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Just like a mattress, bedding can greatly enhance your quality of sleep. Bed sheets can affect our level of comfort, body temperature, and skin’s breathability—all of which are important for getting some much-needed shut-eye. But when it comes to bed sheets, what’s comfortable can be subjective and can vary from person to person, depending on climate, preference, and personal sleep habits.

So how do you know which type of bed sheets are right for you? First, it’s important to understand how the different fabrics, weaves, and thread counts can affect a sheet’s look and feel. Moreover, you’ll want to know what affects its durability and contributes to high-quality construction. Poor quality sheets can fall apart in a few months while high-quality sheets can last years when cared for properly.

With so many different types of bed sheets available, it can be confusing and stressful when narrowing down your options. In this article, we break down the three main things to look for when shopping for the best bed sheets, and tips for choosing the right ones.

What Should I Look For When Buying Bed Sheets?

There are three main factors that contribute to the way bed sheets look and feel, and how well they hold up over time: fabric, weave, and thread count. These are the key things to pay attention to when deciding which type of bed sheets are right for you.

Fabric

Fabric is the material that the sheets are made from, the most common being cotton. There are, however, many different types of fabrics that sheets can be made out of. Here, we explain the various types and what you can expect from each.

Cotton

Cotton is one of the most popular types of fabrics used in bed sheets because of its durability and softness. It’s also extremely breathable, so it’s a hit amongst hot sleepers. Cotton can absorb up to 27 times its own weight in water, so it effectively wicks away night sweats and keeps you cool.

Egyptian, Pima, and American Upland are the three most common types of cotton you’ll see when shopping for bed sheets.

When comparing the quality of cotton sheets, it’s best to look at the length of the cotton fibers in the sheet—this is called staple length. Longer fibers are stronger, smoother, and more durable. On the other hand, shorter fibers tend to pill and break down more easily. Long-staple and extra-long-staple cotton are the preferred option amongst shoppers because they make for soft and long-lasting bed sheets.

Sometimes sheets will feature combed cotton, which is made by combing the fibers to remove the shorter ones. This leaves only the long ones behind and creates a strong, soft, and luxurious fabric.

  • Egyptian: This is the highest-quality cotton with extra-long staple fibers. As its name suggests, Egyptian cotton is grown in the Nile River Valley. Expect ultra-soft sheets with a higher price tag.
  • Pima: Pima cotton is also an extra-long staple fiber cotton, albeit slightly shorter than Egyptian. It’s sourced from the United States and creates a very durable, soft fabric. It’s sometimes sold under the brand name Supima.
  • American Upland: The most common type of cotton, American Upland can range from short- to long-staple. If a bed sheet’s label only denotes 100% cotton, it is most likely Upland cotton.
  • Jersey Knit: Sometimes referred to as the “t-shirt fabric,” jersey knit is very soft, and is knitted rather than woven. It tends to be heavier and more heat-retaining, so it’s a great winter sheet. Its natural stretchiness makes it resistant to wrinkles, but it’s not very durable.
  • Flannel: Even heavier than jersey knit, flannel is very warm and not realistic for most summer climates. Flannel is sometimes referred to as brushed cotton.

Silk

Made from silkworms, silk is known for its luxurious feel. Silk is often expensive and it’s extremely delicate, so it’s not ideal for everyday use because it can become worn out somewhat quickly.

Satin

Satin has a silky, shiny look and is made using silk and either polyester, rayon, or acetate. Since these materials are not breathable, satin sheets can trap moisture and heat. Satin is often more prone to snags and pilling as well, so taking care of it can be challenging.

Polyester

Sheets made from the man-made fabric polyester can often be stiff and scratchy. Polyester is usually blended with other fabrics like cotton to create a softer product at a less expensive price.

Linen

Linen is a light, breathable fabric that’s very popular in warmer climates and during the summer. Its fibers come from the flax plant and it’s sometimes blended with cotton. Linen sheets are known for their casual, wrinkled look. They’re extremely durable and become softer over time.

Tencel

Tencel is an eco-friendly fabric that comes from Eucalyptus trees and is generally softer than cotton. It’s naturally wrinkle-resistant, hypoallergenic, and very breathable.

Blends

Blended fabrics consist of multiple types of fabrics that have been woven together. Cotton and polyester are the most common type of blend. Other ones include wool and cotton, and linen and cotton. Blended fabrics are generally more affordable options.

