What are sheets made from?
Sheets are made from a variety of fibres, some natural and some human-made, and each affect temperature and feel differently.
In our experience, human-made fibres don't breathe like natural fibres. Often, when it's a hot night, human-made threads tend to make you hotter, and when it's cold at night they make you colder. Preference also play a part, some hate the slippery feel of synthetics, while others avoid synthetics just because. You know what you like but it's important to understand what different fibres are, how they feel and how they affect temperature.
Bamboo, Tencel, Eucalyptus
Depending on what you read, you'd be forgiven for thinking these kinds of sheets are completely natural. But they fall into two camps; viscose rayon, and lyocell rayon. BTW rayon isn’t natural but isn’t fully synthetic, it’s known as a semi-synthetic.
Viscose rayon sheets are much more cost-effective, usually $300ish NZD and under per set, depending on your size. They start with wood pulp (like bamboo) and go through a chemical manufacturing process to produce rayon.
In 2013 The US Federal Trade Commission warned the industry that advertising bamboo sheets as 'natural' misleads consumers and fined retailers USD 1.26 million. As a result, bamboo sheets sold in the US must now be labelled; rayon (or viscose) made from bamboo.
If you sleep on these sheets and love them, that's all that matters. Just be aware they're not natural. And if you're a hot sleeper, you'll probably want to avoid them because in our experience, they’re much hotter than natural fibres.
The second type, lyocell rayon or the Tencel® brand, also starts with wood pulp (usually bamboo or eucalyptus) but as we understand the process, the chemicals are in a closed loop which is recycled each time, making lyocell rayon more eco-friendly than viscose rayon. And what makes the Tencel® brand more eco-friendly in general, is that the wood comes from sustainable forests.
However, be aware that strong, highly polluting chemicals can also be used to produce lyocell rayon so if sustainability is a main reason for choosing these sheets, it's often safer to choose the Tencel® brand which is guaranteed to be more eco-friendly. Be wary of sustainability claims when lyocell rayon sheets are made in India or China, these countries don’t have a great track-record, we hope that changes. The Tencel® brand is from a Swiss company with a good track record and they’re usually priced the same as high-end linen ($400+ NZD).
In our experience, Tencel sheets feel quite different from cotton or linen. They're soft or slippery and never seem to have that fresh, crisp feeling like cotton sheets (if you like that). They can also be difficult temperature-wise in our experience, making you feel cold when it's cold, and hot when it's hot - a bit like a rayon shirt.
Much is also made of the moisture-wicking ability of these sheets but in our experience, they seem to repel moisture, which doesn't feel as good in hot weather because the moisture kind of stays on you. At least that was our impression. Of course, this is all subjective and everyone is different. So if you love the feel of these kinds of sheets, enjoy them. The good ones are as expensive as good linen sheets and are eco-friendly.
For around 5,000 years, humans have been making silk textiles from the mulberry silk moth. Unfortunately, cheap silk sheets are most likely fakes made from a synthetic. A quick way to test (besides the price) is to hold a small part of the sheet (like the bottom corner) to a flame. If it melts, it's synthetic. The slippery feel of polyester silk is also a dead giveaway.
Again, if you have synthetic silk sheets and love them, enjoy them. However, if you're a hot sleeper, avoid cheap silk sheets as cheap ones are most likely synthetic, and hotter than natural fibres.
Unfortunately, real silk sheets are expensive and we don't have first-hand experience sleeping on them. Real silk is known for its coolness, smoothness and lightness so as soon as we sleep on real silk, we'll update this guide. If you have experience sleeping on silk, drop us a note and we'd be happy to include your experiences.
Linen sheets are made from flax which is a natural fibre. Irish linen is legendary but linen sheets in general have seen a resurgence around the world. They breathe well because they’re woven using the same low thread-count Percale weave as our hotel sheets. Many say linen is cooler than cotton and they’re definitely cooler than high thread count cotton but in our experience, they’re warmer than low thread count cotton.
However, if they're not pre-softened, they can take years to wear-in, so if you love cotton, you might be in for a shock. And customers have also told us that linen doesn’t seem to last very long, with many at home shows telling us their bottom sheets didn’t last longer than a year. However, this completely depends on different brands and how much you pay, which is the same as everything in this world. Your mileage may vary.
Linen is generally more eco-friendly to grow compared to cotton however, we’ve been warned that linen can require a lot of factory processing which can off-set this. The softer they are, the more processing required and so, the less eco-friendly. This makes soft linen about the same as cotton overall. However, it’s hard finding environmental data on the full product life-cycle of bedding. Focusing in one aspect (the growing) but ignoring the processing and how long they last, is a silly way to judge environmental concerns in our opinion.
Cards on the table, we're yet to find a set of linen sheets we liked, and have tried the expensive ones ($400+ NZD) as well as cheaper ones. At worst, we felt like we were sleeping in a sack and at best, we felt like we were sleeping in linen clothes. However, this is all subjective so if you love the feel of linen sheets, enjoy!
Many also like the relaxed look of linen, and people tell us they don't feel pressure to iron them. Personally, we don't feel pressure to iron in general but everyone is different.
Preferences aside, who should buy them from a sleep comfort point of view? Well, because of their breathability, linen sheets are good for hotter sleepers but perhaps not great for super hot sleepers.
Cotton is a popular natural fibre which feels beautiful close to the skin, and depending on the weave and thread count, breathes very well. However, unlike linen, cotton is an exceptionally thirsty crop and isn't as environmentally friendly. Moreover, cheap cotton sheets which are replaced every 1-2 years, consume enormous amounts of drinking water (and organic cotton is even worse, usually consuming more than twice as much water for the same yield).
The textile school at Otago University tell us that New Zealanders throw out an average of 37kg of home textiles per person, per year. And some consumers tell us they replace cheap sheets each year and couldn't care less about the amount of resources consumed - each to their own.
Cotton also comes in grades, short-staple, medium-staple and long-staple. Generally, the longer the staple, the stronger, finer and more amazing the sheets, especially over the long-term. However, country of origin also plays a huge role in quality. For example, while China has cotton with the longest cotton staples, it's nowhere near as good as long-staple Egyptian, Supima (USA) or Pima cotton (Peru). Generally, the longer the cotton staple, the higher the price.
Long-staple Egyptian cotton is widely regarded as the best cotton, as is long-staple Supima or Pima cotton. However, all are super pricey. We could dedicate several pages to cotton but will revisit cotton grades when we discuss longevity and feel.
Temperature-wise, Cotton is a good all-around fibre for sheets because it can be woven hot or cool and serves as a good base layer for both hot and cold sleepers in the same bed.
- Bamboo or eucalyptus (rayon), synthetics or high thread count cotton
- Low thread count cotton, linen or silk (if real silk)
Hot & Cold sleepers in the same bed
- Low thread count cotton, linen or silk, then use layers for the coldest sleeper
NEXT: PART 4 YARNS & WEAVES
- Most popular: The classic Hotel Sheet. Cool, crisp, open, fine but strong. The 100% cotton sheet used in European hotels.
- Highest quality: The Egyptian Hotel Sheet. The same cool and crisp recipe as our Classic hotel sheet but made from ultra fine, ultra strong, long-staple Egyptian cotton. DNA tested to verify authenticity.
- Use and wash sheets for up to 60 nights and return if not happy. Returns are donated so must be washed, conditions apply.
- For a wider-range of opinions about our sheets, see reviews from genuine customers.