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.
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Know the Material
Both natural and synthetic materials are used to make bed sheets; sometimes a blend of the two is used. But different materials come with their own advantages.
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. Some cotton is combed, which means that the shortest fibers were removed to ensure a stronger weave.
Benefits: Treated well, your sheets can last a number of years.
Pro tip: They get wrinkled easily, so take them out of the dryer as soon as it turns off. For a pristine, hotel-like finish, iron them before use.
Supima and Pima Cotton
Pima is a general term for a cotton variety with extralong fibers; Supima is a trademark for pima cotton grown in the American Southwest by a consortium of growers. They’re a step up in quality from basic cotton sheets, but that means they’ll also cost more.
Benefits: They absorb more dye (and retain it longer) than regular cotton, so prints and colors are more vivid. The strands are also more durable, so these will last longer.
Pro Tip: Only about 3% of the annual US cotton crop is Supima. It might be tougher to find, but it’s well worth it.
Thanks to its extralong fibers, which are wound into thin but durable strands, Egyptian cotton (a large part of which is indeed from Egypt) is the highest-quality and most expensive material available for bed sheets.
Benefits: Not only do they stand up to repeated washings and long-term use, potentially for several years, but they also get softer and softer the longer you use them.
Pro Tip: These should be laundered as gently as possible, using delicate cycles and detergent and low heat.
Another all-natural material, bamboo is a good choice for the eco-conscious, as the quick-growing plant generally doesn’t need watering outside of normal rainfall. Material made from bamboo is durable and soft.
Benefits: Bamboo is naturally antimicrobial and odor-, mildew-, and mold-resistant, so you can go a little longer between washes.
Pro Tip: If you have sensitive skin, bamboo sheets might be a good option.
These 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.
Benefits: The addition of polyester makes them more resistant to wrinkles.
Pro Tip: Due to their smooth finish, they make for a nice presentation in guest rooms.
Microfiber, Polyester, and Other Synthetics
These sheets vary in construction and feel, but they’re generally soft and wrinkle-free.
Benefits: Synthetic sheets won’t pill, as cotton tends to do. They also retain more body heat, which makes them a good option for wintertime.
Pro Tip: Resistant to stains and wrinkles, these sheets are easy to care for.
Know 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:
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 simply means the design was heat-pressed onto the sheet, which shouldn’t affect its breathability. Embossed designs are often subtle and intricate.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Find the 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.
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.
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: