If you’re not sure what you’re looking for, choosing new bed sheets can be quite the task. With so many products, materials, and fabrics to consider, we thought we’d simplify things and compare two of the most common types you’ll come across: cotton and Egyptian cotton. They sound alike, but what are the differences?
In this article, we’ve explained how to identify different types of cotton, the difference between Egyptian cotton and cotton, and the alternatives to consider if you’re looking for ethical and sustainable bedding.
What is cotton?
Cotton is a soft, fluffy, and breathable fibre that’s commonly found in the making of clothing and bedding. There is a long history of cotton manufacturing, stretching back thousands of years, and it’s grown to become the most popular fabric type around the world.
The cotton you see in the shops starts off as a plant, but goes through an extensive process that involves harvesting the buds, carding the fibres into long strands, spinning the yarn, and weaving the textile.
The key factors that determine cotton quality
When choosing between different types of cotton bedding, it’s important to consider a variety of factors, including the type of fibre used, the weaving style, and the thread count. Not only will this impact your night time comfort, but also the durability of your sheets.
While you might consider cotton to be one, versatile material, the differences between each type comes from the variety of available fibres. The most common being:
- American upland
American upland is the most widely planted and commonly used cotton in the world, and can be identified by its long-short staple.
In fact, it’s reported that around nine tenths of all cotton production derives from upland cotton. This means that if you see a product labelled 100% cotton, whether it be clothing or bedding, the chances are that it’s made from this type of cotton.
Fine to touch with long staples, Pima cotton is used to manufacturer a luxuriously soft weave. It’s at the higher end of the quality scale, and is often used to make comfortable clothing such as shirts, dresses, and t-shirts.
- Egyptian Cotton
Egyptian cotton is identified as having the longest and finest staple of all cotton plants, and is historically grown on the banks of the Nile River. Because of its soft properties, Egyptian cotton is typically used to produce soft and luxurious bedding.
Just as you can grow different types of cotton, there are also various ways you can weave the fibres to achieve a wide array of styles. The most common cotton weaves are:
An Oxford weave provides a heavy-yet-soft material, identifiable by having multiple overlapping threads. It’s most commonly known as the weave used in the manufacturing of Oxford shirts, characterised by their durability.
Percale cotton properties include breathability and a cool, crisp feel, making it a popular pick for comfortable clothing and bedding no matter the weather. It follows a standard weaving pattern of one thread under/over, which provides strength and durability, while offering a matte softness often likened to linen.
Sateen is among the most luxurious types of cotton, with properties including elegant silkiness and a strong and sturdy drape. Its durable delicateness makes it a popular weave among bedding manufacturers, as a more affordable alternative to Egyptian cotton.
3. Thread Count
Thread count refers to the number of overlapping threads within one inch of a woven area of fabric. The finer the thread, the higher the count, which results in a softer, more luxurious material; for quality bed sheets, you really ought to look at material with a thread count of at least 200.
Generally speaking, regular cotton has a thread count between 200-400, depending on the weave, while Egyptian cotton usually has a thread count between 300-400.
What is Egyptian Cotton?
Famous for its silky texture and ability to get softer with every wash, Egyptian cotton has been in global demand since it was first developed in the early 19th century, and owning Egyptian cotton bedding, clothes and towels has now become a symbol of luxury and taste.
Authentic Egyptian cotton comes from a species of plant known as Gossypium Barbadense. The fertile banks of the Nile River provide the ideal location for the luxurious cotton plant to thrive, with a hot climate, abundance of water, and unique chemical soil composition.
Unlike other species of cotton plants, Gossypium Barbadense produces extra-long-staple (ELS) cotton fibres of at least 1 3/8 inches, which are handpicked from the field to keep them straight and stop them breaking. It’s these long, straight fibres that are the key to the softness of Egyptian cotton, which, after being picked, are spun into strong and consistent yarns. The yarns are then weaved into smooth Egyptian cotton sheets.
How is Egyptian cotton made?
Traditionally, an Egyptian cotton label meant that the fabric was guaranteed to be made from extra-long-staple cotton fibres of Gossypium Barbadense grown in Egypt. Unfortunately, the meaning of ‘Egyptian cotton’ has been corrupted and the label has taken on several new meanings.
Where is Egyptian cotton grown?
Despite its popularity, Egypt actually only contributes to a small percentage’ of global cotton production, and only a fraction of what is produced will be ESL Gossypium Barbadense.
Put into context, Egypt was only the world’s 24th biggest cotton producer in 2019, with the likes of India, China, and the United States taking the top spots instead. These three nations were also the top producers of ELS cotton.
Is it really Egyptian cotton?
Egyptian cotton is now incorrectly used as a marketing term to include any cotton that is grown in Egypt. For instance, shorter cotton fibres that are easier and cheaper for farmers to grow are being weaved into lower quality fabrics, while still being sold under a banner of luxury. Despite the higher price tags, countless consumers around the world are buying bedding that isn’t quite as exquisite as they’d hoped.
Additionally, despite many fabrics on the market genuinely containing Egyptian cotton, the finished product may only contain a fraction of the quality thread. Instead, you’ll likely find that sheets sold as authentic ‘Egyptian cotton’ are actually a combination of low grade cotton, polyester, or nylon. Unfortunately, the presence of Egyptian cotton isn’t enough to stop these fabrics pilling, and you’ll quickly notice a decline in quality.
