It used to be really easy to find the best bed sheets: all you had to do was look for the ones with the highest thread count (and, let’s be honest, the highest price tag). But a lot has changed in the way sheets are made, and now neither thread count nor price are a very good indicator of the actual quality of the product you’re getting, in part because sheets are made from a much wider range of materials than they used to be. In the first part of this guide, we’re going to take a look at the differences between some of the most common materials to help you decide which type of bedding is best for you.
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Natural fibers are just what they sound like: fibers that come directly from nature, either from plants (cotton and flax) or animals (silk and wool). The primary advantage of bedding made from natural fibers is that all four of these materials are naturally porous and absorbent, which means they respond well to changes in temperature – both of your body and the surrounding room. Natural fibers “breathe” well, and can wick away moisture, which helps ensure that they feel comfortable in any weather. The biggest drawback to natural fiber bedding is that it wrinkles very easily, and needs to be taken out and folded immediately after washing and drying in order to keep its shape.
Cotton, linen, and silk are all natural fibers, but they each have distinctly different features. Cotton is the most commonly used material by far, accounting for about 80% of all bedding, but it’s also the one that varies the most in terms of texture, appearance, and strength depending on the type of cotton used and how the fabric is woven. Part 2 of this guide will look more closely at deciphering different types of cotton sheets, but generally the fabric is soft to touch and very breathable. Linen is the most absorbent fabric and naturally draws heat away from the body, making linen sheets ideal for warmer weather. Linen is stereotypically very crisp and smooth, but it softens with each washing, and is one of the most durable materials, so it can really last a long time. Linen is also hypo-allergenic, lint free, and naturally insect-repellant. Silk bedding has a wonderful smooth feel and is naturally porous and absorbent, which makes it ideal for use year round. It’s also naturally resistant to mildew and moths.
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Artificial fibers fall somewhere in between natural and synthetic – technically they’re man made, but they’re created from plant based materials rather than petroleum based chemicals. Artificial fibers include viscose, rayon, tencel, and modal, and are made from a variety of different materials, like beech or other wood or bamboo. Artificial fibers bear littler resemblance to their parent plants, though, and are actually fairly similar in appearance and texture to natural fiber bedding, with a soft, silky feel. Rayon made from bamboo is particularly prized for it’s ability to breathe and wick away moisture like natural fibers, as well as its deodorant and anti-bacterial properties. That said, artificial fibers hold color better than natural ones and are more durable and a bit less likely to wrinkle. Bedding made with artificial fibers is more prone to shrinkage, though, and some of the fabric treatments used to prevent shrinkage can make the fabric less cool and breathable.
Synthetic fibers – like acrylic, nylon, and polyester – are entirely man-made, typically from petrochemicals, and contain no plant based materials at all. In general, bedding made with synthetic materials tends to be the least expensive, which is really one of the main benefits over other types of fabric. Synthetic fibers also hold colors better than plant-based fabrics, so it’s possible to get a more intense, vibrant color that won’t bleed or fade. This type of bedding is also the least likely to wrinkle, so it doesn’t need to be handled with quite the same speed or care as plant based products, and it possesses anti-bacterial properties that natural fibers simply don’t have. The main drawback, though, is that synthetic bedding is non-porous, so it doesn’t wick away moisture, which can make the sheets feel uncomfortable in warm or humid climates.
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Blended fabrics are made from two or more different materials, designed to combine the most desirable qualities of each. Unfortunately, the fact that almost any materials can be combined in almost any ratio means that it’s hard to pin down the exact qualities of blended fabric. As a rule of thumb, the fabric will mostly resemble whichever material the fabric is primarily made of, but a well made blend should exhibit the best qualities of all the different materials it contains.
Choosing new bedding isn’t as easy as it used to be, but knowing what you’re getting into is half the battle. What kind of bedding do you prefer? Let me know in the comments below!