There are multiple facets to the importance of choosing the right underwear and nightclothes. First, obviously, there is the look – there are, after all, times when you will still want to look your best in the privacy of your bedroom…

Yet there are also the rather more important matters of health and hygiene, and the right choice of material can have a bigger impact on both to a greater extent than might be believed. Here we examine the properties of silk, cotton, modal, and polyester, and why they may be the right – or very wrong – choice for you.



Underwear and nightwear made from silk have no competition when it comes to comfort. The very fine fibers that make up a silk garment (which come from the cocoons of silk worms) are spun before they are woven into a fabric, a process which results in perhaps the smoothest of all materials; silk almost feels as though it glides over the skin, unlike other materials which feel like they sit on or cover it.

Like cotton, silk is a very breathable material, which makes it a top choice for hot summer months or those people who live in a country with a hotter climate. It is also – again like cotton – able to effectively absorb moisture, meaning that wearers will experience fewer rashes, less chafing, and a reduced risk of contracting any infections or suffering from hygiene-related issues. In addition, unlike underwear made from other materials, silk does not bunch up against the skin and retains its smooth feel throughout a day of wear. The only potential drawback is that although it allows a wearer to stay cool in the summer or hotter temperatures, it is not as good as other materials (such as cotton) in providing warmth during the winter season.

Yet the benefits of silk go beyond its appealing look and comfortable feel; wearing the fabric has been found to have a myriad of health benefits.Silk amino acids, a natural nutrient found in the fabric, have been found to reduce specific signs of ageing (such as wrinkles), and since silk is a natural material, it is easier for this fabric to produce and retain moisture on its own, preventing dry or flaky skin; its positive effect on the skin have been observed when wearing it throughout the night.

 Because of these benefits, silk is now recognized as a natural anti-ageing product in the form of towels, beddings, and pillowcases. Dermatologists attest to silk’s ability to slow down visible signs of ageing and revitalize the human skin even after a short night’s rest.

Cotton and polyester material can extract and drain moisture from the skin over the course of a night’s sleep, but silk can replenish and maintain this same moisture – moisture which is necessary for keeping a youthful, vibrant skin. Due to the fact that it is a natural material packed with essential amino acids and natural protein, silk helps the nervous system to relax, which then smoothens out any wrinkles and helps to prevent new ones from developing.

Albumen is a naturally-occurring chemical in silk which speeds up the skin’s metabolism and allows dead skin cells to develop and repair at a faster rate. Over time, the long-term use of silk will dramatically improve the skin’s appearance, significantly slowing down any visible effects of ageing; it almost works like moisturizing cream within the clothes that you wear.

Another benefit – although not one that people are necessarily aware of when wearing silk – is that the fabric is very environmentally-friendly. The material is highly renewable, and has far less impact on the environment than other fabrics, principally because of how it is made: the silk worms that produce the fibers predominantly feed on mulberry leaves, which do not require either pesticides or fertilizers to grow.


Since silk is, well, silky and soft, it can be damaged fairly easily, by both light and heat sources. Silk is an investment, and should be bought with the intention to maintain and keep any garment made of the material for the long-term. This, however, requires care – especially with regards to washing and cleaning silk products.


Ideally, any silk clothes should be hand washed in either cool or lukewarm water using a mild detergent, a non-alkaline soap, or a specialist cleaning product especially designed to clean silk garments. Bleach or other ‘pre-wash’ soaking products, however, should never be used, as these can damage or destroy the fabric. In case any dyes in the material run, wash each garment separately and try to keep the temperature relatively constant throughout the wash. After several washes, any excess dye ‘bleed’ in the washing process should stop.

Avoid soaking silk products for more than a few minutes in order to prevent colors from fading; however, these can be somewhat revived when a little white vinegar is used during the first rinse stage.Rinse in cool water and try to avoid wringing the clothing when removing excess water – silk fibres are weaker when wet. More than one rinse may be needed to remove all traces of the detergent.

