10 Tips for Buying Bedding

What to look for and how to cut costs

It doesn't pay to skimp on bedding, but at the same time, it always pays to shop smartly. Here are some tips for finding high-quality bedding and not spending more than you have to:

1. Cotton sheets are described by thread count, which literally means the number of threads in the cloth. Most sheets are in the 200 range, while expensive sheets can go from 250 to more than 300. The higher the thread count, the softer and more durable they are. Hold up a sheet to the light to determine its quality. Light will not shine through a high-thread-count sheet. Also, high-thread-count sheets won't fuzz or pill. Another great way to test this is to scratch the sheet with your fingernail to see if any pill comes off. If so, it's a lesser-quality sheet.

2. The finest-quality wool blankets available are of merino wool. They are also the warmest. Synthetic blankets, however, are non-allergenic, less expensive and easier to wash.

3. Fill power, or "loft," is a measurement of the quality of down products. Down comforters with great loft have fluffy clusters of down that have the power to fill the comforter with fewer ounces than inferior types of down. Down comforters with high fill power listed on the package are lighter and warmer than down comforters with less fill power listed on the label (or not listed at all). Remember, it's not the ounces that are important, it's the fill power of the down.

4. Rather than buying an expensive duvet cover for a comforter, buy a couple of flat sheets in the size and color you need and sew them together on three sides. Sew grommets into the fourth side and close with a decorative ribbon.

5. You can buy a full flat sheet to use instead of a queen flat sheet for a queen-size bed. Not only is a full sheet less expensive, but there's much less material hanging over the edge when you make the bed.

6. When buying flannel sheets, make sure the label says "preshrunk." Otherwise, the flannel will probably shrink, causing your fitted sheet to no longer fit.

7. For the summer months, buy easy-care cotton or thermal blankets. These will allow air to flow through them.

8. If you want to give your mattress a pillow-top look and feel, buy either a featherbed or a polyester fiber bed. They're soft and luxurious and give your bed that "lofty" look. They're also less expensive than a new mattress.

9. When buying a mattress with a pillow top, it's important to buy fitted sheets deep enough to fit over the extra thickness of the mattress. Many people think that buying a larger size will do the trick, but they're just longer and wider and end up not fitting. Deep fitted sheets run anywhere from 13 inches to 22 inches depending on how thick your new mattress is. If you own some wonderful sheets that you want to continue using, just buy "suspenders" for the fitted sheet, which will keep it from popping off.

10. To fill a decorative sham, buy an inexpensive queen-size pillow. It fills the sham completely-even in the corners-and will give your bed that beautiful full look.

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