Linen and cotton: Everything is comparative

Natural linen fabric is often mistaken for its main competitor – cotton. And that is utterly wrong. These are completely different plants that give fibers with completely different properties

How to distinguish linen canvas from cotton canvas?


Cotton fabrics are matte, soft, and warm while linen fabrics are luster, smooth, and thicker. Linen looks and feels like cotton but it is still a bit harder and thicker (though not always).

When a linen thread is torn it results in an uneven “tassel” while the cotton thread always tears even and neat.


Photo 1 - linen fabric, photo 2 - cotton fabric

Linen or cotton – which is more durable?


Linen yarn is a group of stalk fibers 4 cm (1.57 inches) long pointy on both ends. It is very strong – up to 70 cN/text (this is single yarn strength system of units). As comparison, cotton strength is twice as weak – only 28 cN/text.

Natural linen fabrics and products can serve longer and retain their properties even after 20 years. Cotton products, on the other hand, fade in the sun and become less strong.

Secret of longevity of linen is that it has complex cellulose in its composition, so its breaking force is two times higher than cotton’s while its abrasion resistance is 3.5 times higher.

Due to its high strength, linen is used in money printing in the USA; American dollars contain almost 25% linen.


Which one absorbs moisture and breathes better?


Hygroscopic property of organic linen fabric is better than of cotton, so it absorbs moisture far better and is more breathable.


Difference between linen and cotton: temperature 


Heat-resistance of these two materials is also different: 120-130°С (248-266F) for cotton and 160-170°С (320-338F) for linen. Linen gives the sensation of coolness even in hot weather while conserving heat in cold conditions.

A person wearing linen clothes in hot weather has skin temperature 3-4 degrees lower than a person wearing cotton or silk clothes.

Like cotton, linen fabrics are resistant to any organic solvents and alkali. However, while cotton is dyed easily, linen is harder to dye and bleach because it has more additional waxy substances.

Linen fabrics made of flax cultivated in different regions are distinguished by the degree of stiffness. Linen contains up to 80% of cellulose and 5% of lignin which is what gives the fabric its hardness. The least amount of these substances is found in light-gray fibers, so they are considered of the highest quality.