When looking to buy bedding, one of the most important things to do is research the health benefits and comfort of the materials. There are two main types of high quality bedding available for purchase: Egyptian Cotton and Viscose from Bamboo. As you might expect, we here at Best Bamboo Guide are somewhat biased, but here are some very important facts about Viscose from Bamboo and Egyptian Cotton bedding that can help you decide which is best for you.
First, What Are Bamboo Sheets?
When I first told people about bamboo sheets several years ago, I got some strange looks. Of course, they’ve become quite popular since then and most people are aware that bamboo sheets are similar in look and feel to any other high-quality fabric sheet, but that the fabric is simply derived from bamboo. In fact, the bamboo fabric is derived from a specific type of bamboo that is more like timber than anything else. I wrote up a whole article on the various types of bamboo fabric, if you are interested.
The bamboo is crushed and then dissolved in a chemical solution to make a sort of pulp. The pulp is then fed through machines to turn it into something that looks a lot like cotton. That’s the basic process, and it isn’t altogether environmentally friendly since dissolving the crushed bamboo involves caustic soda. Although most of this is reused, particularly in the lyocell process, some of it inevitably is disposed of as waste.
Second, What Are Cotton Sheets?
These are much more familiar to everyone, and are certainly the most common type of sheets. The production here is straight forward since cotton is already fibrous. The cotton is harvested and then spun into threads that are used to produce the fabric.
Unfortunately, growing and harvesting cotton is extremely bad for the environment. The two biggest disadvantages compared to bamboo are that cotton requires almost six times as much water to grow, and the cotton plants are vulnerable to all sort of insects and infections. Because of this, cotton growers use a wide variety of pesticides and fungicides on the cotton plants while they are growing. Along with depleting water resources, these chemicals are washed into the environment and cause contamination throughout the watershed.
Another problem with Egyptian cotton in particular, is that while there is a large premium for the “Egyptian” part, the quality is of some concern. The following is from Dr. Ahmed Wally in a recent report for the USDA:
In the past years, the government has taken control over the production and distribution of cottonseed, which was previously handled by the private sector, in an effort to restore seed purity and cotton quality. The government was forced to intervene as Egyptian cotton’s reputation and quality had deteriorated significantly, due to seed companies’ lack of effective quality assurance systems that resulted in inferior, mixed variety output.
This decline in the quality of Egyptian cotton has left consumers paying a premium price for what is not certain to be a premium fabric.
Now, What are The Differences Between Bamboo Sheets and Cotton Sheets?
Both types of these types of bedding can be very comfortable. Viscose from Bamboo bedding diffuses sweat, and is naturally temperature controlled, while Egyptian Cotton bedding absorbs water and doesn’t have intrinsic temperature control. This means that in the winter viscose bamboo bedding is warm and in the summer viscose bamboo bedding is cool.
Egyptian Cotton bedding is silky, soft, and has a high thread count. Viscose Bamboo bedding has a much lower thread count because of the nature of the fiber. In fact, higher thread counts in bamboo fabric are actually stiffer as packing more fibers into the same space makes the fabric denser and less silky. This leads to bamboo sheets having a much smoother and softer feel. One might say that viscose bamboo is to cotton as cashmere is to wool.
Viscose from Bamboo bedding is a naturally breathable material since it is made of very thin fibers and threads. Egyptian Cotton bedding on the contrary is not as breathable, nor is it as natural and healthy as Viscose from Bamboo bedding.
As we mentioned above, cotton is grown as a pesticide-intensive crop. There is nothing special about “Egyptian” cotton: it just means cotton grown in Egypt. The chemicals used to grow cotton are harmful to the environment and the users of any cotton material. Bamboo does not need pesticides or agricultural chemicals to grow.
The other big environmental difference is the amount of water necessary for the plants to grow. Cotton requires almost six times as much water to produce a similar amount of fabric. As water resources become scarcer, having a crop that can grow on a fraction of the water usage is a huge environmental advantage.
