Satin vs. Silk - Pros and Cons

Satin vs. Silk - Pros and Cons

Author: James Higgins

Since ancient times, both silk and satin material have been the symbols of luxury and aristocracy. 

Both these incredibly smooth fabrics have dominated royal palaces, wealthy households, and celebratory venues.

When used for clothes, both silk and satin frequently dominate the wardrobes of affluent individuals and monarchs. 

Evening gowns and bridal dresses capitalize on the luxe feel of these fabrics, as well as decorative drapes, throws, and nightwear. 

The key question: What is the difference between satin and silk?

While silk is a fabric produced by the domesticated silkworm or Bombyx mori, satin refers to the weave of the fabric, not the actual material. 

This article delves into the differences between satin vs silk.

What is Silk?

Silk was accidentally discovered by the Emperor’s concubine Lei Zu around 3,000 BCE when a silkworm fell into her cup of tea, and she was astonished at the soft, silky strands of the cocoon.

She invented the very first silk loom, allowing the Chinese to produce silk and ship it throughout the world.

For hundreds of years, the Chinese dominated the silk trade, shipping their products throughout Western Europe through the Silk Road network.

They continue to be the world’s leading producer in the US$21.45 billion silk industry. Other top silk-producing countries include India, Thailand, Brazil, and Vietnam.

What is Satin?

After silk’s rise to prominence as the world’s most luxurious fabric, the Chinese developed the weaving technique of silk into satin.

It is believed that satin derives its name from the Chinese town of Zaitun, exported to the west during the time of Ancient Greece and arriving in Europe during the middle ages. 

A satin weave is done by four or more weft threads over one warp thread or the other way around; four warp threads going over one weft. 

To do a satin weave, long, continuous fibres are used. While previously only silk was used for satin weaves, modern-day satin can be made from synthetic fabrics like rayon, nylon, and polyester. 

Satin is typically glossy on one side and dull on the other. There are several types of satin depending on the fabric used and how it was weaved. 

Pros of Satin

Satin vs. Silk - Pros and Cons

  1. Smooth and lustrous, satin offers the luxurious glossy look of silk at affordable prices. Satin is typically cheaper than silk.
  2. Satin is hypoallergenic and doesn’t absorb moisture like cotton does.
  3. Satin made of synthetic fibres is more glossy and slippery than silk. If using satin as a headscarf, synthetic satin pillowcases will protect the hair by reducing friction between the hair strands.
  4. Its lack of absorbency also is kinder on the skin. Absorbent fabrics like cotton strip the skin of oils and moisture, leading to wrinkles and fine lines.
  5. Some folks might prefer the feel of satin for undergarments, nightclothes, and bedding because of its breathable, delicate qualities.
  6. Satin made of silk is ever so slightly more absorbent than synthetics. Natural satin can be used for headscarves if you have an oily scalp.
  7. Synthetic satin will also suit people with sensitive skin because silk can be an irritant. When the silkworm excretes the silk, it gets covered in a natural residue called sericin. Most of the sericin is removed during manufacturing, but some might still linger. As sericin is water-insoluble, it can continue to irritate sensitive skin even after numerous washes. 
  8. Synthetic satin can be kinder for silkworms and can be a vegan product. 

Cons of Satin

  1. Satin has a smooth, delicate surface that can get stained with water spots. It cannot be steam-ironed, or you might end up seeing water stains after drying. 
  2. Satin is so slippery that when sewing, threads may slip, and mistakes can be made. 
  3. The individual fibres can get snagged easily with threads caught in the weave. 

Pros of Real Silk

Pros of Silk

  1. The soft, delicate look of silk is misleading. Pound for pound, silk is even stronger than steel. Some silk from spiders is so strong that they can even snag small birds as prey.
  2. Silk is a natural fibre, breathable, and temperature regulating. It will keep you warm in cool climates and warm you up when the temperatures drop. 
  3. Silk is antibacterial, antimicrobial, and hypoallergenic, making it ideal for people with allergies or sensitive skin. Silk is produced from the cocoons of silkworms, naturally evolved to repel mites and insects. 
  4. Silk scarves and silk pillowcases are increasingly used for hair care. The reduced friction from the smooth fabric causes less hair breakage, frizziness, and split ends.
  5. Like satin, silk is a non-absorbent fabric and will not dry the skin out even after prolonged contact, preventing wrinkles. 
  6. Being a natural product, silk that ends up going to landfills will break down in one to five years. In stark contrast, polyester takes up to 200 years to decompose. 

Cons of Real Silk

  1. The silkworms used to make silk are boiled alive in their cocoons. It takes about 2,500 silkworms to produce a pound of silk.
  2. Silk has a relatively large carbon footprint. It is produced predominantly in China and India, making shipping to the west resource intensive. In addition, silkworm farms are located in hot climates and require vast amounts of energy for temperature control.
  3. Prized as a luxurious fabric for thousands of years, silk continues to be priced at a premium. The quality of silk is measured by a Japanese unit called a “momme”. A momme measures the weight of the silk; the heavier the fabric, the higher the momme. Some luxurious 30-momme bed sets sell for over £1,000! 
Parameters of Comparison
Satin Silk
Origin Satin came into existence during the Middle Ages. Silk came into existence in China around 6000 BC.
Manufacturing Satin can be produced from silk, cotton, nylon, polyester, viscose, and rayon. Silk is derived from cocoons of silkworms and is a purely natural fabric.
Appearance Satin has a shiny, glossy front surface and a dull back surface.  Silk has a shiny, glossy appearance on both sides and a luxurious feel.
Washing Care Satin needs careful washing care and might have to be dry cleaned. You cannot wash synthetic satin in hot water because it might warp the fabric.  Silk can be washed on a delicate cycle, or hand washed. 
Price Satin comes at an affordable price. Silk is known to be a costly fabric.