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How to Buy Sheets

BY: Editors | Jun 28, 2018

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It’s easy to overlook the importance of the humble bed sheet: just buy a set (or a few), decide whether to tuck or untuck, and you’re done, right? In fact, having the right set of sheets is key to your nightly comfort, as different types are more breathable or softer than others. Read on for a guide to how to buy bed sheets that suit your needs, including a rundown of thread count, types of weaves, and the many materials available to choose from.

Bed Sheets at a Glance

Material Feel Pros Cons
Cotton Soft and cool Soft, breathable, durable fabric Easily wrinkles, and high-quality cotton can be pricey  
Linen Light and cool, a bit rough at first but softens over time Regulates temperature well, wicks away moisture from the body, and highly durable Pricey, and will always look wrinkled unless it’s ironed, so best for those who like a more casual look
Bamboo  Very soft and smooth Among the softer sheets and naturally breathable 100% bamboo sheets are often pricey, and the fiber-creation process may negatively impact the environment
Microfiber, Polyester, and Other Synthetics Soft and warm Wrinkle-free, resists stains, affordable, and retains body heat for comfy wintertime sleeping Not as breathable, and microfiber threads may come off in the wash, which can lead to water pollution


The Materials

All About Cotton

Your basic cotton plant is the most common source of the fibers that go into bed sheets. Generally soft and breathable, cotton sheets are comfortable to sleep under even if the summer heat is stifling.

Cotton Quality

  1. 100% Egyptian cotton: The longest, finest fibers result in the softest, most durable bed sheets. They get even softer with repeated use. Expect to pay around $500 for the best.
  2. 100% pima cotton (AKA Supima): High-quality sheets made out of extralong fibers. Supima is a trademark for pima cotton grown in the American Southwest by a consortium of growers. Only about 3% of the annual US cotton crop is Supima. It might be tougher to find, but it's well worth it. Expect to pay around $200 for pima sheets.
  3. American Upland: If you see a label that reads “100% cotton,” without specifying the type, it’s likely American Upland cotton. This cotton has short fibers, which can poke out when woven together. The result is a rougher fabric that’s not as durable and more likely to pill. However, it’s significantly more affordable.

Note: Some cotton is combed, which means that the shortest fibers were removed to ensure a stronger weave.

SHOP: COTTON SHEETS

Cotton Rich—Not Quite Cotton

Cotton-rich sheets contain at least 50% cotton; the remainder is generally polyester. They tend to be less expensive than 100% cotton sheets, but they may not be quite as breathable. They are generally more resistant to wrinkles and have a smooth finish that makes for a nice presentation in guest rooms.

SHOP: COTTON-RICH SHEETS

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Linen Lowdown

Linen sheets are crisp, airy, and great at wicking away moisture from the body. They’re also great at regulating temperature, making them ideal for both hot and cold sleepers. They can be a bit stiff at first, but they soften up over time. Linen sheets are also known to be long-lasting.

Bamboo Breakdown

Another all-natural material, bamboo is a sustainable, quickly growing plant that generally doesn’t need watering outside of normal rainfall. It is naturally antimicrobial and odor-, mildew-, and mold-resistant, so you can go a little longer between washes. Material made from bamboo is durable and soft.

Bamboo Rayon/Viscose

Rayon is a type of fiber created from wood cellulose, which can come from trees, or in the case of bamboo fabrics, bamboo. It is created by dissolving the cellulose in a viscose liquid and then pushing it through tiny holes to create fibers, which are woven together. Sometimes you’ll see bamboo sheets labeled “viscose” and sometimes “rayon,” but it means the same thing.

100% Bamboo

This label means the manufacturer did not mix the viscose bamboo with any other fabrics during the creation process.

SHOP: BAMBOO SHEETS

The Skinny on Microfiber, Polyester, and Other Synthetics

These sheets vary in construction and feel, but they're generally soft and wrinkle-free. And synthetic sheets won't pill, as cotton tends to do. They also retain more body heat, which makes them a good option for wintertime but less ideal for summer and hot sleepers.

