Sick of sleeping on sweaty synthetic polyester sheets? Suspicious of silk? Or, maybe you’re just concerned about conventional cotton and want to know, is organic cotton really any better for the environment and your health?
Whatever’s keeping you up at night, I can help (assuming it’s a worry about bed sheets, that is). In this part of my Leaf Score series on bed sheets, I look at what’s what in the world of eco-friendly bed sheet fibers, including examining the pros and cons of some of the best natural materials for healthy, non-toxic bed sheets.
I’ve discussed elsewhere in this series about why your bed sheets matter, but as a recap, natural, non-toxic, and organic sheets don’t off-gas and have a lower carbon footprint than sheets made with synthetics, chemically processed bamboo and conventional cotton; that’s assuming they are not subjected to toxic dying processes. Natural and organic sheets are also easier to recycle and upcycle, may well last longer than synthetics, and are able to break down naturally without damaging the environment.
Regardless of which bedding set-up you prefer, choosing sheets made with natural materials is better for breathability, comfort, durability, and all-round health. A quality set of sheets can easily outlive your mattress and may last for several decades without needing to be replaced. If more people choose eco-friendly sheets, this could help to keep millions of tons of material out of landfill, significantly reduce water waste and water pollution, reduce workplace exposure to toxic chemicals for those making your bedding, and generally help clean up our environment.
So, what are your options for natural eco-friendly sheets? I’ll look at four of the best options in brief in this article:
- Organic cotton
- Flax linen
- Linen/cotton chambray blends
Two other options are a little trickier to get right, so I’ll dig deeper into these in separate articles:
Pros and cons of organic cotton sheets
Conventionally grown cotton is resource-hungry and involves the use of pesticides and other chemicals that damage the environment and are bad for human health. Organic cotton is grown and processed without pesticides, formaldehyde, or other harmful chemicals and is very soft, making it an excellent option for cozy comforters.
Eco-friendly sheets are made with organic cotton that has been dyed using natural processes or is left undyed and unbleached, with a natural ecru tone.
Because cotton shrinks when washed in warm or hot water, it is best to wash on a cold gentle cycle and air dry. Some organic cotton sheets are produced ‘pre-shrunk’, so you can wash them on a warm water cycle without having to worry about shrinkage.
Personally, organic cotton is my go-to for any sheets. I like how it feels, its ease of care, and, frankly, the price point for cotton, especially now I seem to have an endless series of guests coming to visit on the coast. Ill-fitting, old and worn sheets won’t do, and neither will toxic sheets made with synthetics or conventional cotton, especially on beds where children and infants sleep. Receiving a 5/5 Leaf Score, my top pick for organic cotton bed sheets comes from Coyuchi. The sheets Coyuchi offers carry GOTS certification, and the company is often regarded as the first to bring organic bedding to the US. They produce their goods using a zero-waste water recycling method, and require that their supply chain partners are fully compliant with the strictest environmental and social regulations.
Pros and cons of hemp sheets
Hemp is a wonderfully sustainable, renewable resource with myriad applications across multiple industries. Hemp sheets are particularly good because hemp is one of the most breathable natural materials around. This fiber manages to keep its cool even in hot and humid temperatures and helps wick moisture away from your skin. This means it’s good for keeping bedding feeling fresh, especially as hemp is naturally anti-microbial and anti-bacterial. Hemp is also resistant to mold and mildew and doesn’t hold onto odors.
Unfortunately, hemp sheets just aren’t that widely available, which means they tend to cost more than organic cotton sheets. Hemp sheets are certainly worth the investment, however, if you live somewhere particularly humid.
Hemp is a very environmentally friendly fiber as the crop is naturally resistant to pests and grows so thick that it prevents the growth of weeds around the plants. This means that you don’t typically need to use pesticides or herbicides when growing hemp, nor do you need fertilizers as hemp enriches the quality of soil all by itself. And, because hemp roots grow deep, they are good at using groundwater and help reduce soil erosion.
If the idea of hemp sheets makes you feel itchy, don’t worry. Hemp sheets are actually very soft and comfortable, and they get softer each time you wash them, just like cotton. If you’ve never slept on hemp sheets before, consider getting a hemp pillowcase first and giving that a try. You might be surprised!
Pros and cons of flax linen sheets
Even more absorbent, breathable, and insulating than cotton, linen is excellent for keeping you cool and dry in a hot and humid summer and cozy and warm in winter. While textured, flax linen gets softer and more supple with every wash, especially if mixed with organic cotton.
Flax linen is also non-allergenic, supports normal sebaceous gland activity, and can reduce how much you sweat, while keeping you comfortable (R). This makes it an excellent option for anyone living in a hot, humid place or anyone going through menopause.
Flax is durable and can easily be grown without pesticides, fertilizers, or other chemical inputs, which is why it isn’t always necessary to have organic certification for flax. Most of the time, flax will have been grown according to organic standards simply because it makes the most sense for farmers. If you’re curious about the provenance of flax linen, ask the manufacturer for details. As always, a reputable manufacturer who cares about making a sustainable, healthy product, is very likely to get back to you with good answers to any questions you have.
The bottom line
In summary, organic cotton, hemp, and flax linen are great choices for healthy, non-toxic, comfortable and durable bed sheets. If you’re ready to revamp your bedroom, make sure you take a look at our roundup of the best eco-friendly bed sheets.