Synthetic sheets are unsustainable and, frankly, sweaty and uncomfortable. With so many other options available, though, how can you tell which are are the best natural materials for sheets? Here’s everything you need to know.
Table of Contents
In this part of the Leaf Score Guide to Non-Toxic Bedding, we take a closer look at different types of sheets. Every natural fiber has its advantages and disadvantages. Knowing these can help inform your next choice of bed sheets for a more comfortable sleep.
Already know which materials you prefer? Check out our recommendations for the best eco-friendly sheets.
By choosing sheets made with natural fibers such as hemp, linen, and cotton, you can reduce:
- Overall carbon emissions and use of fossil fuels
- Plastic pollution (including from microplastics)
- Water waste and water pollution
- Workplace exposure to hazardous chemicals
- Your family’s exposure to hazardous chemicals.
The best natural materials for non-toxic sheets
The best natural materials for bed sheets are:
- Organic cotton
- Flax linen
- Blends of those three fibers!
These materials all biodegrade naturally, can be produced without the use of pesticides, herbicides, and insecticides, and require less water than conventional cotton and synthetics.
Perhaps most importantly, though, these materials make for a super comfortable sleep.
Shop the sheet aisle at any major retail store, though, and you’d be forgiven for falling prey to greenwashing. Many bedding companies like to promote other materials such as silk and bamboo as eco-friendly and non-toxic too. This isn’t always the case. In fact, these materials are typically not as safe or sustainable as companies suggest.
Similarly, recycled polyester has started to pop up in the sheet space. While it’s great that companies are helping to clean up oceans and waterways and keep plastic out of landfill and incinerators, that still doesn’t make polyester a good choice for bed sheets (or duvets).
We take a closer look at these less ideal materials at the following pages:
Below, you’ll find a quick overview of the pros and cons of the materials just mentioned. If you want to jump right into more in-depth analyses of each material or want to see the best sustainable sheets for each option, check out the following pages:
- Pros and cons of organic cotton sheets / Top choices for organic cotton sheets
- Pros and cons of organic hemp sheets / Top choices for organic hemp sheets
- Pros and cons of linen sheets / Top choices for linen sheets.
Pros and cons of organic cotton sheets
- Can be woven to be crisp and cool or soft and cozy
- Usually easy to care for
- Readily available
- Easy to repurpose or recycle
- Biodegradable at end of life
- Can shrink the first few times you wash it
- Absorbs moisture, with no water resistance
- Can feel cold when wet
- Not as strong or durable as linen and hemp
- Some weaves are prone to wrinkling
- Some weaves can feel sweaty in hot and humid summers
Conventional cotton is a no-no for us, given the vast amounts of water, land, and chemicals involved in its production. We do love organic cotton though, and this material remains the most widely available and popular choice for sheets.
There’s a lot to think about with organic cotton, though. Different weaves and thread counts can make the difference between sheets you love and sheets you can’t stand to sleep on. I know this from personal experience as I’ve become a total convert to percale cotton (versus sateen) for summer and all year round (because I sleep hot).
Pros and cons of hemp sheets
- Super sustainable crop that requires little water and no pesticides
- Adds texture and a more casual look to bedding
- Keeps cool in heat
- Moisture wicking
- Naturally anti-microbial
- Very breathable
- Doesn’t hold onto odors
- Soft and gets softer with each wash
- Few good options available
- Less affordable than cotton
- Can have a slight hemp smell at first
- Can feel heavy
Hemp sheets are a great choice if you sleep hot or live in a hot and humid climate. This material is also a good option for certain times of life, such as puberty, postpartum, menopause, and at times of illness that can make you sweat or have hot flashes. Hemp is also a good choice if you don’t wash your sheets quite as regularly as recommended.
Pros and cons of flax linen sheets
- Beautiful textile for a casual, relaxed aesthetic
- Breathable and can reduce sweatiness
- Softens with washing
- More absorbent and insulating than cotton
- Sustainably grown crop
- More durable than cotton
- Can be expensive
- Requires more care than cotton or hemp
- Can be very wrinkly, which isn’t to everyone’s taste
- Hard to find certified organic linen
Like hemp, flax linen is a great choice for sheets for everyday use. It’s also a smart choice during puberty, menopause, chronic illness, or the postpartum period. Find out more about the pros and cons of linen sheets here and see our picks for the best linen sheets here.
Pros and cons of bamboo sheets
- Natural, safe, eco-friendly options are available
- Closed-loop processed lyocell is available
- Can be moisture-wicking
- Can be anti-microbial and anti-odor
- Fast-growing, sustainable crop
- Bamboo sequesters a lot of carbon!
- Lightweight fiber
- Bamboo soaks up dyes easily! (No need for azo dyes)
- Can be made sustainably
- Most bamboo sheets are semi-synthetic
- Usually processed using toxic chemicals
- Chemical processing reduces natural properties
- Chemical processing requires a lot of water
- Expensive when made with natural processes
It’s easy to get in a tangle with bamboo sheets. While it’s true that bamboo can be an eco-friendly material, most bamboo textiles are not natural or sustainable. And the more eco-friendly options aren’t usually very soft.
If you’re looking for soft bamboo sheets, then, your best bet is either a blend of bamboo with linen, cotton, or hemp or sheets made with lyocell (Tencel). I’m quite fond of my Cozy Earth Bamboo Linen Sheets, which are very soft but also more affordable than pure linen (see my review).
Read more about bamboo sheets here.
Pros and cons of silk sheets
- Incredibly luxurious!
- Naturally thermoregulating
- Can be very durable
- Easy to bleach safely with hydrogen peroxide
- Easy to dye naturally (no azo dyes needed)
- Most silk sheets are not cruelty-free
- Usually processed using toxic chemicals
- Very expensive
- Hard to find
Silk is a luxury material for sheets and comes with a price tag to match. For most folks, silk isn’t a great choice for sheet material. Read more about silk sheets here to find out why.
What about wool sheets?
Wool is a great material for bedding but mostly in the form of fill for duvets or pillows, as wool mattress toppers and protector pads, or as blankets and throws. Wool is rarely useful for sheets, however. This is partly because it’s best to wash sheets regularly, and washing wool too often can damage the fibers and reduce many of the qualities of wool we love (such as water resistance).
Final thoughts on the best natural materials for bed sheets
In summary, organic cotton, hemp, and flax linen are the best choices for bed sheets that are sustainable, safe, and support great sleep. Each material has its benefits and drawbacks, though.
Note, too, that not all sheets made with the same material perform just as well as each other. That’s because there are other factors to consider when choosing sheets, such as:
- Thread count and weave
- Sheet care and maintenance
- Breathability and durability.
Already know what you want? Check out our recommendations for the best: