From cotton to flannel to percale, there is a seemingly endless number of sheets on the market. But one material in particular seems to remain a mystery to many buyers: linen. Long regarded as luxurious, hardy, and a great option for hot climates, linen sheets are old-fashioned to many — after all, linen's strength, durability, and softness have made it the fabric of choice for aristocracy ranging from pharaohs to European kings. But this luxe weave is having a huge resurgence as retailers like Brooklinen, Parachute, and West Elm have all created linen collections within the past couple of years.
Conscious consumers will notice one striking thing about these sheets: They don't come cheap. Linen's hefty price tag has nothing to do with its royal lineage, though. Producing linen is time-consuming and expensive thanks to both the manufacturing process and the limited geographical area in which flax, the source of linen, will grow. Flax, a natural fiber, is grown and harvested in Western Europe, mostly in Belgium, where production and labor costs are high.
With linen stealing more and more of the bedding limelight, here's a primer on what you need to know about this mysterious material, including why it's so expensive, why you should love it, and how to care for it.
What Is Linen, Exactly?
Flax plants take about three months to mature, then must be harvested from root to stem. After harvest, the fibers must be loosened from the stalk through a process called retting. Once this happens, the actual process of separating the fibers from the straw and woody detritus, called scutching, can begin.
Linen fibers then go through one more method of sorting (called hackling), which separates long fibers from short fibers. Only then can weaving begin. Linen threads are also quite fragile and can break easily, making the weaving process especially time-consuming.
Why Is Linen So Pricey?
After weaving, companies then put their own spin, pun intended, on their sheets. Snowe, for instance, has partnered with an Italian mill to create a proprietary air-washing technology that results in ultra-soft sheets, whereas The Citizenry visited countless mills in Portugal and tested hundreds of different sheet sets before settling on the Machado Linen Mill.
Like The Citizenry's bedding, most linen is garment-dyed and stonewashed, the latter of which involves using large stones to roughen up the fabric, resulting in greater longevity and softness. A cheaper option is enzyme washing, which uses cellulase to decompose and soften fibers. Most top-quality linens are also Oeko-Tex certified, which means they're free from chemicals or dyes, making linen good choice for people with allergies or sensitive skin.
Linen sheet sets can range anywhere from $89 to $365 for queen size mattresses. The complicated process of creating them is one indication of their higher price tag.
How to Care for Linen
While its cost and the laborious production process might lead you to believe that linen is a delicate, fussy fabric (we're looking at you, silk), linen is surprisingly durable and easy to care for at home. It's naturally antibacterial and stain resistant, anti-static, and can absorb as much as 20% of its own weight before it begins to feel damp — making it perfect for those sweaty, sleepless summer nights.
"We recommend washing linen on the gentle cycle with like colors and using a mild, liquid laundry detergent," Carly Nance, co-founder of The Citizenry, told Hunker. "Linen naturally has a more relaxed look that does not require ironing. However, if you'd like more structure, iron with warm heat on the milder 'linen' setting."
So there you have it — the next time you cringe at the price tag of those linen sheets, just know that you're buying a set that's not only eco-friendly and beautiful, it will likely last you for life!