To dry the garment, lay it flat on a clean dry towel, then gently roll up the towel while pressing to remove excess water. After this, hang the silk garment on a padded hanger; avoid hangers me of untreated wood or metal, since these can mark or stain the fabric. It is also important to avoid direct heat or sunlight when drying silk products, since this can cause the silk fabric to turn an unsightly, yellowish colour.


As stated, it is always preferable to clean silk clothes by hand, but this is not always possible; the busy demands of a working day leave little time for the intricate task of carefully washing silk. Use of a washing machine, therefore, is often unavoidable.

When forced to use a washing machine to clean silk, always use a ‘delicates’ program and a mild detergent, since silk is easily damaged by high temperatures and strong cleaning chemicals and detergents. Investing in delicates washing bags (which can be bought for as little as $6) is highly recommended; these are small zip-closed mesh bags that can be used to put the garments into before washing. This reduces the abrasive effect that the washing process can have on the silk, and prevents any snagging or ripping during the washing process. The wash temperature should be 30 degrees and the spin cycle should be kept slow and short in duration. Dry the garments in the same way as described above in the previous section; do not use tumble dryers for silk clothes, since this is a sure way to ruin them beyond repair.



Cotton is a superior fabric choice for underwear, largely due to its breathability. Synthetic materials can cause overheating and excessive sweating, which in turn can cause problems with your hygiene and health. Materials such as spandex, polyester, and nylon trap heat and moisture, creating favourable conditions for

yeast – and, by extension, yeast infections such as thrush. Vaginal infections with symptoms such as odour, discharge and itching can be alleviated simply by replacing synthetic fabrics with cotton.

Cotton allows the skin to breathe, and this ventilating effect can stop any buildup of moisture (such as sweat) or bacteria (such as those which lead to unpleasant odours or infections). Cotton is also highly absorbent, and capable of taking on 25 times its weight in water; problems caused by sweating, therefore, are not as severe with cotton undergarments as with other materials. Although cotton is one of the best choices of fabric for underwear at any time of year, its absorbent properties make it a top pick for the summer months, or if you live in a warmer climate.


As with underwear, cotton nightgowns provide breathability and prevent the skin from becoming suffocated and consequently sweating excessively. There are a myriad of reasons for people to wake up hot and sweating in the middle of the night, ranging from bad dreams, stress during the daytime, or their circadian rhythm (the internal body clock which regulates sleep patterns), but anyone who has experienced this particularly unpleasant event will recognize that it is difficult to fall asleep afterwards. Cotton nightwear (and bedclothes) will go a long way in preventing this, and allow for a swift return to sleep.

Since cotton is also a natural material, it also gives off a far more elegant appearance than its synthetic equivalents. This, combined with the high level of comfort it provides, make it a top choice for any night garment.


Although some will recommend hand-washing cotton underwear whenever possible (and in cold water), cotton products can be washed in a washing machine – although machine washing cotton is not as risky as doing the same to silk products. However, the temperature should still be warm rather than hot in order to reduce the risk of the garment shrinking. Dark and white or lighter coloured clothing should be washed separately. In addition, cotton underwear should not be washed with clothes such as jeans or anything else made from a heavier fabric, since this can damage the cotton fabric. As with silk products, consider investing in a set of delicates washing bags to protect the garments from damage, disfigurement or discoloration.

Drying machines can also be bad for cotton, since many reach temperatures of up to 180 degrees Fahrenheit: as well as taking the stretch out of the elastic – which causes the fabric to sag and causes the waistband to become loose – the heat causes friction between the fibres and dull the colours or give the garment an unwanted, shiny appearance. Leaving cotton items to dry in sunlight can cause them to shrink, weaken the fabric, or lose their colour, and so leaving them to dry in a shaded area is recommended, preferably where they are exposed to fresh air but not the sun itself. If time is short and a drier must be used, adjust to the temperature to as low as possible.



A semi-synthetic fabric, modal is a form of rayon, a plant-based textile: modal itself is made from beech tree pulp, and is both more durable and flexible than standard rayon. Modal is occasionally blended with other fabrics such as cotton for additional strength.

