fabrics absorb less heat from the environment or body, keeping the fabric itself cooler to the touch. It helps in reducing the sensation of warmth against the skin, making it more comfortable to wear in hot and humid climates.
Cotton has similar insulating properties to fiberglass, which is somewhat better for cooler temperatures, but not so great for summer’s heat. Linen flax fibers are hollow, making them very cool during the hot, humid summer months.
Cotton is very breathable, and absorbs moisture a bit better than linen. Cotton can absorb 25% of its weight, while linen can absorb 20% of its weight.
However, if you are prone to sweating, beware. Although cotton absorbs a little more moisture, it is unable to wick moisture away from the skin as effectively as linen. Linen is both breathable and highly wicking. Wicking means linen draws moisture (sweat) away from the skin and dries quickly, keeping you more comfortable in the heat.
An anti-microbial textile, linen is anti-fungal and anti-microbial… Huh?!? What the heck does that mean? In short, it means that it won’t smell even though it does absorb moisture. (remember, it is highly wicking!!)
Both linen and cotton are hypo-allergenic, however, linen is slightly better for those with allergies as the lower thread count and its loose weave is less likely to trap dust and other particles. The loose weave also allows better airflow which aids in cooling.
Cotton does have more stretch and flexibility than linen, but it is not as durable. Cotton fabric pills because cotton fibers are weaker than the flax fibers in linen.
Let’s use bedsheets as an example. Cotton is a naturally smoother fabric, and because flax fibers are initially rougher. Therefore, cotton sheets are softer right out of the package, and can last around five years. But, linen softens with each washing, becoming more and more comfortable with each wash, and lasts much longer, up to 30 years.
The same is true for linen clothing. Those working outdoors in the Caribbean, Central and South America, experience a great deal of tropical weather and wear linen because it has excellent wicking, and their garments last much longer. Importantly, repeated washings do not damage the structural integrity of the garment.
Wrinkles. Let’s face facts, both linen and 100% cotton fabrics are going to wrinkle. Linen does naturally wrinkle a bit more than cotton. Both linen and cotton are natural fabrics and can’t be grown ‘wrinkle-free.’ They can be blended with other materials like rayon and polyester to make them more wrinkle-resistant.
But this reduces the cooling benefits of the fabrics. So instead of fighting the wrinkle, embrace them. Look and feel as comfortable as possible in the heat with a few wrinkles while others are bathing in their own sweat.
The Verdict Is In
No matter the fabric, when the sun is beating down, wear light colors to reflect the heat, not darker colors that absorb the heat. Both cotton and linen are popular fabrics. But for hot, humid climates, linen’s unique properties tip the scales for comfort and durability. Stay cooler, look great wearing linens, and enjoy the summer!