You’ve probably poured over product reviews and countless websites to find the best hair styling tools and products. Or, watched an embarrassing amount of YouTube tutorials to get an edge on hair that looks fresh from the salon. In short, you’re putting in the work for your hair. But there’s another contributing factor in unlocking “best hair ever” status that you’ve probably ignored and quite literally have been sleeping on: We’re talking about the fabrics that come into daily contact with your hair — specifically those used in pillow cases, bonnets, towels and even your favorite t-shirt.
That’s because a fabric’s structure, shape, and chemistry —such as whether it’s hydrophilic (water loving) or hydrophobic (water resisting ) — can play a role in how defined your curl pattern pops or how strong your hair shaft remains. Exactly how much a difference can the fabrics make when it comes to maximizing hair health? Ahead, we talk to dermatologists, hairstylists and fabric engineers to find out. Their answers will have you bypassing bathroom shelves for once. Because as it turns out, the best tool in your hair care arsenal may be hiding in your laundry hamper instead.
Best fabrics to sleep on (and in)
There’s been lots of fuss about silk being the best pillowcase material to sleep on for smooth cuticles and nurtured hair — and according to our experts, the hype is real. That’s because silk (a natural microfiber), polyethylene terephthalate (PET) or nylon can be made into very smooth woven fabrics, such as satins, as Margaret W. Frey, Ph.D., professor in fiber science and apparel design at Cornell University, points out. “These fabrics have very low surface friction, so they would be unlikely to break hair.” she says.
What’s more, silk and satin are hydrophobic (water resisting) fabrics that can help hair retain moisture, according to Tym Wallace, a highly sought-after hair stylist whose client list boasts the likes of Taraji P. Henson, Brandy and Mary J. Blige. For this reason, he suggests sleeping on pillowcases made of slippery fabrics (such as mulberry silk found in Blissy Silk Pillowcases and Slip Silk Pillowcase, something the brand bills as containing “anti-bed head” properties); Silvi Silver-Treated Silk Pillowcase; or Herb + Flora Morpheus Pillow, made with copper oxide polyester shown in the brand’s own clinical trial to produce smoother hair after a night’s sleep). Ditto for sleeping in bonnets and scarves made of silk and satin (like Kitsch Satin-Lined Jersey Bonnet) or do-rags or skullcaps to minimize friction and reduce matting and tangles, particularly in curly and coily hair types. It’s also one of the reasons Yolanda Lenzy, M.D, a Massachusetts-based dermatologist who specializes in hair and scalp care, recommends satin and silk or satin as top choice hair care fabrics for pillowcases and bonnets. “Cotton robs the hair of moisture and can lead to increased breakage in some individuals,” she notes.
While silks and satins can bring out the best in more textured hair types — or even help prolong a blowout, according to hair stylist Vickie Vidov, owner of the salon Vidov West New York — cotton’s moisture-capturing abilities may be just the thing for others. As Wallace notes, those with straight or wavier hair may better benefit from cotton’s moisture-wicking properties. “This hair type tends to produce a lot more oil — and at a much faster rate,” he says. “Cotton will help to absorb some of that oil so you don’t have to shampoo as often.”
Best fabrics to dry wet hair
You’d think towels made of cotton and other moisture-mopping materials would be the perfect thing to dry wet hair. But our experts tell us otherwise. Though Dr. Frey pegs terry cloth towels as being “very good for absorbency,” thanks to their loop structure of fluffy yarns, hair pros note their textured surface can be too hard on the hair shaft.
“I typically recommend ultra soft microfiber towels to dry the hair,” says Joshua Zeichner, M.D., a New York-based dermatologist and director of cosmetic and clinical research in the department of dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital. “Wet hair is particularly prone to breakage so try to avoid rough, synthetic fabrics when drying your hair.”
This might help explain the surge in microfiber towels available on the market as of late, (such as Collective Labs Microfiber Hair Towel) and those with antibacterial materials, like copper and colloidal silver woven into the fabric (like with Aquis Copper Sure Rapid Dry Hair Wrap and Resorè Body Towel, respectively). “The latest generation and textiles integrate metals like copper and silver for antimicrobial and anti-aging benefits,” notes Dr. Zeichner. “Silver helps reduce levels of microorganisms on the skin including those responsible for odor and dandruff. Silver within the textile may help prevent bacterial contamination of the fabric while it’s drying after use.”
Though metal-boasting fabrics are relatively new to pillowcases, towels, and wraps that wield hair care claims, Vidov, who is also a go-to stylist for clients like Florence Welch and Selena Gomez, points to an old-school option that can offer the same. “Bamboo microfibers have an antibacterial quality built in,” she says. “So your towel dries faster and stays cleaner between washing because the longer your towel is wet, the more bacteria can grow. Bamboo microfiber’s smoother surface also absorbs more water from your hair more quickly.”
For those with very curly coily hair, a smooth, yet absorbent fabric can be key to keeping curl patterns in shape. This is the philosophy behind the curl plopping trend popular on TikTok, which calls on a simple cotton t-shirt to dry hair because the smoother surface offers less room for friction than with traditional cotton towels made of looped fibers.
But as Wallace notes, it’s not just about the type of fabric you choose when drying hair, but how you do it that matters. “You don’t want to rub the hair. That’s not actually drying the hair — and that goes for all hair types.” (As Vidov notes, this is especially key for those with bleached and platinum hair and for whom abrasion can particularly break or damage fragile cuticles.) Instead, Wallace suggests squeezing excess water from the hair to dry hair without agitating cuticles and creating tangles and unnatural frizz.
In the end, choosing the right fabrics with which to treat your hair — and the right techniques when using them — may be the missing link to living your best hair life. Better yet, they may already be hiding in your laundry pile, no pricey styling products or tools required.