A Comparison of Silk vs Cotton vs Microfiber Sheets

So, you’ve taken on the task of picking a new set of bedsheets. Maybe a guest is coming into town, or your four-year-old just spilled grape juice on your king-size. You type Amazon into your browser and head over to the bedding section. There you find over 4,000 contenders for your next bed sheet set. There are cotton, microfiber, and silk sheets in all varieties. This is the paradox of choice. How do you make the right choice when there are 4,000+ options? Sometimes it helps to stick to the basics.

Cotton

Cotton bedsheets are the most common and popular choice among consumers.

  • Egyptian: Still the gold standard. Longer fibers than American Upland means thinner, finer threads.
  • Pima: Long “staple” with a luxurious, soft weave. Collected from the same cotton plant as Egyptian.
  • American Upland: “100% cotton” typically means American Upland. It’s a typically shorter “staple” than the others. Most common.
Gravity Sheets
gravityblankets IG

Cotton sheets are the most common because they are among the most affordable. Cotton bed sheets are a staple and are long-lasting, durable, and easy to clean. For just about every bed option, we have a cotton option. Cotton can be woven into a few patterns, and it’s easy to get lost in the terminology.

Oxford

Named after the university, this weave, created in Scotland, is known for its light, glossy, soft texture. Often associated with year-round elegance and comfort.

Percale

Lightweight and airy, Percale is crisp and cool, making it perfect for hot sleepers. Resistant to pilling, these sheets get better with age.

Sateen

Silky, shiny, and welcoming. With a thicker and tighter weave than the other two, this option is excellent for cold sleepers or the winter months.

Silk Sheets

The most polarizing of bed sheet options, silk sheets have the potential to go wrong very quickly. I mean that both in a style and vibe sense, plus the “silk is tough to manage” sense. There is something luxurious about silk. Silk robes and lingerie are seductive. Silk ties and business shirts command attention. In the bedroom, though, silk sheets are risky. If you decide to take the plunge, you should know that not all silk is created equal.

Charmeuse

Not a type of silk, but more of a “method” of silk, Charmeuse is the most common silk fabric. Created with a traditional narrow loom, this silk weave is the type with one shiny side and one more muted. Like all silks, this one is antimicrobial and heavily absorbent.
Typically, Charmeuse is hand-wash only. So, caring for these bed sheets is a time-consuming endeavor.

Mulberry

Shout out here to the Bombyx Mori Moth. This moth’s sole purpose is to lay enough eggs to continue producing silkworms, and then it dies. With no hope of flying, silkworms gorge themselves on a Mulberry-leaf exclusive diet, balloon up to 10,000 times their starting weight, spin a silk cocoon, and then prepare to die. What a ride.

Silk Sheets
lilysilk IG

The cocoons are then taken and unreeled. Unwoven, these silk threads are combined and crafted into the softest silk fabric on the market. It takes about 2,500 cocoons to produce one pound of silk. This natural production method explains why silk has even better-insulating properties than cotton.

Caring for these is similar to caring for Charmeuse. Household washing machines are no place for a fabric of this quality. Additionally, hand-wringing these sheets can damage the internal fibers, so it’s best to stick to sunshine and air drying.

Tussah

Collected from various kinds of silkworms, Tussah sits on the opposite end of the silk spectrum from Mulberry. More course, rough and natural, this silk is far more durable yet unwelcoming. With less attention paid to the curation and creation of this silk, Tussah lacks the antimicrobial properties of Mulberry silk. Because of the imperfections, Tussah is more heavily treated with chemicals to mask the problems, removing some silk’s natural insulating properties.

If you were going to risk putting any variety of silk in the washing machine, it would be this one, but even still, it’s a risk. Silk is temperamental and tends to shrink when exposed to extreme, adverse conditions or treatment.

Microfiber

Microfiber sheets
barehome IG

Let’s be clear. Microfiber is just polyester but with better marketing. (In some cases, it’s nylon, but mostly polyester.) This doesn’t mean we should discount this fabric for bed sheets. Instead, we should embrace its wonders and acknowledge its benefits. Due to the tiny (some might even say micro) sized fibers, this fabric is so tightly woven it’s better suited to stand up to dirt, stains, and dust. The tight-woven nature also allows the sheets to retain color more effectively after repeated washings. If there’s one thing I think it’s important to remind you of, it’s that we all need to wash our sheets more.

Like silk, microfiber is naturally antimicrobial, which means these sheets are a great way to reduce allergens in your bedroom environment. On the downside, due to their composition and despite their ability to hold color, these sheets will break down with repeated washings. So there’s your catch-22. The most affordable is the least durable but the best for maintaining color. With Microfiber, you get a durable bed sheet in thousands of colors and every size imaginable, but you may have to replace them often.

What about thread count?

If the thread count is below 200, you will long for something softer.

  • Between 200 and 300, you should be happy with the softness.
  • Between 300 and 500, you should notice a significant difference in softness.
  • Over 500, you’re paying for luxury your body can’t truly identify. Save your money for splurging on something else.

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