Home Decor

Why Hemp Could Become Your New Favorite Bed Linen

Everything you need to know about this sustainable and long-lasting natural fiber.

February 28, 2022
Photo by Evenfall

Up until recently, our choice of sheets was limited to cotton percale, sateen, or flannel, but today there are a dizzying array of fibers and weaves to choose from. Linen (aka flax), bamboo, and eucalyptus are among the many natural fibers being woven into bedding. Along with these new fibers have come an equally large number of sustainability claims to wade through. So, we sought out the experts to explain the latest sustainable bedding fiber: Hemp.

Among the latest crop of bedding fibers, there’s a reason hemp is a newcomer. The United States started to abandon industrial hemp cultivation starting in 1937 when The Marijuana Tax Act placed a tax on cannabis sales, including hemp. Then, the Controlled Substances Act of 1970 virtually banned the production of industrial hemp, which is really sort of silly because marijuana, whose psychotropic properties our government had intended to prohibit, is a different plant than industrial hemp (aka cannabis sativa). It wasn’t until the 2018 Farm Bill was passed that it was actually legal to grow hemp again, and it’s been an uphill battle to clear this natural fiber’s name. Retailers are quick to point out that their product is far from illicit; for example, the first sentence describing Crate & Barrel’s hemp bedding reads, “Woven out of fiber made from the outer layer of a benign cultivar of Cannabis sativa.”

Which is ironic, given that in our early years, the U.S. had a rich history of using hemp for textiles. The first-ever American flag was made from hemp and the Constitution is printed on it. Hemp was popular because it is easy to grow and produces a high-quality, durable textile; it is also an extremely sustainable fiber. So, it’s no wonder we’re seeing it pop up everywhere in the home from bath towels to upholstery. Here’s what you need to know about hemp bedding as the home industry rediscovers this timeless textile.

Hemp is a super sustainable crop

I was skeptical of claims that hemp is “carbon positive,” but when I spoke to Susan Inglis, the executive director of the Sustainable Furnishings Council, she verified that it’s true. “It’s about the chemical inputs,” she says. “Because producing fertilizer is energy-intensive and hemp can be grown without chemical fertilizers, it is a valid claim that it is a carbon-positive crop.” Overall, hemp is low-impact to cultivate: It can be grown in a variety of climates and it’s not nearly as thirsty as cotton, which Inglis notes is “a fussier plant to grow.”

Not only is hemp a gentle-on-the-earth crop, it requires far fewer chemicals and water to process into fabric than cotton. Says Inglis. “With many fibers, you have to spray chemicals on to make it smooth to spin and to weave, but in the case of hemp there's less chemical inputs in the whole process.” Plus, hemp yields more fiber per acre than cotton and flax.

Hemp is incredibly durable

A naturally strong fiber, both Inglis and Melissa Miller, the founder of the new all-hemp bedding brand Evenfall note that hemp fabrics continue to look good for years. This is one of hemp’s key advantages over linen. “Linen bed sheets are notorious for tearing,” Miller notes. “Hemp as a fiber is about three times as long as linen and therefore it's far more durable. It's one of the longest lasting fibers you can use.” Plus, hemp continues to get much softer as you wash it and use it. Long lasting also means a longer lifespan before hemp products end up in a landfill (or in the case of pure-hemp products, a compost bin).

Hemp is a four-season fabric

Hemp fibers are hollow, giving hemp insulating properties. This means hemp textiles are cool in the summer and stay warm and cozy in the winter (much like linen). If you invest in hemp bedding, you can use it all year round.

Hemp dyes beautifully

One of the reasons Miller pursued an all-hemp product line for Evenfall was the way hemp takes on dye. “Hemp takes color incredibly, especially any woven fabric,” she says. “Being able to garment dye the fabric was important to me for the look—you get a lot of beautiful highs and lows. I also love the way you get this lived-in appearance to the fabric without looking worn out.”

How to choose hemp vs. cotton or hemp vs. linen

If you’ve already made the leap to linen bedding, you’ll probably love hemp too. The fibers share many qualities, including breathability, and they look and feel similar. Inglis says that most people wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between a linen sheet and a hemp one. However, for the discerning textile buyer, Miller says that hemp has a different hand-feel. “The best way for me to describe it is that it's a little silkier and a little more fluid than linen.” Examining the two side by side, I tend to agree with Miller: Hemp has a silkiness to it that is hard to define.

You won’t find your usual eco bonafides on hemp

While hemp is almost always sustainably grown, you’re unlikely to find certified organic hemp textiles. This is because there hasn’t been large consumer demand for organic hemp. “I kept asking for certified organic hemp, but the certification process is really expensive,” says Miller. Miller notes that hemp is still not widely used in bedding, but if consumers and brands demand organic, the growers are likely to be less hesitant to invest in certification.

Because the U.S. abandoned hemp cultivation a century ago, there are no factories that can process the fibers domestically, so you won’t find any made in the U.S.A. hemp bedding. (That said, almost all home textiles are imported, so hemp bedding’s transportation-related carbon footprint is similar to almost everything else on the market.)

Hemp is pricey, but that may change

Just as linen bedding has become more affordable as it has become mainstream, Miller predicts that hemp prices will also drop. With more countries starting to grow more hemp, she suspects competition will bring prices down, but she also says big companies like West Elm, Crate & Barrel and Garnet Hill including hemp in their bedding will have an impact. “For a large company to pursue adding even 10-percent hemp to a big bedding program, actually makes a big difference. It creates demand in the global supply chain,” she says. “It encourages people to grow and process hemp instead of other less sustainable crops.”

Do you own hemp bed linen or towels? Tell us why you love the fabric in the comments below.

This post contains products independently chosen (and loved) by our editors and writers. Food52 earns an affiliate commission on qualifying purchases of the products we link to.

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Laura Fenton is the No Space Too Small columnist at Food52. The author of The Little Book of Living Small, she covers home, design, and sustainability. Laura lives in Jackson Heights, Queens in a 690-square foot apartment with her husband and son. You can follow her on Instagram @laura.alice.fenton or subscribe to her newsletter Living Small.

1 Comment

Noellej25 December 11, 2022
Thanks for the info. Hemp is a very interesting fiber that doesn’t get much attention, but could be used a lot more than it is. I’ve been thinking about linen sheets for a while, but was curious if hemp sheets were available and how good they’d be. Now I think I’ll try them out!