If trying to work out what type of bed linen to buy is leaving you tossing and turning, this guide to the most commonly used fabrics should help put your mind at rest.
Cotton is by far the most popular fabric used for bed linen. Made from a soft fibre that grows around the seeds of the cotton plant, it is durable, easy to wash and renowned for its breathability. Cotton with longer fibres – such as Egyptian cotton or Pima cotton – produces smoother and stronger sheets. In addition to their more luxurious feel and durability, these types of cotton are highly sought-after for their resistance to lint and pilling. Egyptian cotton is generally regarded as the ‘gold standard’ in bedding fabrics, however it is obviously more expensive than regular cotton.
Flannel is made from loosely-woven fabric, generally wool or cotton. Flannel may be ‘brushed’ to make it extra soft. Brushing is where a fine metal brush rubs the fabric to create fine fibres. Double-napped flannel refers to fabric that has been brushed on both sides. Flannel has a soft, cosy feel, making it ideal for winter sheets.
Polyester is made from a man-made blend of natural and synthetic materials. It doesn’t wrinkle like cotton, dries quickly and is resistant to mildew, making it a relatively low-maintenance option. However, it is not as breathable as cotton and is prone to pilling. This is particularly the case with sheets that have a low thread count. Polyester can be an affordable choice but low-quality polyester sheets tend to be stiff and scratchy. Polyester is often used in kids’ bed linen.
Cotton-polyester blends are more durable than polyester and are not as prone to wrinkles as cotton. Blends can be a more affordable and easier to maintain alternative to cotton as they dry quickly and don’t require ironing. However, blends are more likely to pill than cotton.
Linen is made from the fibres of the flax plant. It is an excellent fabric for summer bedding due to its moisture wicking qualities and breathability. It is stronger than cotton, can withstand high temperatures and dries quickly. Linen is also good for allergy sufferers as it is hypo-allergenic. However, it is prone to wrinkling and can be expensive. Linen-cotton blends tend to be a bit more affordable.
Bamboo sheets are made from the pulp of bamboo grass. Like linen, this fabric is a good choice for allergy sufferers as it is hypo-allergenic. It is also mould resistant. In addition, bamboo is a very fast-growing plant, making it a particularly environmentally conscious option.
Silk is an especially smooth and luxurious fabric, made from fibres produced by silkworms for their cocoons. Its delicate fibres make it supremely comfortable but also more difficult to maintain. Silk must be washed separately on a gentle cycle or handwashed and should never be tumble-dried. It is also expensive and prone to fading.
Satin is made from chemically treated cotton to give it a silky smooth finish. It is often preferred as an alternative to silk as it offers a similarly luxurious and shiny finish but is less expensive and easier to care for. Satin is more robust than silk but it does not offer the durability of cotton.
The quality of a fabric is typically measured by thread count, which is the number of threads per square inch. In other words, thread count measures the closeness of the weave in the fabric. The higher the thread count, the better the quality in terms of softness and comfort. Bed linen with anything less than a thread count of 200 will feel coarse to touch and have a limited life span. The ideal range for high-end bed linen is between 400 and 600. Beyond that, longevity starts to reduce, as the thread has to be extremely fine to achieve such a high thread count.
As well as thread count, fabric quality will be impacted by the quality of the yarn. For example, a 200-thread-count sheet may feel softer than a 400-thread-count made from poor quality cotton, which tends to be made from a thicker yarn. Genuine Egyptian cotton is usually a safe bet when looking for good quality fabric.