Author Britney Guo/ Category Better Sleep / Published: May-18-2022
Tencel and cotton are two of the most popular choices for bedding. Cotton has been a fan favorite for decades, but Tencel is slowly rising in popularity. While both fabrics can be great in bed, there are definitely key differences between the two giants. Tencel is often coined to be ‘vegan silk’ while cotton is known to be a cozy choice. We all have varying bedtime preferences, so just like how you test out mattresses to find the perfect firmness, bedding also needs to be explored to find your perfect match. Remember that while any number of sheets might feel comfortable to the touch, they might not necessarily give you the best night’s sleep once you bring them home. This guide will take a close look at Tencel and cotton to help you decide which bedding will suit you best.
What is Tencel?
Tencel is a trademarked name owned by the Austrian company Lenzing–a textile giant with sustainable innovation at its core. To create Tencel, wood pulp (like that from eucalyptus trees) is dissolved by an organic solvent, and pushed through an extruder to make fibers. These processed cellulose fibers are then spun into a yarn, creating Tencel fabric. In general, cellulosic fabrics are breathable, comfortable, and softer in comparison to other natural fibers like cotton. Overall, Tencel is one of the most sustainable fabrics in modern technology, making it perfect for the modern sleeper.
Additionally, it’s important to note that Tencel is part of a family of cellulosic fabrics, and oftentimes it’s easy to mistake a lower quality cellulosic fabric for Tencel. Other fabrics similar to Tencel are rayon, modal, and lyocell–which commonly are used to make clothing. Although these fabrics are from the same family as Tencel, they are essentially the older generations leading up to Tencel. Meaning, Tencel was created to fix the cons with rayon, modal, and lyocell–for example, rayon has the issue of shrinking and losing its shape after washes but Tencel now has high-wet strength.
What is Cotton?
Cotton is the most widely-produced natural fiber for fabrics used in clothing, bedding, home goods like rugs, and much more. Unlike eucalyptus trees, cotton plants require a lot of resources, pesticides, and water to grow and manufacture. Like Tencel, there is more than one type of fabric in the cotton family–popular cotton fabrics used in bedding are typically percale, sateen, and jersey. In general, cotton sheets vary more drastically in quality than cellulosic sheets because of the variations in thread count. For Tencel, thread count doesn’t have a huge impact because the fabric is naturally smooth and silky feeling. Whereas for cotton, it’s common knowledge that to get a smoother sheet you need to pay more for higher thread count.
Tencel or Cotton: The Specifics
Now you might be wondering, does this mean Tencel is better than cotton? Depending on what you like in your bedding, the answer to this question is pretty much subjective. However, we do think that for the average sleeper, Tencel is objectively the better choice to go with.
Tencel sheets are smooth, silky, and super soft–making them gentle on the skin, and perfect for sleepers who like to slip into bed. If you like a soft, quiet sheet that moves with you, then Tencel is the true winner.
Cotton sheets have that thick, crisp, and firm feel (think starchy white hotel sheets)–making them feel cozier during the colder months, and perfect for sleepers who like the feel of a heavier sheet. If you enjoy the sound of rustling that comes with tossing around and moving against your sheets, then Cotton is going to be a better match.
Tencel’s nickname is literally ‘cooling sheets,’ so you can rest assured that Tencel is truly cool to the touch, and temperature-regulating. Tencel is actually 3x more breathable and 70% more moisture-wicking than cotton, making sure that your nights never get too hot or sweaty.
Cotton sheets are generally thicker and less breathable, making them unideal for hot sleepers because they easily trap heat and sweat. However, percale cotton sheets are known to be the lightest and most breathable out of all the cotton sheets.
Tencel’s antibacterial and hypoallergenic properties make it ideal for those with sensitive skin, acne prone skin, and also eczema. The smoothness of Tencel also helps prevent sleep wrinkles and smooth frizzy hair, just like what silk is known for.
Cotton on the other hand does not do the skin many favors since cotton tends to trap bacteria, and lack of breathability means cotton sheets provide a warm, moist breeding ground for bacteria every night.
Tencel sheets are durable with a high-wet strength, so when washed, they’re unlikely to pill, shrink, or lose their shape. You can launder Tencel sheets worry free because they’ll continue to stay silky soft after every wash. In addition, since Tencel sheets don’t breed bacteria, they don’t need to be washed as frequently as cotton sheets–meaning they’ll last even longer.
Cotton sheets, and anything cotton in general, are known to shrink in the wash and dryer–so you have to be careful to avoid high heat when laundering them. However, some types of cotton are known for their durability, such as egyptian and pima cotton. If you choose to look for these alternatives, make sure to triple check that the sheets are 100% egyptian or pima cotton since very few on the market are truly 100% pure egyptian or pima cotton.
Tencel sheets are comparatively more complicated to make compared to other fabrics on the market, so they typically come with a higher price tag. However, Tencel sheets carry many benefits which ultimately justifies the cost of production. Additionally, Tencel sheets are built to last, so your investment in Tencel sheets will last for years to come.
Cotton is the most commonly found bedding material on the market, and there is a huge supply chain for cotton–making it extremely accessible and typically very affordable. However, cotton is not designed to last, so cotton sheets regularly don’t last for more than two years of use. So the cotton sheets you love so much now really won’t feel or look the same a year from now.
Tencel is created in a revolutionary way where 99.9% of the water and organic solvent used to treat the eucalyptus wood are recycled in the production process. Eucalyptus plants are also more sustainable since they can be grown and harvested without depleting a lot of resources. For 1/10 the amount of water needed to grow and make cotton sheets, we can create 10x many Tencel sheets.
Cotton is not very sustainable. Growing cotton itself uses a huge amount of water (10,000 liters just to make one kilogram of cotton fabric), and more pesticides and insecticides are used to grow cotton than any other crop. Overall, cotton is highly commercialized but terrible for the environment.
Now that we’ve been presented with all these
Tencel sheets are silky, cooling, great for sensitive skin, durable, and sustainable. Though cotton sheets are great for sleepers who like crisp sheets, they easily breed bacteria and can cause night sweats. Cotton sheets are also harmful to the environment, and can often be hit-or-miss in terms of quality consistency. There isn’t a “wrong” choice when it comes to searching for the perfect bedding, but it’s important to think about what you’re expecting from your bedding before you make a purchase. No matter how cute a sheet set may be, our word of advice is to focus more on the quality and material of the bedding.