Another ‘Egyptian cotton’ loophole that manufacturers have found is using genuine ELS cotton fibres of Gossypium Barbadense that have been grown somewhere other than Egypt, where conditions are not as optimal. While customers may only detect a slight difference in the quality of their products, the practice has been disastrous for the Egyptian economy.
Although many countries have labelling regulations, a large number of products claiming to be Egyptian cotton go unchecked. Markets are plagued with labelling fraudulence including some claims of 100% Egyptian cotton that turn out to be entirely polyester!
How to identify Egyptian cotton
To ensure you’re buying genuine and authentic Egyptian cotton, it can be helpful to know what to look out for. Helpfully, all true Egyptian cotton can be identified by a logo on the packaging depicting a black triangle, so you know you’re purchasing a product that was grown in the region’s rich soil rather than a cheap alternative.
The differences between Egyptian cotton and cotton
We’ve looked at each of regular cotton and Egyptian cotton individually, but how do they compare side-by-side? We’ve looked at each together, and compared the differences to give you an idea of which to consider when buying bedding.
1. Sleep quality
One of the main differences between regular cotton bedding and Egyptian cotton sheets is its comfort and the feeling of the material as you sleep. Notably, Egyptian cotton sheets are lighter in weight and softer than cotton, which doesn’t breathe quite as effectively nor keep you as cool at night.
Comparing durability and longevity, you’ll find an Egyptian cotton sheet to last much longer than regular cotton bedding - and the higher the thread count, the longer it’ll last.
This is because regular cotton doesn’t have the same strength as Egyptian cotton, meaning it’ll break down a lot sooner and you’ll need to buy replacement bedding more often. As a result, while often a little more expensive, authentic Egyptian cotton is always a worthy investment.
3. Fabric dying
As far as fabric dying goes, there’s very little difference between cotton and Egyptian cotton: both are easily dyed and you can choose from the full spectrum of colours and patterns. This is part of the reason that cotton is so popular in the manufacturing of clothes and bedding, because it’s such a versatile material when it comes to colour.
4. Washing and care
Daily care is important when it comes to choosing the right bedding, and there’s little difference between Egyptian cotton and cotton when it comes to washing routines – at least to begin with.
What you may begin to notice, though, is that regular cotton bed sheets might start to wrinkle, while the softer Egyptian threads hold up and keep their luxurious form. This means Egyptian cotton is likelier to last much longer as a comfortable sleeping solution.
Egyptian cotton vs regular cotton: which is best?
Now we know the differences between the two, there’s really no disputing the superior quality of Egyptian cotton vs regular cotton, with the former weave exhibiting long and silky fibres to give you bedding that’s both luxuriously comfortable and extremely long-lasting. Egyptian cotton also keeps you cooler and dryer at night, which helps you to enjoy better sleep and healthier skin, while offering fabulous charm and style to your bedroom.
What is the alternative to Egyptian cotton?
Despite there being a range of ethical and sustainable bed sheet solutions on the market, legitimate Egyptian cotton generally maintains an edge when it comes to luxury – except for Tencel™, which ticks all the boxes as an ethical, sustainable, and luxury bedding option that’s unmatched in both quality and desirability.
Tencel™ is a brand specialising in Lyocell, a material made from cellulose fibres in a closed loop production process. Wood pulp sourced from sustainably managed plantations is dissolved with solvents before being pushed through holes to form the threads that can be spun into yarn.
The process to create Tencel™ uses less energy and water than in cotton production, and the solvents used are recycled each time to minimise waste. In fact, 2.6% of the world’s water usage is associated with creating cotton, highlighting the masses of waste involved in production; comparatively, Tencel™ uses 95% less water, far less land, and zero herbicides and pesticides.
Tencel vs Egyptian cotton: which is better for bedding?
Egyptian cotton has achieved luxurious notoriety for a reason; compared to other cottons and natural materials, it has exceptional levels of softness, durability, and strength. However, despite all of this, it’s not perfect.
Egyptian cotton can be damaged by softeners and hot washes, and is prone to wrinkling. As highlighted previously, you also need to remain wary about buying cheap knock-offs labelled as the real thing. But while there’s no need to throw away your trusty Egyptian cotton bedding just yet, it’s worth gradually investing in equally luxurious-but-more-sustainable alternatives.
Tencel™ is known to match and even exceed the levels of softness and strength seen with Egyptian cotton, and the fabric can effectively absorb moisture. This not only makes it cool and dry on the skin, but also prevents the growth of bacteria on sheet surfaces. The breathable, durable, and wrinkle-resistant properties of this material make it the ideal choice for bed sheets that you intend to keep for years to come.
Looking for an Egyptian Cotton alternative bed set? Try our Ultimate Eucalyptus Silk Bed Sheet Bundle (various colours)
Hopefully, we’ve helped you identify the difference between cotton and Egyptian cotton, and inspired you to make informed decisions when it comes to choosing the right sheets, duvets, and pillows. For even more bedding advice and insight from our team of dedicated experts, check out the rest of our blog.