What’s the Difference Between Silk and Satin?

What’s the Difference Between Silk and Satin?

What’s the Difference Between Silk and Satin?

Once or twice (perhaps more!) in your life, you have probably confused silk with satin or vice versa. At first glance, both look arguably similar. Without a keen eye or knowledge of fabrics, we’re not surprised that people don’t know the difference between silk and satin. 

But what you’d be surprised to know is that there are vast differences between these two fabrics. Even more when it comes to their features and benefits. So to answer the question,

What’s the difference between silk and satin? Silk is a type of fabric, while satin is a type of weave that is often made with polyester fabric. Polyester made with a satin weave has equal parts dull and glossy sides. The shiny half creates a lustrous appearance.

In this blog post, learn more about the difference between silk and satin - specifically their distinguishing characteristics, benefits, and compositions. Know how satin and silk are made in their respective production processes and what the difference is all about.

Is Satin Even a Fabric?

For the longest time, the term satin was interchanged with silk. However, not many people know that satin is not an actual fabric. It’s a *drumroll*... type of weave. Yes, we know, it’s a bit anticlimactic, although it is what it is! There are different types of weave patterns, and the satin weave is just one. On the other hand, silk is a type of fabric that can be woven into different patterns, including satin weave. In case you missed that… Silk can be satin (weave), but satin can never be silk. Capisce? 🤌🏻

So where did satin start? 

Here’s some trivia: the satin weave originated in Quanzhou city in China; its name was derived from the medieval Arabic term “Zaitun,” which later became satin. At first, it was widely popular in the Middle East. Then this weave technique traveled to Europe and Western countries much later in the 14th Century.

The Satin Weave

satin weave blue

So what’s the process behind a satin weave? A general weave pattern is a 4:1 ratio. According to Heddels website, “Satin weave creates a super smooth fabric that has a soft hand and drapes well. This weave is achieved by ‘floating’ the warp or weft yarn over four or more of the opposite yarn. The floating yarn is then passed under one of the opposite yarn before repeating the process.”


So where’s all the shine coming from, you may ask? A satin weave, especially when done on a polyester fabric, is known to produce a prominently glossy or lustrous finish. By default, “satin” garments and fabrics have two sides, one with a glossy texture and the other with a dull finish.


Satin pillowcases are solely made in manufacturer labs with artificial materials. This means they can endure harsh treatment and withstand frequent washing in the machine. Satin tends to be challenging to work with, given its slippery surface. 


All those technical stuff aside, given the oddly similar look, satin was widely (yet so wrongly) interchanged with silk. That is until polyester came into the picture and gave satin its own identity. Ok, a lot of people still don’t know that satin is not a fabric, but we’re hoping at least our readers know better by now. 😉

Weaving Silk

Close-up of blue fabric in a charmeuse weave pattern

Moving on to silk, weaving this fabric involves an extensive and intricate process since these are made from a natural material - the cocoons of silkworms.

In commercial weaving, cocoons are soaked in boiling water to soften the sericin, the protein derived from silkworms that mold the cocoon’s shape. This is then reeled into a single continuous silk thread and dyed to create different color variations. Before production, the silkworms are organically fed and live a protected life away from predators. China, India, Uzbekistan, Brazil, and Thailand are the top countries to practice commercial silk weaving. China has been at the top of the silk trade for centuries.  

At Celestial Silk, we use the charmeuse weave on our silk pillowcases.

Major Factors to Compare

What's the difference between silk and satin? comparison chart | Celestial Silk Mulberry Silk Pillowcases and Accessories

Aside from how silk and satin are made, both have distinct characteristics that set them apart. This section looks deeper at satin and silk’s composition, unique characteristics or features, and benefits.



As discussed earlier, satin is a weave structure that could be made from different materials such as cotton, wool, and polyester. Among the many fabrics, satin is often associated with polyester due to the lustrous effect this combo creates. That makes it suitable, right?


...Not exactly. 


Polyester is made from petroleum by-products. Petroleum being, you know, oil. This is combined with air and water. This makes polyester highly flammable and filled with chemicals. When turned into a pillowcase, these are the same elements that touch your skin night after every night. We know, *insert cringe reaction*.


