What Is the Difference Between Cotton and Linen?

Cotton comes from cotton plants, and linen comes from flax plants. Both are popular materials found in clothing and domestic textiles, although the considerable differences between them make each fiber better suited for specific applications. These differences become apparent once the fibers are woven into cloth.

Cotton fabric is soft, breathable and retains heat more effectively than linen. It is durable, washable and resists wrinkling. Linen is also durable and washable but quickly develops tenacious wrinkles. Consequently, this fabric is rarely used in children's clothing. The color of natural linen fabric ranges from white to cream. It accepts dye well and resists fading, even after repeated machine washing. Linen fabric is thin, light and exceptionally strong for its size. It feels cool against the skin and is used extensively in hot weather clothing. Its poor heat retention, however, makes linen clothing useless in cold weather. Tightly woven linen napkins and tablecloths are among the finest in the world. Linen's natural wax content gives the fabric an attractive sheen and luxurious texture.

Blended fabric made from linen and cotton offers many benefits of both materials. Linen-cotton blends are wrinkle resistant, lightweight and breathable but retain heat more effectively than only linen. These fabrics are thinner, stronger and lighter than only cotton. Blended fabrics are used to make clothing, curtains, bed sheets, pillowcases, slipcovers and other home goods.