Sustainable sleeping: a guide to alternative bed linens

Living Well | Megan Whitfield | Posted on 24 July 2019

Your sleeping habits could help save the planet – kinda.

When it comes to your bed, you want it to be comfortable. Your haven from the cold, a warm welcome from a long day at work – it deserves some love.

However, not all bed linen is created equal. There are so many brands and qualities to sort through, and new materials seem to pop up every day.

We’ve done the hard work for you. Here’s our guide to alternative bed linens that will leave your environmental footprint lighter and your sleep deeper. 

Bed with grey cotton sheets and white headboard beside table with hanging plant

A guide to alternative linens


Organic cotton

Okay, cotton isn’t exactly a new material when it comes to bedspreads, but it certainly beats polyester. High-quality cotton tends to be softer than freshly bought linen, and also tends to begin at a lower price point. Like bed linen generally, the quality of cotton varies from brand to brand so it’s worth doing some research. For example, the sheets from The Sheet Society are made using ‘long staple’ cotton which, like Egyptian cotton, provides a more luxurious feel (and better durabilitiy).

  • Pros: Affordable and easy to find at bedding stores. It is also hypo-allergenic, odour-resistant and soft.
  • Cons: Quality can vary significantly, which may lead to pilling or the sheets wearing out more quickly. 

Flax linen

Another popular material, linen has been kicking around for a very long time. However, there has been increased focus in recent years on the fabric’s sustainability. Made from flax, much less water is required to grow this plant compared with cotton, and fewer chemicals are needed to treat the fabric. Even better, if untreated, it’s fully biodegradable. Linen is a very strong natural fibre – 30 per cent stronger and thicker than cotton, giving it longevity, aided by the fact it tends to soften gradually so takes a long time to wear out.  

  • Pros: Strong, durable and the naturally crinkled look means ironing never has to come into the equation. Linen can be more sustainably produced than many other materials, and is a natural insulator meaning you’ll be cool in summer but cosy in winter.
  • Cons: Linen can be expensive compared to other bedding textiles.

Eucalyptus

Eucalyptus bedding is produced in a similar way to bamboo, but is the latest material having a turn in the spotlight. The eucalyptus plant is combined with long-fibre cotton (this mix can vary depending on the company) to create a product known as Tencel (sometimes going by the name of TENCEL Lyocell). Many companies, such as Eucalypso and Koala, employ a closed-loop production process to reduce water wastage.

  • Pros: Naturally hypo-allergenic and temperature regulating. Brands such as Koala are involved in making these products with eucalyptus from sustainable forests. Eucalyptus sheets also naturally repel bed bugs and dust mites due to their antimicrobial properties.
  • Cons: Less common in standard stores (currently) and more expensive than cotton. 

Bamboo

Bamboo is increasingly found in day-to-day products, from straws and toothbrushes to clothing. However, it’s also common in bedding, with a reputation for being a more eco-friendly option. However, when it comes to actually turning the bamboo into a soft material (known as rayon), the sustainability claims don’t always add up. Bamboo is easy to grow without pesticides, and the fibre yield per hectare is up to 10 times higher than cotton, while requiring less water. The challenges come when the hard wooden fibre is made soft – often by using chemicals such as formaldehyde, followed by dyes that can affect the biodegradability of the product.

  • Pros: Bamboo plants are easy to grow and are antimicrobial, meaning they negate the need for pesticides. Sheets made from this material are lightweight, breathable and soft. Plus, there are companies trying to create more sustainable practices to change the plant into a soft fabric. One such manufacturer is Ettitude, which created ‘bamboo lyocell’. Its products come in biodegradable packaging, use all-natural fibres, and pass the Okeo-Tex Standard 100, which is an international testing and certification standard focused on environmentally friendly textiles. 
  • Cons: Bamboo-based textiles, such as rayon, are often grouped with highly sustainable bamboo products. However, according to the US Federal Trade Commission “bamboo-based textiles, actually made of rayon, are not antimicrobial, made in an environmentally-friendly manner, or biodegradable”.