Microfiber

Microfiber is a combination of polyester and nylon. Microfiber sheets are budget-friendly and commonly found on Amazon and in stores like Target and Walmart. Despite their popularity, they receive some criticism due to their tendency to trap heat. If you’re a hot sleeper, we suggest avoiding microfiber sheets. Even using just a microfiber flat sheet (and not the entire sheet set) is enough to cause overheating.

Weave

A sheet’s weave refers to how the fabric is woven together. This is important because the weave can change the feel and breathability of fabrics. Percale and sateen are the two most common types of weaves, but both have distinct characteristics.

Percale

Known as a plain-weave fabric, percale follows a one-yarn-over, one-yarn-under pattern. This creates a crisp finish with a matte look. The threads in percale weaves are thinner and tightly woven together resulting in a lightweight, breathable finish. Percale cotton sheets are great for summer or for anyone who tends to sleep hot.

Sateen

Sateen has a more luminous sheen and buttery soft feel. Unlike percale, a sateen weave features a three-yarn-over, one-yarn-under pattern. This exposes more surface of the thread and creates a silkier feel. Sateen sheets have thicker threads, making them heavier and much better at retaining heat. This makes them ideal during winter or for those who sleep cool. They’re also easily draped and create a luxurious look.

Less Common Weaves

Another type of weave that is not as common is Oxford, the same type used to make men’s dress shirts. An Oxford weave is similar to percale but has twice as many threads that run lengthwise. These sheets will be heavier and super crisp.

A twill weave features a diagonal pattern and textured surface. This makes it very durable and good at hiding dirt and stains.

Thread Count

Thread count is the number of threads woven together in one square inch of fabric. This includes both horizontal and vertical threads. For example, 150 vertical threads and 150 horizontal threads would make a 300-thread count. In sheets, thread counts generally range between 200 and 600.

Why Thread Count Matters

A sheet’s thread count can tell us how dense the weave is. The higher the thread count, the tighter the weave. A denser weave can mean higher durability and softness, but it can also mean a thicker, heavier product that is far less breathable.

We suggest a thread count between 250 and 350 because sheets within this range are breathable but durable.

Single-Ply vs. Multi-Ply

Ply is the number of threads twisted together in yarn. Single-ply yarn (one thread) is more pliable and makes a softer fabric. Two-ply yarn, which uses two threads, will be slightly less pliable and softer.

Why Thread Count is Not the Most Important Criteria

Thread count can be misleading—it’s a common misconception that higher thread count is better, but brands have found ways to inflate thread count, making it harder for customers to truly gauge the quality and durability of a potential sheet.

One way to inflate thread count is to use multi-ply yarn and count the number of threads in their ply. For example, a manufacturer will count two-ply yarn as two yarns instead of one, meaning a 300-thread-count sheet using two-ply yarn is advertised as 600 thread count.

Whenever you see a very high thread count (above 600), take pause. It’s likely that the manufacturer has used two-ply yarn. This could mean the sheets will be more likely to pill and less soft.

The Federal Trade Commission even released a statement stating that “consumers could be deceived or misled by the practice of stating an inflated thread count.” We suggest paying less mind to this number and closer attention to the actual fabric of the sheet because, while yes, thread count is important for determining breathability and durability, the quality of threads is often more important than the number of threads.

Various Fits and Sizes of Bed Sheets

Fitted vs. Flat Sheets

Fitted sheets, sometimes called bottom sheets, fit snug around your mattress because they feature elastic corners to hold the sheet in place. Fitted sheets are what you lay on top of in bed, so they serve to protect your mattress and offer a smooth sleeping surface.

Flat sheets, sometimes called top sheets, are the ones we drape over us. Flat sheets act as a barrier between our bodies and our comforters. They can also help with temperature control. During cold months, a flat sheet works with your comforter to add warmth. And, in warmer months, using just your flat sheet offers a quick fix for a cooler sleep.

Size

Generally, the size of your mattress will determine the size of the sheets you need. While the exact measurements can vary from mattress to mattress, common sizes include:

  • Twin: Approximately 38 in. by 75 in.
  • Twin XL: Approximately 38 in. by 80 in.
  • Full: Approximately 54 in. by 75 in.
  • Queen: Approximately 60 in. by 80 in.
  • King: Approximately 76 in. by 80 in.
  • California King: Approximately 72 in. by 84 in.

