image of linen sheets

Linen Sheets: A Buyer's Guide

/ October 14, 2019

While cotton might be the most popular fabric to dress your bed in these days, linen has its diehard fans too. Those who love linen sheets rave about the material's airy feel and excellent moisture-wicking ability. If you're thinking about hopping on the linen sheets bandwagon, here's everything you need to know before purchasing a set.

The benefits of sleeping on linen sheets

Linen is one of the oldest textiles in the world. Dyed flax fibers were found in a prehistoric cave in Georgia, suggesting that linen textiles were used as early as 36,000 years ago. Even with the appearance of cotton, linen remained the fabric of choice up until the 18th century, when the Industrial Revolution brought forth machines to spin cotton that made its production much more affordable.

Linen production is still more costly today, but there are good reasons to splurge on a set of linen sheets. Here are the top benefits of sleeping on linen sheets:

  • Linen is highly breathable. It's able to absorb as much as 20% of its weight in moisture before feeling wet—meaning it'll keep you dry and comfortable throughout the night. Linen sheets are a great option for the hot summer months, but the material can also help regulate your body temperature during the winter as well.
  • Linen has a lived-in look and feel. Linen can have a smooth and consistent feel or a slightly coarser texture than cotton. Fans of linen sheets like the lived-in look and feel of linen (which gets softer with every wash), but keep in mind that it's a fabric that can wrinkle easily—and lower quality linen sheets may feel scratchy. High-quality linen sheets often come prewashed, so they'll feel soft and offer you that lived-in look you want from the get-go.
  • Linen is durable. The threads of linen are usually longer and thicker than those of cotton, making them a highly durable sheet material. Good-quality linen sheets can last you literally for decades.
  • Linen is antimicrobial and hypoallergenic. That's because it has unique filtering properties that greatly reduce the number of allergens and germs typically found in bedsheets. It's also a naturally anti-static fabric, which means it repels dirt and stays cleaner longer than other materials (a bonus for those of you who always put off washing your sheets).

Related: What you need to know before buying new sheets

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How linen is produced

Linen is made from the cellulose fibers of the flax plant that grow inside its stalks. The taller the flax plant, the longer the fibers. Flax requires a special climate and rich soil to grow tall and strong, with the best-quality flax coming from Belgium or France.

After flax is harvested and the stalks are left to dry for several weeks, the flax fibers are separated, spun into yarn, and woven into textile. This is a laborious process that due to the delicate nature of the fibers requires a lot more handwork than other industrially produced textiles.

Flax production is environmentally friendly. Unless the weather is particularly dry, flax requires little watering or attention. Flax is considered a renewable resource, and the byproducts created during the production of linen are all used in other ways. For example, the seeds are pressed to make linseed oil, which is then used in linoleum, paint, varnishes, soap, ink, and so on. Linen is also fully biodegradable.

Thread count is not necessarily a good indicator of quality for any fabric, but with linen, you will notice that thread count is much lower than that of cotton. That's because the fibers are much thicker than those of cotton, so not a lot of them will fit on a loom. A much better indicator of quality for linen is the origin of the flax.

Related: How to read a sheet label

Linen sheets costs

Because flax is generally less abundant than cotton, requires very particular conditions to grow, and takes more labor to produce, linen is always going to be more expensive than cotton. But if you take into account that linen sheets can last for generations, it can be a worthy investment. Linen sheets typically range from $100 to $500, but you should be able to get high-quality linen sheets for $200-$350, depending on the size.

Caring for linen sheets

Linen can be machine washed in cold or warm water, using a mild detergent on a delicate setting. Always follow the manufacturer's instructions when washing linen sheets. If the sheets go in the dryer, always tumble dry on low. Never dry clean linen, as the chemicals used in the dry-cleaning process will weaken the fibers.

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