What to look for in a set of sheets

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One often overlooked piece of the sleep environment is your sheet set. People often buy sheets based solely on the color. Some of the more “sophisticated” customers also look at thread count. Is that enough? Here, we look at some other things to consider when buying a set of sheets with a focus on getting a better night’s sleep. 

Factors to consider when buying a set of sheets

There are a lot of factors to sort through when comparing sheet sets. The biggest thing most people look for is thread count. The higher the thread count, in general, the smoother the sheet will feel and the more durable it tends to be. This is not always true, however. You can have a set of sheets with an enormous 1500 thread count be much weaker than a sheet set with only a 400 thread count. A lot of people look for specific colors in their sheets, which I cannot comment on since I am not an interior designer.

In addition to thread count and color, you need to consider the material, the weave, the depth, and any extra features the sheets have.

Material

There are a lot of materials that sheets can be made of. Among the choices are:

  1. Cotton – Cotton is the most common material to use in sheets. The nicest type of cotton sheets are Egyptian cotton. Egyptian cotton plants (so-called “long-staple” cotton) has longer strands which produce a higher quality thread. These tend to be some of the most expensive sheets. There is also Pima cotton, which is nearly as luxurious as Egyptian. If you see something that says 100% cotton, but doesn’t specify if it’s Egyptian or Pima, then it’s probably a low quality cotton.
  2. Tencel/Rayon/Lyocell – Tencel is a brand name of Lyocell fiber, which is a type of rayon. It’s made of cellulose, usually from renewable resources. Because of this, Tencel is the more eco-friendly choice. It has a soft feel, has anti-microbial properties, and wicks away moisture. The downside: it’s rather expensive. For more about Tencel, this wisegeek post has more.
  3. Microfiber – Microfiber is a synthetic fiber made of polyester or sometimes nylon fibers. This tends to be quite durable for the price, but not as comfortable as cotton or Tencel. The main benefit of microfiber sheets is the cost. Microfiber sheets are some of the least expensive sheets you can find.
  4. Flannel – Flannel is made from wool, cotton, or a blend with synthetics. Technically, flannel is a type of weave, not a material. Flannel sheets are popular for use during the winter since they are good at keeping you warm, though they also work well in the summer instead of a blanket, particularly if you keep your bedroom cold. Unlike other materials, flannel sheets often don’t give a thread count, but rather a weight per area (usually ounces per square yard, but sometimes grams per square meter).
  5. Silk – Silk sheets have a very smooth feel and, if cared for properly, will last a long time. However, caring for silk sheets properly can be a lot more work than caring for other types of sheets.  Silk sheets should be hand-washed the first few times to “break them in.” Then, when using a washing machine in subsequent cleanings, it should be set to the delicates cycle with cold water and a gentle detergent. In addition to this extra work, silk sheets are expensive. For this reason, most people don’t get silk sheets. If you decide on silk, look for a high “momme weight” (~15+) and be prepared to put in the extra work to care for them.

Weave

In addition to the material, the type of weave the sheets use determine how the sheets feel and how durable they are. Here a few of the more popular ones.

  1. Percale – The percale weave is kind of the “standard” weave, where the vertical and horizontal threads (called warp and weft threads, respectively) cross over one another one at a time. Percale is durable and crisp feeling.
  2. Sateen – This weave gives the sheet a smoother, silkier feel, but at the expense of a little durability. In this weave, the threads cross over 4, then under 1 (or a similar ratio, it can vary a little). This weave is only called sateen if it’s cotton or a similar material. Otherwise, it’s called:
  3. Satin – The same weave as sateen, but with a fabric like nylon, polyester, or silk.
  4. Jersey – This is a knit fabric rather than woven. It’s knit in the same way as t-shirts are. These are soft and comfortable, but can shrink (just like your t-shirt).

Depth

Another thing to consider is the depth of the mattress. If you have a very deep mattress (like most pillowtops), you might need to measure the sheets and see if they are designed to fit a mattress of your depth. You may hear the term “deep pocket” sheets. There isn’t a standard definition for exactly how deep it has to be to be considered “deep pocket,” so just make sure the product description or packaging tells you what depth of mattress it fits. It’s best to not pick a set of sheets exactly at the high end of the range. For example, if your mattress is 14″ thick, and the sheets say they fit mattresses up to 14″, the fitted sheet will likely pop off the edges, especially if you sleep near the edge of the mattress. The added weight of a person lying down on the mattress will pull the sheet right off if it’s barely holding on to begin with. Conversely, don’t get a sheet set designed to fit mattresses much bigger than yours. The sheets will bunch off due to a lack of tension holding it in place, which can lead to a lumpy sleep surface, which can disturb your sleep.