Pocket Depth

Deep-pocketed sheets have extra-large pockets and are slightly bigger to accommodate thicker mattresses. If you have a pillow top mattress or even just a mattress topper, you may need to get a deeper set of sheets for them to properly fit. Deeper pocket bed sheets will fit better because they have more fabric to tuck under your mattress.

Deep pocket sheets often come in “deep” and “extra deep” and depending on the manufacturer, can range in actual depth. Look for the actual pocket size to ensure you’re purchasing sheets that will fit your mattress.

To determine your correct sheet size, measure the height of your mattress at the center-most point of your bed. Then, add two inches (to account for the material needed to tuck under the mattress). This is the pocket depth you need. Some standard pocket depth measurements are:

  • Standard: 7 to 14 in.
  • Deep: 15 in.
  • Extra Deep: 16 to 22 in.

Tips for Choosing the Best Bed Sheets for You

When choosing bed sheets, it’s important to evaluate your needs and preferences. Consider things like the climate of where you live, whether you sleep cool or hot, and how you’d like them to feel.

If you live in a warm or humid climate, you’ll want sheets that are light and breathable, like percale cotton, linen, or Tencel sheet to keep you cool and dry. On the contrary, colder climates might best be suited to sateen cotton or flannel sheets because they are heavier and better at retaining heat.

If you’re looking for something that can withstand pets, kids, and plenty of washes, choose something known for its durability. Linen or American Upland cotton sheets are both great options.

Other Things to Consider When Shopping for Bed Sheets

  • Color: Darker colors can absorb the sun’s warmth during the day and hold it in for hours. Opt for lighter colors for a cooler sleep.
  • Finishes (wrinkle-resistant, stain-resistant): These types of sheets are usually less breathable and often contain chemicals to achieve their finish, which can be an irritant for those with sensitive skin.
  • Organic Fabrics: Organic fabrics feature materials that have been sourced naturally from the earth. They’re a great eco-friendly option and are ideal for anyone prone to skin- or allergy-irritants since they aren’t treated with chemicals or dyes.

FAQs

What should I look for when buying bed sheets?

The three main components to keep in mind when buying bed sheets are fiber, weave, and thread count. These things together affect the breathability, durability, look, and feel of sheets.

Does a higher thread count mean softer sheets?

Not necessarily. A very high thread count can mean the manufacturer is using multi-ply yarn and artificially inflating the thread count. Multi-ply yarn is not as soft or durable as single-ply yarn.

However, when using single-ply yarn, a higher thread count translates to a softer product due to the tighter weave. For sheets that are soft, yet still durable and breathable, we recommend a thread count between 250 and 350.

What’s the difference between percale and sateen?

Percale and sateen are two different types of weaves and they refer to how the cotton fibers are woven together. Percale will be lighter and more breathable with a crisp, cool feel and matte look. It’s great during the summer or for anyone who sleeps hot.

Sateen features a more silky and soft feel with a luminous sheen. It drapes better than percale, however, its threads are thicker and retain heat more. Sateen is ideal during the winter or for anyone who sleeps cool.

If I sleep hot, which type of sheets are best for me?

If you sleep hot, you’ll want light, breathable sheets for year-round use. Cotton is one of the best materials for this. Percale cotton in a light color is a great option because percale is the lightest, most breathable weave and light colors are less likely to absorb the sun’s warmth than darker colors. Linen is another great pick for anyone who sleeps hot. It’s also light, breathable, and very durable.

How should I care for my bed sheets?

Proper care is important for prolonging the life of your sheets. Avoid washing your sheets with harsh fabrics or cleaners because doing so can cause pilling and damage your sheet. We also suggest air drying or tumble drying sheets on low heat to prevent damage to the fabric’s fibers or the elasticity of the fitted sheet.

Conclusion

There are many different types of fabrics used in bed sheets, each offering their own unique benefits. While cotton is the most popular fabric, the varying weaves can completely change the look and feel of the sheet.

Additionally, thread count is an important factor to keep in mind but can be misleading due to manufacturers using multi-ply yarn. Understanding what thread count is and how it affects breathability and durability is more important than finding a sheet with the highest thread count.

Overall, each person’s bed sheet preference will be based on personal factors, so there is not a “best” type of bed sheet for everybody. Evaluating the look, feel, durability, and breathability is the best way to determine the best bed sheets for you.

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