SHOP: SYNTHETIC SHEETS

The Weave

Bed sheets come in a variety of weaves, that is, how the strands of fabric are woven together. Each weaving technique contributes to differences between sheet sets. The most important difference can be noticed as you drift off to sleep—the sheets’ precise feel. Among the most common weaves and designs:

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Damask

Originally created in Damascus, Syria, damask’s multilayer weave improves its breathability. It can come in a range of textural patterns.

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Embossed

Embossed simply means the design was heat-pressed onto the sheet, which shouldn’t affect its breathability. Embossed designs are often subtle and intricate.

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Flannel

You don’t have to be a lumberjack to enjoy flannel, which is a bit heavier than most other cotton types and has a napped finish that’s soft and fuzzy. Flannel is ideal for curling up under when temperatures plummet.

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Jacquard

Similar to damask, you’ll feel the pattern on these sheets, as it’s woven into the face of the sheets themselves. Jacquard patterns are typically intricate, with a luxe vibe.

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Jersey

Think of your favorite old cotton T-shirt and you’ll understand how jersey sheets feel—soft, comfortable, and homey. They’re made of knit (rather than woven) fabric, so they tend to be stretchier than other sheets. They can also retain more heat, making them better suited to chilly weather.

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Percale

The yarns that go into a percale bed sheet are woven in a one-over, one-under pattern, which results in a more durable construction that nonetheless leaves plenty of room for air to pass in and out. They may, however, feel a bit stiff at first. Wash them regularly to make them softer.

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Printed

Unlike damask or jacquard, the pattern on a printed sheet isn’t woven in; it’s dyed in. Printed sheets are popular in kids’ bedding sets, but sometimes you’ll find sets for adults printed in vivid florals.

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Sateen

Woven in a four-over, one-under pattern, the surface of sateen sheets will feel especially soft and smooth, though they may be less durable. 

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Satin

A combination of polyester and silk, these sheets are known for their romantic vibe. They always feel luxuriously soft and cool to the touch, which means they’re best in summer. However, try sleeping with a satin pillowcase year-round if you have damage-prone hair—satin is thought to keep hair soft and hydrated.

The Importance of Thread Count

You’ll see the term “thread count” on most cotton and many cotton-rich sheets; it doesn’t apply to sheets made of knit fabrics, such as jersey. It’s a salient-enough feature that many bed sheet manufacturers go out of their way to note when a sheet set has a high thread count.

What is it?

Thread count is a numerical value used to measure how many strands of thread are woven into a fabric. It's measured by counting the number of threads contained in 1 square inch of fabric, including both the length (warp) and width (weft) of threads.

Why does it matter?

Generally, the higher the thread count, the softer the sheets, but anywhere from 200 to 800 means they’ll be comfortable and long-lasting. Prices tend to climb along with the thread count, but know that many sheets have diminishing returns as numbers get into the high hundreds. In addition, thread count doesn’t assess fabric quality, so materials are still the most important factor.

What if the package notes “GSM” instead?

With synthetic materials such as microfiber, you’ll sometimes see the measurement of grams per square meter, or GSM. It’s a measurement of weight, so the idea is that the heavier the material, the thicker it is. The same caveats apply here, though; just because a sheet set has a higher GSM doesn’t automatically mean it has better construction.

Eco-Friendly Options

If you care about being kinder to the earth, consider buying organic cotton sheets, which eschew pesticides and herbicides. 

SHOP: ORGANIC COTTON SHEETS

Care

All sheets come with care instructions; the vast majority are machine washable. In general you’ll want to wash and dry sheets on the gentle side, as hot water and high heat can weaken the fibers. It’s also a good idea to change bed sheets weekly so that they pick up less oil and residue between washings.

Mattress Size

Properly set up, the fitted sheet of any sheet set needs to cover the entire mattress, with the corners securely tucked under. To figure out whether a fitted sheet will work with your mattress:

  • First take a measurement of the thickness of the mattress from top to bottom, factoring in pillowtops and mattress toppers.
  • Determine the pocket depth on the fitted sheet, which is often provided by the packaging (if not, measure the seam in the pocket).
  • With both measurements in hand, this rule of thumb will help you determine whether a fitted sheet should fit your mattress: 
Mattress Height Suggested Pocket Depth
7"–12" Standard (7"–9")
13"–17" Deep (10"–15")
18"–25" Extra Deep (15"–22")

 

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