Lyocell vs. Cotton Sheets

By Mitchell Tollsen
Last Updated On February 15th, 2021

The comforting touch of a soft bed sheet is necessary to help you feel relaxed and prepare you for a good night’s sleep. Materials like cotton and lyocell, commonly used…

Lyocell vs. Cotton Sheets

The comforting touch of a soft bed sheet is necessary to help you feel relaxed and prepare you for a good night’s sleep. Materials like cotton and lyocell, commonly used to make bed sheets,  are both soft and durable with a few key differences.

Choosing bed sheets may be a difficult task. Sometimes you may get carried away by the color or print and not look at the material, weave, and thread count. These important factors determine the feel of bed sheets.

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Materials like cotton have been used for thousands of years to make fabric; in fact, it’s the most common bed sheet material. While cotton may be synonymous with comfort, there are other eco-friendly materials like lyocell that are becoming more commonly used in bedding.

What is Lyocell?

Lyocell, commonly known by its brand name Tencel, is a sustainable material and was first developed in 1972. By the late 90s, lyocell started gaining popularity in the bedding industry, but it has still not been able to dethrone cotton as the favorite for bed sheets.

Lyocell comes from the cellulose found in the wood pulp of eucalyptus, birch, or oak trees. It’s manufactured using a “closed-loop process”—almost all the solvents used in the production process get reused and don’t pollute the environment. The solvent chemically breaks down the wood pulp, which is then reformed into fibers, making lyocell a regenerated fiber. Fibrils (small or slender fibers) are isolated from the cellulose-containing source, which are then spun into lyocell nanofibrils—the final product that makes lyocell sheets.

The cellulosic origin and the “closed-loop process” production of lyocell makes it a semi-synthetic, viscose fiber—it is neither a natural fiber like wool, cotton, or silk nor an artificial fiber synthesized out of petrochemicals like nylon or polyester.

What is Cotton?

Cotton is a natural fiber that grows from the seedpod of a cotton plant. The fluffy cotton fiber has been used to make fabric for thousands of years. All cotton fibers are not equal—they are differentiated by the length of their fiber, also known as their staple.

Long-staple cotton is known to be of superior quality with a plush luxurious feel to it, while short-staple cotton does not feel as plush and luxurious because the shorter length of fibers tends to break down faster, spoiling the quality and the feel of the fabric. It also leads to more pilling on the fabric. Long-staple fibers are usually in Egyptian cotton or Pima cotton, which make for plush, durable fabric.

Difference Between Lyocell and Cotton Sheets

While cotton is a natural fiber, lyocell is derived from natural materials and made into fibers through a closed-loop manufacturing process. Both produce top quality bed sheets, which are soft to the touch, but there are certain parameters in which one may be better than the other.

ParametersLyocellCotton
Touch and feelFeels much softer and smoother from the first day of useFeels crisp initially, gets softer with use and washing
PriceUsually more expensive than cottonEven the most superior quality of cotton is less expensive than lyocell
DurabilityLong-lasting and durable, but requires careful handlingSuperior quality cotton when woven tight for durability, but requires more washes than lyocell
Resistance to pillingHas better resistance to pilling than cottonMore prone to pilling than lyocell. Inferior quality cotton pills faster
MaintenanceLyocell needs sensitive handling; sometimes it requires hand washing, while other times it may be machine washed on delicate cycleCotton is comparatively easy to handle and all varieties of cotton may be machine washed
Cooling?Cool and breathable, and wicks away moistureCool and breathable, but cannot wick away moisture
Wrinkle-resistant?YesNo
Eco-friendly?YesHas eco-friendly varieties

Advantages of Lyocell Sheets

There are many advantages to this silky-soft fabric, which is gradually gaining popularity because of its cooling, hypoallergenic, eco-friendly, and wrinkle-resistance features.

Cooling

Lyocell is a naturally cooling material, and the hydrophilic nature of lyocell fiber makes it super absorbent. Lyocell sheets are very effective at wicking away moisture and keeping you comfortable through the night.

Eco-friendly

Lyocell is manufactured through a closed-loop process, where the chemical solvents used to break down the wood pulp get reused and recycled in every step of the manufacturing process—leaving almost no manufacturing waste. Lyocell is usually derived from the wood cellulose of eucalyptus trees, which are grown on lands not suitable for cultivation. These lands are not irrigated and the eucalyptus trees are not treated with any chemical fertilizers or pesticides.

Hypoallergenic

Lyocell is a good option for those with sensitive skin because of its hypoallergenic nature.  The moisture-wicking ability of lyocell makes for an inhospitable climate for bacteria, viruses, dust mites, and other indoor allergens. Moreover, smooth lyocell fibers have a very plush feel, making lyocell a good option for those with sensitive skin who are prone to develop skin irritation or rashes.

Wrinkle-resistance

Lyocell vs. Cotton Sheets

Lyocell is produced through nanotechnology which accounts for the material’s super soft texture, making it wrinkle resistant. Nanotechnology ensures that all lyocell fibers are long, which is essential for making the final product soft. The wrinkle-resistant nature of lyocell sheets eliminates the need for ironing after every wash.

