What’s the best type of bedding, cotton or silk?
Cotton and silk are two of the most popular fabrics in the world, commonly used for a wide range of clothes, bed sheets and accessories. But, which is the better fabric? They both have pros and cons, from the price tag to durability and health benefits, we examine a number of factors surrounding the two fabrics. Read more to find out the differences between cotton and silk fabrics, so you can choose the right fabric for you for the perfect night’s sleep.
Cotton is one of the most popular fibres for bedding, but it's also one of the most diverse so it pays to know what you're looking for. At the top end of the scale is Egyptian cotton bed linen which is crafted from hand-picked, ultra-fine fibres resulting in seriously soft and smooth bedding that typically has a minimum thread count of 200. It can be lower in some cases, but you're best looking for a minimum TC of 200 for a luxurious feel. The combination of high thread count and quality yarn means it's the strongest, most durable cotton on the market - with a price tag to match.
Silk is known for its antimicrobial and hypoallergenic properties making it an ideal sleeping solution for allergy sufferers and those with skin conditions such as eczema. Doubting its lightness will keep you warm? The luxurious fabric is considered a better insulator than Egyptian cotton.
There are two main types available: tussah silk and cultivated mulberry silk, which is by far the highest quality. The latter produces smooth, fine-textured bed linen that is extremely durable, whilst bedding made with tussah silk has a shorter shelf life and a coarser texture. When buying silk bedding, you should factor in momme (mm) weight, the traditional silk measurement that indicates quality. As a guide, the higher the momme weight, the better the quality with most good-quality bedding ranging between 19-25 momme.
11 tips to compare these two popular fabrics
We sometimes hear of the cooling feel of cotton, especially on a warm day, but did you know that in terms of regulating your body temperature to keep you comfortable, silk consistently outperforms it?
Silk is also much softer and smoother than cotton. This means silk helps prevent damage to your hair and reduce skin ageing/wrinkles from sleep creases. Silk is less abrasive than cotton to sleep on and doesn't draw out the moisture from your skin and hair like cotton.
2) Temperature regulating
There is a common misconception that silk can feel sticky and warm in the summer, but it's actually the opposite.
Silk as a natural fibre is breathable and keeps you feeling fresh during the night. Silk is a natural insulator also, trapping small amounts of air between the fibres to keep you warm when it's cold outside, yet it also vents excess heat when you overheat. So it feels cool and light on those stuffy summer nights and the perfect temperature on a winter’s day.
In short, silk keeps you in a temperature-controlled environment that is synergistic with what the human body desires. This is important because as we sleep and drift into a deep sleep, our body loses its ability to regulate temperature - both heating and cooling. This is why it's vital during this time that our bedding takes over and keeps us in a comfortable temperature band. This reduces tossing and turning, sweating, or lifting the blanket to allow heat to escape. Do you put your feet out of the bed? This is a telltale sign that your bedding is too hot and your body is using your exposed feet to cool down.
Cotton is a slightly denser fabric and for some skin types, it can be irritating. Bed linen made from cotton, whilst initially feeling cool doesn't have the insulating or temperature controlling properties of silk. Whilst cotton is generally a highly breathable fabric, this property significantly reduces in higher thread counts and particularly in high thread count sateen weaves. If it's cool outside, cotton does not insulate effectively, and likewise when you overheat, the cotton absorbs the sweat deep into the fibres. Once cotton becomes saturated, it loses all insulating properties and the body heat will reflect back at you making you hotter and the vicious cycle increases. Cotton's ability to dry out is very slow compared to silk and this leads us on to the next important point.
3) Dry and comfortable
Staying dry is key to a comfortable night's sleep between the sheets.
Silk is hydrophobic, meaning it does not absorb water efficiently, however, it is an excellent wicking material, meaning you'll feel dryer all through the night, providing a fantastic sleep environment.
Silk preserves your hair and skin's natural oils and moisture levels, leaving you with a brighter, plumper complexion in the morning.
Cotton on the other hand can absorb moisture up to 27 times its weight. When considering that most people sleep for between 7 and 8 hours a night, this can lead to a lot of moisture being drawn out of your body, which can dry out skin and hair.
This is an excellent property for bath towels, but as it doesn't then evaporate moisture effectively so it becomes waterlogged.
Egyptian Cotton sheets, being made from a short-staple fibre that is made into yarn and woven into fabric cannot match the smooth, soft feel of silk due to its short fibres.
If you want the true feeling of luxury, high quality, high momme silk is a must.
