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Buying and Caring for
Silk Bedding

For thousands of years, silk has been prized as a luxury fabric of natural elegance and beauty.

Silk is a protein fiber that was first cultivated by the Chinese, and widely traded across the globe as its popularity spread. Silk bedding and other textiles made from this material, while expensive, are exceptionally comfortable and strong.

Silk's light weight and ability to wick moisture away from skin also makes it an ideal summer bedding choice. Heather Young, Vice President of LinenPlace.com, an online linens retailer, shares some tips for caring for silk bedding:

1) Hand wash silk using a mild detergent (Woolite works well) or even a non-alkaline shampoo that doesn't contain any waxy or oily ingredients. Never use bleach.

2) If you do use a washing machine, wash at a mild and constant temperature, and put your silk sheets in a washing net or pillowcase to avoid any damage that may be caused by the drum.

3) Adding a splash of white vinegar or hydrogen peroxide to the wash water will help revitalize your bedding.

4) Never soak silk, especially if it is dyed.

5) Line drying is best, but you should be careful not to expose the silk to direct sunlight, which can actually give your bedding the fabric equivalent of a sunburn, damaging the structure. Do not twist or wring the fabric - instead, press or roll the silk between towels to absorb excess moisture.

6) Avoid dryer sheets. Instead, use a little hair conditioner (without oil or wax ingredients) in the rinse water to get rid of static cling.

7) Do not iron silk dry or on the high setting. Use a press cloth or iron on steam, and flatten the silk when it is slightly and evenly damp.

8) Silk doesn't 'shrink' the way cotton does - but washing can tighten up certain weaves, making them stronger and shortening the fabric somewhat.

9) Dyed silks should be dry-cleaned the first time they are washed to help set the color and avoid running or fading.

10) Much like wool, silk is a tempting food for moths. Store silk in a cotton pillowcase or other breathable fabric to keep moisture from damaging it."

Ms. Young adds that silk is an ideal material for bedding. Silk fiber has a structure not unlike human hair, though much finer, and its ability to refract light at different angles gives it its signature luster.

Its breathability and thermal properties help keep the sleeper cool in summer and warm in winter. The lightweight nature of silk makes it a good summer bedding choice. The high absorbency of silk also contributes to its comfort, and it readily absorbs even the richest dyes.

Silk products are both lightweight and soft, and naturally hypoallergenic. Some duvets are even filled with silk instead of feathers or down, and no chemicals are required during the manufacturing process.

When shopping for silk bedding, one should try to find domestic/cultivated silk. This kind is smoother, stronger and more lustrous than wild or raw silks.

This is because wild silkworms tear the cocoon silk into shorter fibers when they leave. Silk tends to crease easily, so buying fabric that has been treated with a crease-resistant finish can extend the life of the material and make caring easier.

Buyers should also beware of silk products that are priced low - silk is expensive to produce, and higher-priced sheets will usually reflect a quality product. Higher quality silk will also take dye better, and deeply dyed cheaper varieties are often laden with metallic salts that can irritate the skin and affect the hand and drape of the silk.

"Because silk is so fine, thread count is not a reliable indicator of quality," continues Ms. Young. Instead, shoppers should look for the weight, measured by "mommy," or simply "mm."

One of the most common silk weaves, China silk, weighs between 5 mm and 12 mm. Charmeuse, a classic and elegant satin and crepe weave, is a traditional type of silk commonly used for luxury bedding.

Jacquard is a woven pattern that combines shiny and matte threads to create a contrasting pattern. This is also common in bedding silks and tends to be a heavier weight than charmeuse.

Noil is a silk that has a very similar look and feel to cotton, and is more wrinkle-resistant.

When shopping for bedding in particular, Ms. Young advises customers to avoid sheets or duvets that are seamed - this indicates that multiple smaller pieces of silk have been used in the construction, and the overall quality is probably poor.

Consumers looking for the highest quality should avoid raw, wild, peace, vegetarian and tussah silk unless ethical issues are of concern. The silkworms are destroyed in the process of making silk, except in these varieties.

Silk can be enjoyed in a variety of ways, and knowing what to look for when shopping for silk bedding, as well as how to care for it, can help ensure consumers get the most from their silk bedding experience.

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