Cotton vs Silk
When it comes to bedding, which one is better - cotton or silk?
We spend a third of our lives in bed and there are few more important human activities than sleeping, but how much thought do we give to our bedding? Chances are we’ve always enjoyed the allure of fresh cotton sheets.
While cotton has done a good job carving out a reputation for comfort, silk bedding scores highly not just for comfort, but health, durability and even value.
Long seen as a luxurious material, silk boasts many properties which can aid a good night’s sleep. So how does it stack up against cotton? Let’s take a closer look.
What is silk?
Silk is the strongest natural fibre on the planet, made mostly from a protein called fibroin. It is the protein in the fibre and that length of thread that gives it the soft and smooth feel which has made silk a prized possession for over 4000 years.
Misconceptions about silk
When people think of silk sheets, there are often a few misconceptions which immediately spring to mind – it’s too slippery, too delicate, and too hard to wash.
However, often many of these presumptions arise from a number of past experiences. Delicate silk apparel (made in a low momme rating) and the mistake in believing silk and satin are the same thing. Silk and 'Satin' are not the same thing. Satin is a type of weave that was popularised in the 1980s when manufacturers discovered they could try and imitate the look of silk by using man-made fibres such as polyester and rayon as it's much cheaper to produce. Initially many consumers were duped into thinking they could enjoy silk at a fraction of the price but the reality was far different. Sheets made from 'satin' are very slippery, like placing two plastic bags on top of each other. Silk sheets however aren’t going to have you sliding out of bed, it's much more natural and sensuous. Satin feel smooth, but it's not soft and has none of the finesse and lustre of silk. As it's a polyester weave (plastic), it generates a lot of static electricity and is hot and uncomfortable to sleep in, almost like wrapping yourself in a plastic bag as it doesn't let your skin breathe. Satin is also not as durable and strong as silk and prone to snagging.
Did you know that a single strand of silk can be longer than 1 km?
What's more, its one tenth the width of a human hair and when compared to the same thickness in steel, silk is stronger.
The lustre you get from silk, is down to the fact that silk fibre is a prism which refracts light differently from different angles. This means the colours change depending on the angle it is viewed from and light source.
Too delicate and hard to wash?
This is another misconception, as our modern weaving technology at a high momme rating, means there is more silk per square inch that creates a highly durable fabric that will last for years to come. Silk has a luxurious feeling with a soft, gentle touch but when made into bed linen it's a durable fabric when following our simple care instructions. Primarily, some care must be taken when washing silk by simply using a delicate detergent that's pH neutral without enzymes (there are many brands available) and washing in the machine at less than 30ºC / 86ºF. This is because silk is a natural protein fibre and the enzymes and acids in regular washing detergent attacks and damages the silk fibre. As long as you use the right detergent and keep the water cool, you wash it like any other sheets and hang to dry.
So how does silk bedding match up to cotton bedding? Let’s look at a few key areas where the two can be compared.
We sometimes hear of the cooling feel of cotton, especially on a warm day, but did you know that in terms of regulating temperature silk consistently outperforms it? There is a common misconception that silk can feel sticky and warm in the summer, but the material actually has thermoregulating properties. This means it can feel cool and comforting on those stuffy summer nights and toasty warm on a winter’s day.
Cotton is a slightly denser fabric, meaning not everyone will enjoy its reputed cooling properties and, for some skin types, it can be irritating. Bed linen made from Egyptian cotton can have a luxurious and comfortable feel. However, its higher thread count absorbs heat and reflects it back onto you. This may seem cosy at first, but Egyptian cotton won’t regulate temperature the way silk does, meaning you can overheat and begin to sweat. This can lead to a clammy feel, and the moisture dries much slower in cotton sheets.
For many of us, getting a good night’s sleep 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.
Thankfully, silk is a highly hypoallergenic material, which means it won’t aggravate allergies in the same way cotton and some man-made fabrics can. Among its welcoming properties is the fact that it doesn’t attract dust, which is a major cause of discomfort for those who are sensitive to dust mites or who have respiratory issues.
When it comes to a relaxing sleep, moisture is not your friend. Cotton is quite moisture absorbent. This means it can absorb moisture from sweat and not only can this mean a volatile sleeping temperature, but it can also encourage the growth of bacteria. Cotton can absorb up to 27 times more water than silk. When you consider 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.
Silk is also a much softer fabric, which can help prevent damage to your hair and reduce skin aging as it is less abrasive than cotton.
One of silk’s main features is its softness, but it is certainly not lightweight when it comes to durability. It may be formed through a delicate process, but it is definitely built to last. Silk can withstand a lot of wear and tear. It has a higher momme rating, which refers to its weight and density. The finishing process also makes silk more durable, thanks to the specialised weave process.
Cotton is a durable material too, but with washing, can become less soft and more irritable. Cotton’s strong fibers are also more likely to be adversely affected by moisture, which can also lead to more degradation. With the proper care, silk can end up being much more durable, making it very good value in the long run.
There is no escaping the fact that silk bedding is generally more expensive that cotton bedding. This is partly due to the long process taken to make silk and the fact that it is a largely naturally process which can’t be hurried along by human intervention.
However, while the cost may be higher, silk bedding represents excellent value. You will replace cotton bedding 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 luxurious world of silk bedding is with our pillowcases. Enjoy the soft and luxurious feel of the fabric and decide for yourself. You won’t be disappointed.