Guide to Buying Sheets

How to choose sheets that are soft, comfortable and long-lasting.

Bedding Basics 01:44

Get expert tips for buying the right bedding for your space.
Iron Bed Near Window

Iron Bed Near Window

Trying to settle on a set of sheets? Understanding some basics about the fabrics they're made of will help you compare labels wisely and make a smart choice.

"Cotton is by far the most-loved fabric for sheets," says Jim Symmes, vice president at Revman International, which manufactures sheets for prominent brands such as Tommy Bahama and Laura Ashley. "It's soft, durable, and breathes well. But improvements in the manufacturing process and finishing techniques mean that other fabrics like polyester can be a viable alternative to cotton." What you're looking for is what the industry dubs a nice "hand"-soft and luxe to the touch.

Some fabrics may fit your needs better than others. Here's a guide to choosing the sheet that's right for you:

Price for your skin type

Sheets made of microfiber-fabric composed of extremely fine fibers of polyester-are affordable and soft, and they resist pilling more than traditional polyester fabric does. However, polyester is less breathable than cotton and is probably not the best choice for those with sensitive skin.

Cotton jersey sheets are also reasonably priced and very breathable because they're knit rather than woven. Jersey is basically T-shirt fabric, so jersey sheets may appeal to you if you like sleeping in a soft old shirt.

Microfiber and jersey don't have the cool crispness of woven cotton, so if you like to flip your pillows to the cool side all night long, you're better off looking at an inexpensive cotton percale instead.

Know your cotton

The highest-quality, softest sheets use cotton with extra-long fibers (called long-staple fibers) that can be spun into fine, strong yarns. Certified long-staple cottons include Egyptian, pima, and Supima®. That doesn't mean that other types of cotton don't make nice sheets, Symmes says. A fabric that is finished nicely with a high thread count can be made of a non-certified cotton and still be very comfortable.

Thread count matters, but highest isn't always best

Thread count refers to the number of horizontal and vertical threads per square inch. Generally, the higher the thread count, the softer the sheet, and the more likely it will wear well-or even soften-over time. Good sheets range anywhere from 200 to 800, although you'll occasionally see numbers over 1,000. Astronomical thread counts don't necessarily mean the sheet is better-there are even tricks to inflating the thread count (such as using multiple yarns twisted together) that don't actually improve the hand of the fabric and may even detract from its quality. 

Don't assume a low thread count means low-quality sheets. "There are 200-count cotton sheets out there that are finished very nicely and actually feel like they have a higher thread count," Symmes says. "Fewer chemicals and more mechanical finishings are used these days, giving a nice hand and performance." If you're watching pennies, try a 200-count combed cotton set from a well-known brand; name brands are likely to have high certification standards for their finishing processes.

Symmes says that his ideal sheet is a combed cotton sheet in the 300 to 400 thread count range.

Weaves and other details

Usually, the fabric weave and the manufacturing processes used won't be a big factor in your decision; often they don't even appear on the packaging. But there are a few terms you should know:

  • Sateen is cotton cloth made with a satin weave, a weave that produces a very soft, lustrous feel but can be somewhat less durable than a tighter weave.
  • Percale is the crisp, durable plain weave fabric typically used for sheets; it has a thread count of at least 180.  
  • Combed cotton has been combed to remove the short fibers and leave the long ones, which makes for a strong, soft fabric. 

6 Tips: Selecting Bedding

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Go Bold in the Bedroom

At Jonathan Adler, optimistic color and modernist design are part of the company's fun and luxe bedding collection. As Jonathan notes, bedding is "the first thing you see in the morning and the last thing you see when you go to bed. It should make you happy and calm — choose colors and textures that you love. Our bedding brings our favorite colors, groovy fabrics and the luxury of cotton percale to your bed, making you well rested when you wake." Image courtesy of Jonathan Adler

Photo By: Jonathan Adler

Layer Patterned Linens

Textile designer John Robshaw travels the world to discover the most luxurious linens to create layers of exotic touches for his bedding collection. "Layering and having seasonal options is always key. For instance, have a couple different sets of patterned sheets that you can swap out for variety, or coordinated quilts on hand when it's too warm for a duvet. I think more is more." Image courtesy of John Robshaw

Photo By: John Robshaw

Splurge on Down

Says designer Taniya Nayak, "When it comes to choosing a comforter, I prefer a 100-percent down comforter that can fit inside a duvet." Pair a down comforter with splurge-worthy bedding that has a high thread count. As Taniya notes, "Bedding is not the place to skimp when it comes to saving money because a good night's sleep is truly priceless." Image courtesy of Taniya Nayak

Thread Count Matters

Jonathan Adler agrees that thread count matters when it comes to luxurious bedding, "Our bedding is 400 thread count; very soft, sumptuous and just heaven for resting your weary head at night," says Jonathan. Image courtesy of Jonathan Adler

Photo By: Jonathan Adler

Make It Comfy

For comfortable bedding Taniya Nayak advises purchasing "down comforters, mattress toppers and pillows. For pillows, purchase inexpensive pillows for a decorative, layered effect and buy quality ones for your good night's rest. If you're someone that sleeps on their back, foam pillows may give more support than down. If you sleep on your stomach, try a softer down pillow." Image courtesy of Taniya Nayak

Purchase Bedding That Will Last

Finally, choose quality bedding that will endure years of laundering. At John Robshaw, the prewash process creates bedding that will wear beautifully over time. Says John, "I like a dry 300 thread count Egyptian cotton percale; it washes perfectly. Since we print then again wash our fabrics, they have a great prewashed hand and our colors last and last." Image courtesy of John Robshaw

See our bedding glossary for more information on fabrics, finishes and styles.

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