Alternatives to cotton – linen and silk sheets

Posted by Melinda Kaufman on

Although cotton sheeting is by far the most common on the market, sheeting can be made from many other fibers. In this blog, I will discuss two of my favorites, linen and silk. Next week I will move on to bio-based fibers (such as bamboo and modal) as well as some of the more popular synthetic fabrics.


One of my many reasons for starting Soporifique is the fact that so few people that I meet sleep on linen bedding. My linen sheets go on the bed as soon as the weather warms, and stay on throughout the summer. Why? Linen has the highest thermal conductivity of any sheeting fiber on the market, meaning that it allows the most heat transfer to the top of the sheet. In practical terms, it means that it is by far the coolest sheeting that you can buy. It is also highly absorbent, easily wicking moisture away from your body. Linen can also be machine washed and dried, although you will want to keep the temperatures of both low to avoid breaking down the fibers prematurely. Linen is highly durable, and a well-cared for set of sheets can last many years.

Linen is made from the flax plant, and has a history dating back at least 36,000 years. In ancient Egypt and Greece, finely woven and pleated linen was considered a luxury. While flax is grown throughout the world, the finest flax is grown in the cooler regions of northern Europe, Belgium in particular. While many linen sheets may be called “Belgian” or “European” linen, only bedding that is grown and woven in Belgium is considered true Belgian linen, and will carry the Belgian Linen trademark. Real Belgian Linen bedding is slightly more expensive than a good set of cotton sheets, but with care, can last decades.

Who should not buy linen sheets? If the soft wrinkling that you see in the photo of our “Rosehill” duvet cover gives you pause and makes you want to break out a hot iron, then linen is not for you. To be sure, linen can be ironed. But it will wrinkle somewhat when it is slept on. We recommend taking the bedding out of the dryer when it is warm and ever-so-slightly damp, to make the bed. The finished product will have a softly rumpled look, which makes you want to fall into bed as soon as it is made. (Indeed, my first linen bed was all white, and it looked like an enormous, fluffy cloud. This was truly the beginning of my love of beautiful and comfortable bedding.)


When it comes to thermal conductivity, silk bedding falls at the opposite end of the spectrum from linen, with considerably lower heat transfer. In practical terms, this means that silk is warm. (Prior to the advent of newer “tech” fibers, mountain climbers layered wool and silk alternately for warmth.) Sleeping with silk sheets will likely require only minimal additional bedding for most people. This makes it ideal for someone who is a cold sleeper but doesn’t like the weight of blankets and comforters on top of them. Silk is also highly recommended for people with skin conditions and allergies, as the surface of the sheets is somewhat “slick” and won’t catch on or further irritate the skin. On the flip side, some people complain that they feel like they are sliding off the bed with silk sheets, particularly silk sheets that have a satin weave (silk charmeuse).

Silk bedding is not for everyone. That being said, the beauty and luster of silk, make it a wonderful addition to the bedroom. If silk sheeting is too warm, consider silk accessories such as throw blankets and pillows to add texture to the room.
For questions and comments, please email We look forward to hearing from you!

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