Finally, as anyone who has planted bamboo in their backyard knows, bamboo grows almost out of control. It is actually a grass, and can grow to its full height and be harvested in as little as a couple of years. Bamboo is one of the fastest growing plants that we know of; there are a few species of bamboo that can grow as much as 36 inches in a single day!
Care & Durability
Quality bamboo bedding can be a little more expensive than the average sheet sets you might pick up at target. As such, you should carefully follow the washing and drying instructions included with your sheets. Some general tips on caring for bamboo bedding are: always wash in cold water on a gentle cycle. The only exception is that you can (and should) wash them in warm or hot water on the first washing before you use them.
Another important tip to make sure your bamboo sheets stay in great shape is to wash and dry them on their own. Mixing viscose bamboo fabric in with other fabrics, particularly rough fabrics like denim, can cause micro-tears in the bamboo threads. Overtime this will degrade the integrity of the bamboo fibers and eventually lead to pilling.
For more tips and care instructions check out our article, How to Take Care of Bamboo Bedding.
As for durability, viscose bamboo is a fine, delicate fabric. It is definitely as durable as egyptian cotton if it is well taken care of, but is susceptible to pilling or tears if you don’t take care of it.
Thread count is one of the most popular metrics people look at when evaluating their bedding options. Unfortunately, it is also one of the most misunderstood and manipulated metrics as well. With cotton sheets, a higher thread count tends to be better up to a certain point, but anything over about 800 is almost certainly a gimmick, and even if it is isn’t, it will not lead to increased comfort or durability.
Thread count refers to the number of threads per square inch of the bedding material. In cotton sheets, a higher thread count is helpful since it will mean the threads are finer. This makes them softer and more breathable. However, with bamboo sheets, because of the way the fabric is produced and the nature of the fibers, thread counts will naturally be much lower. Most bamboo sheets are 300 or 320 thread count. There are some slightly thicker bamboo sheets that are made with a 500 thread count. Anything more than this will actually make the sheets stiffer and less comfortable.
One of the unique features of bamboo sheets versus cotton sheets is the temperature regulation of bamboo. Cotton sheets tend to retain more heat than bamboo, as anyone who lives in a warm climate can attest. Bamboo sheets, on the other hand, are naturally thermo-regulating. Because they wick moisture away from the body, and allow the moisture to evaporate more easily, they maintain a cooler temperature in warm weather. Cariloha, on of the best known bamboo sheet brands, claims their sheets allow people to sleep 3 degrees cooler than cotton sheets.
This one is a big controversial. Bamboo sheets are derived from bamboo plants which are naturally antimicrobial and hypoallergenic (which is why they don’t need pesticides or other chemicals to grow bamboo). Often people claim that this property translates to the bamboo fabric itself, but that is not completely clear. There have been studies to suggest it is true, but other studies suggest it isn’t. Right now, in the US, the FTC has said that people selling bamboo fabric cannot make claims that it is antimicrobial since the scientific evidence is unclear.
Okay, so bamboo sheets are great, but how much are they going to cost? Unfortunately, they do tend to be a bit more expensive. There are lots of cheap knock-offs out there that go under names like “Zen Bamboo” or “Lux Club” and claim to be bamboo sheets, but in reality they are mostly polyester. Real bamboo sheets, which read 100% viscose from bamboo tend to cost at least $100 for a 4-piece sheet set (which includes a fitted sheet, flat sheet, and two pillowcases). Most of the high-end bamboo sheets are 2 to 2.5 times more expensive than that. Of course, with the higher end brands you’ll get extremely high quality manufacturing, and are assured that the sheets are definitely genuine bamboo.
Wrapping It Up
Both types of bedding are very highly valued when looking to buy the best premium bedding. However, viscose bamboo bedding is more environmentally and user friendly than Egyptian Cotton. One important thing that matters to us is that you are happy with the product you buy. This is why we have reviewed and recommend mattresses, pillows, and sheets made with bamboo derived materials.