Extra features

Some sheet sets will have extra features to make them more appealing. For example, some sheets have bands diagonally across the bottom corners, to keep the sheet from popping off. This is especially useful if you have a motorized base under the mattress.  Others report to be wrinkle-resistant and anti-microbial (mostly features of the material, covered earlier). Keep your eyes open for any little features like this to help you make your decision.

Conclusion

In conclusion, don’t rely solely on thread count and color to make your decision. A lower thread count sheet Egyptian cotton with a sateen weave might feel better and be more durable than a 1500 thread count microfiber sheet. Also, if you’re buying online, please be sure to read carefully. “Egyptian quality” microfiber sheets are not the same as “Egyptian cotton” sheets, for example.

If you have anything to add to this guide, please leave it in the comments. And if this has helped you, please share it with your friends. Thanks for reading.

Disclosure: This site receives a payment from Amazon when you purchase a product using any links to that company in this article.

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Questions & Comments

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Peggy S. Casarella Says

August 31, 2017 at 6:51 am

One of my biggest concerns are pilling! I have worn out an old set of Westport Stevens queen size 50/50 cotton polyester sheets because they are the best sheets I've ever had! They are crisp, low wrinkles and NO pilling! I need new sheets but I am having such a hard time finding the same type. I have bought cotton and cotton blends but I end up disappointed and sometimes with pills.

Ani Says

January 23, 2017 at 5:33 pm

You're probably thinking about linen sheets. The flax fibers in linen are longer than any cotton fibers, which makes them extremely durable. They also get softer the more they're used. I bought some and it was the best bedding choice I ever made.

Gigi Says

October 4, 2016 at 7:50 pm

I would love to find sheets like Grandma had. They lasted forever and were always soft and wrinkle free it seemed. Anyone remember? They were a completely different type of fabric. Felt a little silky but kind of polyester? They were always very cooling too. Can those be found anymore?

David H Says

August 25, 2016 at 4:15 pm

I am looking for a new mattress. But reading all your info, I'm thinking of just sleeping on the floor, for now, with just a blanket, well unless you have something on that too ! lol Thanks for all your GREAT info MattressNerd ! I never knew there was so much to consider when buying a bed ! Thanks

Maryellen goldman Says

June 26, 2016 at 11:16 am

Linen sheets are also very nice. Thank you for info on mattresses most helpful.

Cathy Says

April 4, 2016 at 4:14 pm

Have a set of tencel since 3 years ago. Still really soft and smooth. Only thing is, cause my husband got rough feet, the sheet gets peely @ that corner, other than that, it's perfect. And it's heavier than cotton or other material, in summer time, with the quilt cover itself can be used as a summer blanket and never feel sweaty with these sheets

Melissa Says

January 5, 2016 at 1:51 am

I remember my first experience with microfiber. I opened the package in the store to see what they felt like, and they were SO silky-soft! And I did a double take when I saw how inexpensive they were. They were affordable to begin with AND they were on sale! I snatched a set up and took them home. Turns out they weren't affordable so much as just cheap. I washed them three times before they were already falling apart. Plus, despite the fact they were so soft to the touch, they didn't feel quite right to sleep on. These days I only buy cotton (Egyptian or Pima) for the warmer months, and knit (jersey) sheets for the cooler months. No more cheap polyester sheets.

MattressNerd Says

October 10, 2015 at 6:54 pm

The main benefit of microfiber sheets is the price. They feel cheap and look cheap, but that's often because you can get them for $20.

Christy Says

October 10, 2015 at 12:24 am

I do not recommend microfiber sheets because they feel cheap and often look cheap. Mine have little snags everywhere and I'm not very hard on my sheets. I am very disappointed that these sheets are EVERYWHERE now but jersey sheets are getting harder to find. I love the coziness of a jersey or flannel sheet but high quality, high thread count cotton sheets are a close second.

MattressNerd Says

August 31, 2015 at 7:50 pm

I once had a cheap set of cotton sheets basically disintegrate as well. In general, you get what you pay for.

Gail Says

August 31, 2015 at 4:00 pm

A few years ago I bought a set of microfiber sheets. Within three months, they were in worse shape than other "cheap" sheets I bought more than ten years before. The first time I washed them, the lint trap in the dryer was full. Each consecutive wash produced less lint. After about three months, there wasn't much left of the sheets.

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