Disadvantages of Lyocell Sheets

This eco-friendly, soft material does not have many disadvantages except for higher cost and sensitive handling.

High Cost

The environment-friendly production process of lyocell is expensive. A queen size sheet set may cost around $100 to $300.

Special Care

Though lyocell sheets require less cleaning than cotton, they require careful cleaning. Read the instructions on the care label; some may require handwashing, though you can machine wash them in cold on the delicate cycle with a gentle detergent.

Lyocell shrinks a little after the first wash but then resists shrinkage after. You may air dry or line dry, because tumble drying in a machine may spoil the fibers.

Advantages of Cotton Sheets

Cotton is the most preferred material for bed sheets. This material has been used for ages and has evolved with time. It comes with many advantages like easy maintenance, durability, and it becomes softer with age.

Easy Maintenance

Read the care label for all cotton bed sheets because different varieties of cotton, various weaves, or cotton blended with other materials may require different care—overall it is easy to care for. You may even wash it at high temperatures and tumble dry it on low. However,  it is usually recommended to wash Egyptian cotton in cold water so the long fibers are not damaged.

Durable

The long-fibers of Egyptian cotton are strong and make cotton sheets very durable. But not all varieties of cotton are durable. Only Egyptian and Pima cotton are known for their strength.

Gets softer with every wash

Though superior quality cotton is soft and breathable, it may not start that way. New cotton bed sheets usually feel crisp, but with every wash, they get softer.

Disadvantages of Cotton Sheets

Though cotton sheets have many advantages, there are some disadvantages. It’s harder to find high-quality cotton sheets among the thousands of options. Cotton is also prone to wrinkling, and it is not environmentally friendly.

Overwhelming Options

There are many varieties of cotton available on the market, making it difficult to spot superior quality cotton. Egyptian and Pima cotton are known for their long fibers, making them superior quality, but beware of cotton blends, which may not be durable or comfortable.

Easily Wrinkles

The texture of cotton makes it prone to wrinkles. Cotton bed sheets usually need ironing after every wash to smooth creases.

Not Environmentally Friendly

Cotton plants need a large amount of water to grow. Moreover, chemical pesticides may be sprayed on cotton plants to ensure the crops stay healthy and are not damaged by pests, which may negatively impact the environment. However, organically grown cotton may not have chemical pesticides used on it.

Choosing the Right Sheets

Once you have decided on the materials for your bed sheet, you may want to look into other factors such as thread count, weave and color.

Thread Count

Thread count refers to the number of horizontal and vertical threads per square inch. Anything between the range of 300 to 600 is considered an ideal thread count for a good quality bed sheet. General notion is a higher thread count means a more luxurious bed sheet, because more yarns fitting into a square inch space make the sheet more smooth, dense and durable. But this may not always be the case—especially be wary when thread count is higher than 600.

Don’t go blindly by a high thread count, because bed sheet manufacturers have found ways to artificially inflate the thread count by using multiple-ply yarn. To do this, individual inferior quality threads are twisted around each other. The quality of the thread is most important. While thread count is a parameter in choosing your bed sheet, it is not the only factor that determines your decision making. Have the average range of thread count in mind when you shop for your next bed sheet.

Weave

There are different kinds of weaves such as percale, sateen, and twill, which add to the texture of your bed sheets. Usually, all lyocell sheets have a sateen weave which lends a silky-soft feel. Cotton bed sheets are usually best in a percale weave because this tight weave adds to the durability of cotton sheets.

Color

Color is a very personal choice. You may choose one depending on the season or the occasion. Light and pastel colors are well suited for summers, whereas rich and earthy colors may be good for the cold winter months.

FAQs

What is the best type of cotton for a bed sheet?

Egyptian cotton sheets are considered the best, but there are other varieties like Pima cotton which also make for comfortable bed sheets. Pima cotton generally refers to all extra-long staple (ELS) cotton, grown in the US, Australia, Peru, and Israel.

What is the difference between lyocell and Tencel?

Tencel is the brand name for lyocell. Lyocell is a form of rayon, a manufactured fiber made from natural sources. Lyocell is made using cellulose fiber from wood pulp. Lyocell was first developed in 1972 and as a pilot project and was called “Newcell”, later it was commercialized with the brand name Tencel.

Conclusion

Choosing sheets for yourself may not seem like a difficult task initially, but if you want comfortable bed sheets that will last a long time, you may have to do some extra research. Both cotton and lyocell are cool, comfortable, and breathable materials—you have to decide which suits you better depending on the feel and how much you’re willing to maintain them.

This article is for informational purposes and should not replace advice from your doctor or other medical professional.


About the author

Mitchell Tollsen is a graduate student and a freelance writer who’s contributed to the Early Bird blog for three years. Mitchell’s always been fascinated by the science of sleep and the restorative processes our bodies undergo when at rest. The self-titled “Sleep Expert” is always looking for ways to improve his shut-eye, and throughout the years has implemented numerous lifestyle changes and tried dozens of sleep-promoting gadgets to determine the best ways to truly get better rest.

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