Sheets can and should be a long term purchase, even lasting as long as 20 years. They should fee great too!
Before spending $600, or even as little as $20 on bed sheets, let’s look at the facts. Either purchase could end in regret without the right information.
Three important elements to consider when buying sheets:
- Thread count
Thread count is the number of vertical and horizontal threads per inch of the fabric. High thread count does not always mean better quality sheets. It is a myth that many fall for. Some manufacturers use low quality fibers with a high thread count or even count the threads in a way that is not up to standards. A low quality 600 thread count could be inferior to a high quality 200 thread count. High thread counts can make for better sheets, no doubt, but too high of a thread count can prevent air flow which creates hot sheets that dry slowly. The standard desired thread count is 200-300. It’s the fiber combined with thread count that matters most, which leads us to the important issue of fiber quality when selecting sheets.
Cotton-polyester is often referred to as percale and is a 50/50 blend of cotton and polyester. The word percale is also referred to as a weave, which we will discuss later. Non 100% cotton blends are common today due to being inexpensive, wrinkle free, and durable. The down side is that it doesn’t breathe well and will pill over time which can be a deal breaker if you want long term sheets that get softer with age. These blends are usually offered in much lower thread counts.
100% cotton is the most desired fiber on the market due to being cool, soft, and durable. There are several forms of cotton including organic, Pima or Supima (extra long staple Pima), and Egyptian. All are less likely to pill up, and will soften with use. Organic cottons are grown free of chemicals and have government approval on the packaging. Pima and Supima are typically made in the US while Egyptian cottons are from Egypt. All are from a long fiber stable and are excellent choices. Look for these cotton sheets with a 200-300 thread count. The only poor cotton choice is muslin. Typically used in children’s theme bedding, they are rough and tough. Muslin is the lowest end of cotton. You might also come across the term “combed cotton” which is simply a process that eliminates impurities and undesirable fibers in the cotton. It is not a type of cotton. Hang in there, we are making progress in understanding this sheet industry!
Linen is also a very desirable fiber for bed sheets due to its durability and organic nature. Typically from Belgium, the linen comes from flax plants. Linen is fundamentally different than cotton because the strands that make up the yarn are much larger grass-like stalks that are hollow. The large stalks are very absorbent but cannot be woven tightly together. As a result, linen will naturally have a lower thread count. It is a great choice for those with allergies because it suppresses live pathogenic bacteria and fungi. Linen breathes well (even better than cotton) so it keeps you cool in the summer and warm in the winter, which is why we wear linen on the beach! It also dries quickly and gets softer with wear. Linen sheets can last a lifetime, but are considerably more expensive than cotton sheets and are harder to find.
Silk sheets are available hut are extremely expensive to purchase and require dry cleaning weekly. Unless you’re royalty, I’d steer clear of this budget breaker.
Both 100% cotton and 100% linen sheets will wrinkle. Don’t bother ironing. Just pull them straight out of the dryer and directly on the bed. They are so soft, you won’t mind a few wrinkles. These are all time favorites!
Weave of the fibers is something to be aware ofso that the words on the packaging don’t confuse you. Here is a quick glossary of weave terms:
Sateen– is woven where most threads are on the surface creating an initial softness that is smooth with a high sheen. Unfortunately this weave will eventually cause pilling.
Percale– is a flat and balanced weave found in cotton and cotton/poly blended sheets.
Jersey– is woven in loose and stretchy t-shirt style cotton that can pill.
Flannel– has a brushed woven surface that creates warmth but will pill.
Patterned– weaves are designs woven in the fiber such as damasks, jacquards, herringbones, etc. They are beautiful, but can add expense to the sheets.
Ultimately when choosing sheets, go for the best fiber for your lifestyle in the best quality available, paring it with a 200-300 thread count. I personally recommend a 200 thread count Pima cotton or a 100% Belgian linen. So, before you decide to buy a new set of sheets, consider that it might save money in the long run to buy a set that is initially a bigger investment, but will last many years to come rather than buying inferior sheets that will need to be replaced in a short period of time.
Sleep soft and sleep well! Happy sheet shopping!
(Originally published in MOXIE! Magazine SPRING/SUMMER 2o13)