As grade 6A silk is a long-fibre, one thread can be over 1 mile long, the smoothness is unparalleled by cotton. The lustre and rich colours you get from silk are also beyond peer. This is down to the fact that silk fibre is a prism that refracts light differently from different angles. This means the colour depth and shade will be altered depending on your viewing angle and the current light source.
For many of us, getting a good night’s rest can be just what we need at the end of a long day. However, for some, getting into bed can be a trigger for allergies. Many people suffer from allergies to dust mites and other micro-organisms. This is hardly ideal at a time of day when you’re supposed to be at your most relaxed.
Cotton as we have previously stated is highly absorbent. This moisture that's trapped deep in the fibres, along with your body heat is an ideal environment to encourage the growth of bacteria and dust mites. This is a recipe for household allergies and the reason you should wash cotton sheets regularly.
Thankfully, silk is hypoallergenic. It won’t aggravate allergies in the same way cotton and synthetic fabrics do. Among its beneficial properties is the fact that it prevents the growth of bacteria, mould, mildew and dust mites. These are the major causes of discomfort for those who are sensitive to dust mites or who have respiratory issues.
7) Reduces sleep creases, dry skin and hair frizziness
Silk is widely recommended by dermatologists and leading skincare specialists to assist in maintaining healthy skin as hydrated, plump skin cells show fewer lines, wrinkles and greater luminosity.
"Did you know the second leading cause of wrinkles is sleeping? After sunlight/UV exposure, squishing your face into a pillow for approximately 2,500 hours per year is like ironing wrinkles into the skin. In fact, by the time someone is in their mid-40s, I can usually look at their face, neck, and chest and determine if they are a side or back sleeper! Trust me, it shows.”
- Renée Rouleau, Celebrity Esthetician & Skincare Expert
8) Free from all toxic chemicals and dyes
All Mayfairsilk products are certified Standard 100 by Oeko-Tex to be completely free of all toxic chemicals and dyes in the entire production process.
Cotton production and processing use a lot of chemicals and pesticides to grow and treat fibre. Many of these residues remain on the cotton and this can cause irritation to your skin.
One of the main benefits of silk bed sheets is softness, but when produced in a high momme, it's certainly not lightweight when it comes to durability. It may be formed through a delicate process, but it is definitely built to last. Silk fabric can withstand a lot of wear and tear when it has a higher momme weight. When following a few simple care tips, silk will stand the test of time.
Cotton is a durable material too, but requires more frequent washing and can become less soft and more irritable. Cotton’s strong fibres are also more likely to be adversely affected by moisture, which can also lead to more degradation.
Silk farming is a sustainable process perfected over 4000 years and made more durable via modern technology. It's a model of agroecology by the Food and Agriculture Organisation.
Production takes place in regions that have high annual rainfall and uses No Pesticides, No fungicides, No insecticides, No herbicides, Biodegradable and By-products are used in the community.
It's a fully circular economy, even the silkworms are consumed as a delicacy in Asia where production takes place.
Whereas 50% of cotton is grown in arid regions and it requires huge amounts of water to grow and process, including many toxic chemicals, pesticides, fungicides and formaldehyde. It's estimated to use 2700 litres of water to make one t-shirt.
Silk production emits 814x less carbon than cotton. 34kg CO2 per tonne vs cotton 27,680kg per tonne.
There is no escaping the fact that silk bedding is generally more expensive than cotton bedding. This is partly due to the long process taken to make silk and the fact that it is largely a natural process that can’t be hurried along by human intervention.
However, while the cost may be higher, silk bedding represents excellent value. You will replace cotton bed sheets much more regularly than silk due to silk’s great quality and durability.
Committing to investing in silk bedding can seem daunting for some. Therefore, why not consider starting small and getting a feel for the material before pushing the boat out? The most affordable way to dip your toe into the world of silk bedding is with our pillowcases. Enjoy the soft and luxurious feel of mulberry silk and decide for yourself. You won’t be disappointed.
From examining factors such as temperature, cost and durability we can see that cotton bed sheets can sometimes be more durable than silk and have breathable qualities similar to silk when it comes to bedtime temperature. Silk, however, has additional health benefits which ensure you truly get your ‘beauty sleep’ and is hypoallergenic, at a slightly higher price tag.
Ready to convert to silk? From silk pillowcases, cushions and sheets to silk bedding, bed sheets and throws browse the full range of luxurious, 100% Mulberry silk bedding here at Real Silk Life.