Sustainable Fashion

Silk vs Cotton Fabric: Guide & Comparison Table

Learn about the differences between silk and cotton.

Fabric Comparison Featured

Which is best – silk sheets and silk bedding, or high quality cotton sheets? And which of these two fabrics is better for fashion? Or for the environment? We analyze the differences between these two natural fabrics below!

Both cotton and silk fabric are great choices, with similar moisture wicking properties, although cotton is a little more breathable. Silk fabric has a better drape and superior softness, although it costs more and is harder to clean; organic cotton is a bit more affordable and typically more durable. Both silk and cotton, when made organically, can be sustainable options.

Read on for our detailed comparison table and more information below:

Silk vs Cotton Comparison Table

Other Names
Made FromSilk is a soft and shiny fiber harvested from silkworm cocoons.Fibers from cotton plant seeds
AdvantagesSmooth, soft and luxurious. Looks and feels fantastic.Cotton fiber has superior wet strength and is a natural insulator. Cotton also has natural anti-microbial properties
DisadvantagesLess practical than many other fabrics. Heat retention, water-resistance and color-fastness are all poor, and overall less durable than many other fabrics.Higher production costs than many other fabrics, particularly for organic cotton.
UsesFashion, particulary luxury items, as well as lining for mens suits, ties, and pocket squares. Other uses include curtains, sheets, pillows, and upholstery.Cotton is widely used in clothing, including to produce popular woven fabrics such as denim, flannel, and canvas. Also used for bedsheets, towels, and upholstery.
Natural or SyntheticNaturalNatura
Woven or KnittedEither, typically wovenWoven
Thread CountUp to 600100-1000+
WashingSafest to dry clean only. Hand washing may leave to fading. Do not put in the washing machine.Typically fine in washing machine (always check the label first)
DryingAir dry onlyOften fine in tumble dryer, although shrinkage can occur especially if 100% cotton (check the label first). If unsure, air dry.
IroningDo not iron. Silk should be steamed.Iron while damp (use a spray) on high heat
Wrinkle ResistanceDoesn’t tend to wrinkleWrinkles easily
Heat RetentionPoorMedium
Moisture WickingGoodGood
BreathabilityGoodVery Good
Flammability (untreated)Very HighVery High
Water-Resistance (untreated)PoorPoor
StrengthGood, but weaker when wetGood, especially when wet (cotton gets stronger when wet)
SoftnessVery GoodGood
Environmental Impact Score (A is best, E is worst)Normal Silk = C, Organic Silk = BConventional Cotton = E, Organic Cotton = B, Recycled Cotton = A
Sustainability IssuesSilk production is relatively low impact, and does not require too many fertilizers or pesticides. Organic silk is best, and readers may also want to look for humane silk which harvests after the moths have left (instead of with the pupae inside).Cotton growing can be pesticide and water intensive, leading to pollution. Less impact when grown organically.