White sheets might be a classic, but even if you love their crisp, fresh look, they’re not really doing you any favors. Not only does the industrial bleaching process have a negative environmental impact, but it also weakens your sheets so they wear out faster.
Natural (unbleached, undyed) linen and cotton give you more durability along with a more modern, high-end aesthetic. They’re also a lot more comfortable.
(Just want to get your sheets already? Skip to the end!)
Nobody Likes Water Pollution
Chances are, those “pure,” snow-white sheets aren’t as clean as you might think. Depending on the manufacturer, they’ve likely been put through a rather dirty industrial bleaching process.
Traditional industrial bleaching produces chlorinated wastewater and emits exhaust containing chlorine. While chlorine is a natural element and not harmful in small quantities, in large (so, industrial waste level) quantities, it’s been linked to reduced fish and bird populations near polluted water sources, such the Great Lakes in the United States. Doesn’t exactly sound “clean and pure,” does it?
As if pollution weren’t bad enough, industrial bleaching also depletes local clean water reserves that could be better used for drinking, bathing or wildlife. Maybe not a huge problem in rainy northern countries, but not great, either.
Not all bleaching is harmful, though. Some bedding manufacturers use a gentler, more eco-friendly oxygen-based (hydrogen peroxide) bleaching process. Irish linen is often sun-bleached to a sparkling white. Highly-prized Belgian linen might look bleached, but is in fact, naturally pale cream.
Less Industrial, More Personal
White sheets, for all their snowy charm, have a mass-produced, clinical austerity about them. They’re reminiscent of hotels, hospitals, and places that aren’t exactly homey and personal. Natural shades of linen, on the other hand, convey a sense of luxury and exclusivity, in large part because they genuinely are rarer and harder to find.
Unbleached linen is a soft grey or beige shade that and often carries faint greenish tones that speaks of its natural origins. Unbleached cotton is a light cream. Both fit beautifully into a modern, monochrome bedroom. In fact, if you love the monochrome look, you might find gentle shades of grey and ecru more relaxing than the harsh contrast of pure black and white.
One of the oft-cited benefits of white sheets is that they make it easy to see when they need a cleaning. That is true, but unbleached sheets are no different. They’re easily light enough to let you see when they’re less than clean.
White Sheets are Weak Sheets – Natural Lasts Longer
Bleaching, harsh chemical dye-baths, and treatment with stain-repellents and fire-retardants all weaken the fibers. Even linen sheets this way will become rough and wear out relatively quickly. Dry cleaning will help them last longer, but who wants to go to the dry cleaner every week?
High-quality, minimally processed linen gets softer with every wash. These sheets will stay looking casually luxurious and feeling comfortable for twenty years. Twenty years! You could pass them down as a family heirloom your grandkids will actually want.
By comparison, bleached cotton sheets start looking scruffy (and no longer white) after just two years of weekly washing.
Natural linen is totally low-maintenance. You could wash it in a stream, lay it on the grass to dry and it will be just fine. In fact, that’s exactly how it was done a few generations ago and the sheets still lasted decades. Linen dyed with natural plant dyes still fares better with hand washing, although plant dyes do fade faster than industrial dyes. If your undyed sheets starts to look dingy, washing with sodium borate (eg. Borax) should clear that up. No need for commercial brighteners or softeners.
More Design Freedom
Now, I know just because you can use your sheets for twenty years doesn’t mean you’ll want to. Trends change, your tastes change, and sometimes you just want something new and different.
If you throw out your old “industrial” sheets, they’re going to end up in a landfill where the chemicals used to treat them will leach into the soil. That means if you care about the environment, you might hang on to those rough, worn, boring, and no-so-white-anymore sheets a little longer than you’d really like.
Organic, undyed or naturally dyed linen and cotton can be cut up and tossed into the compost pile. They’ll biodegrade after around three months and give you nice, rich soil for your garden. Tired of the color you bought three years ago? Redesigning your bedroom? Spill wine on the bed? You can toss your organic sheets guilt free.
See, being eco-friendly isn’t all about upcycling old t-shirts into pillows cases!
Where to Get Your Hands on Some Comfy Unbleached Linen
Unfortunately, it’s not so easy to find unbleached linen or cotton bed sheets. After some digging, I found a few good sources of unbleached linen bedding. If you know of any more, please let me know! #notsponsoredjustlove!
Len Ok – This Belorussian company specializes entirely in organic OEKO-TEX® certified linen bedding, including sheets, pillow cases, duvet covers, comforters, and bed skirts. I’m assuming the “natural grey” shade is unbleached and undyed, but you’ll also find soft dyed shades of blue, green, ecru, and pink. Their bedding is made using Belorussian and Belgian flax. Worth a look just for their dreamy product photos. Ships internationally.
Velvet Valley – Looking for a cozy unbleached linen blanket and some new unbleached sheets? Velvet Valley, based in Lithuania, has them both. They also offer kitchen and bath items, as well as bedding, all of it OEKO-TEX® certified and sourced from Baltic manufacturers. Ships internationally.
Shop2016 – Despite the plain name, this Belorussian company is a good place to find OEKO-TEX® certified, unbleached linen bedding with a romantic, feminine touch. Their ruffled pillow shams are good example. Ships internationally.
Rawganique – Headquartered in British Columbia, Canada, this company offers a line of unbleached linen sheets named after an elegant Parisian boulevard – Blvd Hausmann Organic French Linen Sheets. The sheets are made in Europe from Belorussian flax, but shipped from warehouses in Canada and the U.S. Limited international shipping.
Quite a lot of fabric shops also sell unbleached linen by the meter, so making your own sheets is an option if you’re the DIY type.