Satin (or more appropriately termed polyester with a satin weave) is known to be equal parts shiny and dull, giving it that luxurious effect. This is man-made in manufacturing labs, which makes it cheap and synthetic. Read: harmful to the environment.


Oh, and it’s not breathable like silk, so don’t get your hopes too high!


Silk is a natural fiber derived from silkworms. It is made with two proteins called fibroin and sericin and over ten amino acids. Because of its natural process, silk has a distinguishable breathable surface that is also hypoallergenic and scent-free by nature. 


Moreover, silk is moisture-wicking and temperature-regulating. This means it leaves all the moisture on your skin, face, and hair. Just done doing your hair treatment? No worries, silk will preserve those curly goods for days without washing. Love doing skincare as a part of your nightly routine? Silk won’t absorb any products and will keep your face moisturized.


At the same time, silk allows you to be warm in the winter and cool in the summer. How convenient!

Characteristics & Benefits


Polyester products with a satin weave are often mistaken for silk, but it doesn’t mean that they have the same features. In the grand scheme, polyester is popular for being inexpensive and durable, which is why many companies opt for them as the cheaper alternative to silk. 


  • Durable - Polyester fabric is highly favored for its durability. It can withstand wear and tear, which is compatible with machine washing. It doesn’t require special care and is suitable for outdoor use, even with prolonged sun exposure.


  • Moisture-resistant - When you sweat or get soaked, your polyester shirt won’t be drenched - but you will be. This makes polyester hot and uncomfortable for warm weather, one of its most frowned upon characteristics. 


  • Retains shape - Other fabrics like cotton and linen wrinkle easily, while satin polyester somewhat retains its shape.


  • Non-biodegradable - On the flip side, most fabrics are non-biodegradable as they break down over time and don’t clog up landfills. Unfortunately, it’s the same with polyester. They are non-biodegradable, making them more harmful to the environment in the long run.


  • Coarse - Satin polyester looks glamorous from afar, but it’s surprisingly coarse to the touch. Its texture is more appropriate for outdoor use, furniture coverings, and household items than for garments and fashion.


Silk is known to be a luxurious fabric. There’s a reason why it’s recognized as the “finest fabric in the world.” As such, it has a negative connotation of being “expensive.” Although if you think about it, you are getting your money’s worth. So instead of writing it off as an expense, think of it as an ✨investment


  • Breathable fabric - Being made from natural materials, silk is best known for its breathability. This is the same characteristic that allows your scalp and hair follicles to properly retain moisture in your hair, thus making you feel relaxed and comfortable in your sleep.


  • Hypoallergenic - For people with plenty of sensitivities and allergies, silk can be a life-changing fabric - literally. Silk contains fibers that secrete a protein to repel allergy-inducing mites, mold, and fungi.


  • Premium shine and soft texture - Silk is naturally secreted by silkworms and contains sericin and fibroin proteins. Think of the sericin as a glue that coats the fibroin filaments to mold the cocoon into shape. As the silk is degummed (remember the silk weaving process earlier?), the sericin is removed and leaves the silk with the soft buttery feel we all love.


  • Quick drying - One of the FAQs new silk owners ask is how often should you wash silk pillowcases. Silk is best washed by hand or gently machine washed. Sure, it requires extra steps with maintenance, but what silk adds to the process makes up for its fast drying quality. You don’t even have to toss it into the dryer (..and you’re not supposed to anyway 🧐). Hang it to dry, away from direct sun, and voilá! It will dry up in time for bedtime.


  • Temperature-regulating - You only need to wear silk once to vouch for its amazing temperature-regulating quality. When it’s cold, it keeps you warm. When it’s warm, it keeps you cool. This makes it an excellent choice for sleepwear because you know you’ll be knocked out in its cozy, buttery goodness.

The Bottom Line

In the most significant form, the difference between silk and satin is the classification. Silk is a fabric type, while satin is a kind of weave. To this day, satin is known as a shiny fabric when people are actually referring to polyester. While it has its pros, polyester is far from silk when it comes to quality, texture, appearance, and even sustainability. Polyester in a satin weave may charm consumers with its irresistibly low price, but silk will give you what you pay for - an investment in your health and beauty regimen. 

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