Due to its origin in reconstituted beech tree cellulose, modal is considered to be an environmentally-friendly fabric, even more so than standard rayon, since beech trees require 10-20 times less water to grow compared to other trees which provide fabrics. Modal is still an eco-friendly option despite the fact that its production process includes soaking the fabric in chemicals such as sodium hydroxide and carbon disulfate (this is what gives modal its status as a semi-synthetic fabric). It is also softer than standard rayon, and feels like cotton to wear.


Modal is a stretchy, flexible material that is soft to the touch and comfortable to wear. It is a breathable and absorbent material (50% more so than cotton), and so is able to deal with the effects of sweating and moisture more effectively than other fabrics.

Modal is something of a super-fabric in terms of its long-lasting effects. It does not pill, nor lose its colour in the laundering process; it is also resistant to both shrinking and pilling, and stays smooth with only light ironing. As an eco-friendly material, it is also entirely biodegradable, and so does not contribute to environmental issues such as landfills or oceanic pollution in the same way that entirely synthetic materials can.


Modal materials are durable, and can be cleaned in the washing machine and put in a tumble dyer (be sure to look at the product’s label, though, since some modal products are blended with cotton and spandex and may have different cleaning requirements). Although modal garments can be cleaned in any water temperature, cold water is preferable; however, drying should be performed using low to medium heat, and modal items should be removed from the dyer as soon as they are finished. Hang them up immediately afterwards to avoid any possible wrinkling or creasing.



Polyester is both a cheap and versatile material, and for these reasons it has become a popular choice in clothing manufacturing in recent times. However, due to a host of negative impacts it has on the environment, it is strongly recommended to avoid products made from this material, despite its popularity and prevalence.

Polyester is frequently used for its wrinkle-free properties: clothing made from this textile usually does not need to be ironed or pressed to maintain its shape and surface. Due to the fact that it often does not need to be ironed and  can be washed easily in the washing machine, it is very convenient for the wearer to maintain. It also tends to be quick in drying, which is useful in climates that have long periods of cold or wet weather. High quality polyester can last a long time  and maintains the quality of its surface, but the majority of polyester available on the market is of very poor quality, and is often used by manufacturers simply because it is a cheap alternative to natural fibres. Most polyester clothing is cheap and badly made, and will not have an overly-long lifespan, especially when compared with clothes made of natural fibres. In addition, the material is not breathable for the skin, and can often be uncomfortable to wear.


However, notwithstanding its occasionally garish or gaudy appearance and its lack of breathability, polyester’s bad reputation principally comes from the negative impact it has on the environment. Polyester is a synthetic petroleum-based fibre, and is therefore made from a carbon-intensive non-renewable resource; the raw material used to make the fibre is, in fact, petroleum which is also needed to generate the energy needed to manufacture the material. Over 70 billion barrels of oil are used every year in polyester manufacturing, and since the material is not biodegradable it is a major environmental hazard. It is one of the main culprits behind the massive amounts of microplastics in the world’s oceans, since up to 1900 fibres can be washed off of one garment every time a polyester product is cleaned.


Although its production process is less energy intensive than that of nylon, polyester still requires more than double the energy of conventional cotton to produce, but it obviously does not share cotton’s more favourable relationship with the environment. The production of polyester uses harmful chemicals (including some which are carcinogenic), but it is hard to regulate such processes, since the majority of polyester-based products are produced in countries such as China, Indonesia and Bangladesh, which mostly lack the regulations in force elsewhere in the world. In addition, these countries do not have a particularly impressive track record in treating the air and water pollution they themselves are responsible for, which results in significant pollution and harm to communities in the vicinity of (as well as downstream and downwind of) manufacturing plants.


Although polyester products often look cheap and unattractive to the fashion-conscious eye, it is more due to the environmental and ethical concerns that haunt polyester’s production process that products made of this material – despite their often cheap price – cannot be recommended.

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