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A sleep expert and a designer weigh in.
Let’s get right to it: Is bamboo bedding better than cotton? Or does the more traditional material reign supreme? Choosing bamboo versus cotton sheets highly depends on how you sleep, but don’t dismiss cost, the eco-friendliness of the production process, and the care required either. To help you rule out one of the options, we tapped Rosie Osmun, EachNight and Amerisleep contributor and a certified sleep science coach, and Annie Kersey, lead interior designer at Purple Cherry Architects. Read on for their takes.
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Generally, bamboo sheets are made from bamboo plant fibers that are spun into yarn and then woven into fabric, Osmun explains, but there are actually three different subtypes. They can be distinguished by the way they are produced: Bamboo rayon, also referred to as viscose, involves the material being chemically converted into a fiber. Lyocell is also regenerated bamboo fibers, but the process to break down the plant uses minimal water and toxin-free solvents, resulting in a more sustainable product than rayon. Bamboo linen is typically made of a bamboo-and-cotton blend or pure bamboo yarn, which starts as a mixture of crushed wood and sodium hydroxide.
Bamboo sheets are known for being breathable and hypoallergenic (allergy sufferers, rejoice!). They’re also eco-friendly—bamboo is a renewable resource due to how fast it grows and its ability to regenerate quickly—and relatively hardy compared to other sheets, says Osmun. Plus there’s a bonus for hot sleepers: The material stays cool and dry at night, which we found especially true with this under-$70 Amazon set.
On the other hand, bamboo sheets are usually pricier than those made from more traditional fabrics (due to the elaborate production process), and they require a bit more upkeep. They also may need occasional ironing and should be washed in cold water with a mild detergent and dried on a low-heat gentle setting, says Osmun. So if fuss-free care is high on your shopping priority list, consider these linen options instead.
Hot sleepers and those who are okay with a crease or two. Like cotton percale, bamboo bedding sleeps soft and breathable, but it does wrinkle quite easily, which is something to keep in mind if you prefer a smoother, crisp sheet, says Kersey.
Cotton sheets are woven with yarn that’s typically spun from one of three types of cotton: Egyptian, pima or Supima, and Upland, which most cotton linens contain, explains Osmun. But pay close attention to product descriptions; she also points out that some cotton-blend options have a percentage of polyester fibers in the mix. Cotton sheets come in two types of weaves: sateen, in which satin is woven in with the cotton and offers a subtle sheen, and percale, in which the yarns form a tight crisscross pattern for a crisper feel. Unlike their regular cotton counterparts, organic versions are made without dyes or chemical treatments such as pesticides, formaldehyde, and stain repellents.
This classic, lightweight material is known for its high breathability, as the fabric naturally wicks heat and sweat away from the body, explains Osmun. And something to note for the low-maintenance crowd: Cotton is simple to wash (we recommend laundering in warm water with mild detergent and no bleach, then drying on a low- or medium-heat setting to minimize shrinkage) and relatively inexpensive. Organic cotton sheets, however, are a different story, so budget-conscious shoppers should keep that in mind.
Also be picky about where you use sateen in your home, Kersey says. Although it has a gorgeous but slippery finish, it’s prone to snagging and pilling, so it may not hold up well in a child’s bedroom or a frequently used guest suite.
People who prefer a one-and-done purchase that won’t break the bank, plus especially warm sleepers. “Cotton percale creates crisp, airy, cool-to-the-touch bedsheets,” says Kersey, and so it sleeps cooler than regular cotton, making it good to use year-round.
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