Silk and satin are luxurious fabrics that make excellent bed sheets and come in a variety of beautiful colors that will transform any bedroom into a sumptuous retreat. Both silk and satin sheets will keep you warm during colder months and cool in warmer months, helping offset a high price tag with their versatility. Satin sheets will give your bed high sheen, while silk sheets have a more subtle, matte finish.
Silk is derived from fibers that develop from proteins secreted by silkworms. Silk is known for its softness and opulent look, but because it's an animal product, difficult to cultivate and time-consuming to weave, silk sheets are very expensive. Thousands of silkworms are needed to produce the silk thread that gets extracted and woven into silk sheets, which have little to no sheen.
Satin sheets aren't far behind silk in cost, but are woven so that certain threads are brought to the top (called floating), which makes these threads reflect light and create the high gloss finish satin is recognized for. Satin sheets are traditionally woven from silk threads, although satin sheets are now offered in synthetic fibers like nylon, acetate, polyester and rayon, which helps these satin sheets be more affordable.
Maintaining Silk and Satin Sheets
Silk is a very delicate fabric, and silk sheets should be hand washed using cold water and a mild detergent. Unless your silk is white, the dye is liable to run during washing, so wash separately. It's best to simply dip the silk sheets a few times in soapy water and then rinse clean (wringing the sheets may tear them). Hang the sheets to dry out of direct sunlight, which will also damage the silk.
If your satin sheets are woven from silk, follow the above instructions. If satin sheets are woven from polyester or nylon, they are sturdy enough to be machine washed on the delicate cycle. Nylon satin sheets can be machine dried on low (but should never see sunlight), while polyester should be line dried. Satin sheets woven from acetate need to be dry-cleaned.
Purchasing Silk and Satin Sheets
In order for silk sheets to be durable, look for a high thread count--400 and above--plus a momme weight between 12 and 19. The momme weight is the amount of silk used, and if the number is lower than 12, the sheets are too thin and are more likely to tear.
Satin sheets should be labeled as woven and have a high thread count. Usually satin sheets that cost less weren't woven, meaning they will feel rougher to the touch and will lose their luster. Both satin and silk sheets eliminate air pockets to retain body heat during winter but are also absorbent and will keep you cool during the summer.
Silk threads originate from the larva of female silkworms. Once the female silkworms lay eggs, the eggs are incubated until they hatch as larvae. The larvae munch on mulberry leaves for 4 to 6 weeks and then pupate by attaching to branches and spinning a pod around themselves. While spinning these pods, the larva secrete a high-protein fluid that becomes one continuous silk thread. Once this occurs, cultivators step in and kill the larva by submerging them in hot water--otherwise the larvae will mature and eat through and destroy the coveted silk threads. Once the larva die, the silk thread is carefully harvested so it can be woven into items like luxurious silk sheets.