The Ultimate Guide to Choosing Great Bed Sheets

February 06, 2020 5 min read 1 Comment

We spend almost a third of our life in our beds, so it makes sense to invest in good bedding, but buying good bed sheets can be quite a daunting task these days. Shopping for bed sheets means being confronted with a maze of options: Long grain or short grain cotton? Percale or Sateen? 200 thread count or 400 thread count? Learning to decipher these terms will help you choose the sheet that makes you the most comfortable.

These are the four things you need to consider to choose the perfect sheet.

1) Material

The first thing to consider while buying a bed sheet is the material. The most common materials used for making bedsheets are cotton, linen and silk.

(a) Cotton

When you think of a cotton plant, a little white puffball probably comes to mind. That’s called the “boll” and each boll contains nearly 250,000 individual cotton fibers, or staples. 

Within cotton there are three varieties: Upland, Pima and Egyptian depending on the staple (staple refers to the length of individual cotton fibers).

As a thumb rule, in cotton sheets - the longer the individual fiber, the softer and costlier the sheet.

Upland is the most commonly used cotton and can be short to long staple . Sheets made from upland cotton are great for everyday use as they are breathable and not that expensive.

Pima sheets are made from fine-long staple cotton that yields a very soft weave.

Egyptian cotton is the finest, longest-staple of all. Grown in the Nile River Valley, Egyptian cotton produces an extremely soft and supple weave.

(b) Linen

Linen fabric is made from the cellulose fibers that grow inside of the stalks of the flax plant

High-quality linen sheets are durable enough to last for decades, are antimicrobial and are airy and cooler to the touch than cotton. Since they are more breathable, they are more popular in warm climates.

(c) Silk

Extracting raw silk starts by cultivating the silkworms. Once the worms start pupating in their cocoons, these are dissolved in boiling water in order for individual long fibres to be extracted and fed into the spinning reel.

Two things to look for in silk: weight (the lower the number, the thinner the sheets)—aim for 16 to 21mm. Also consider the type of silk.

You might see Charmeuse and Habotai (both produced from silk worms in captivity fed on a diet of mulberry leaves) or Tussah, produced from wild silk worms. The latter is slightly lower quality owing to knots and impurities in the fabric finish from broken silk fibers.

Silk is considered a luxury fabric, and in summers, it can help you remain cool, while in winters it can help you remain warm.

(d) Microfiber

A microfiber, compared to more traditional textile fibers, is much narrower. Fine silk is twice as wide as a microfiber; cotton is three times as wide. Since the individual fibers are so narrow, many threads can be packed into a small area, making a microfiber sheet extremely soft and flexible. Microfiber is made of synthetic materials -- typically nylon or polyester or acrylic. They are more durable than cotton sheets, but are generally warmer as they trap heat and more prone to long lasting stains as they are more absorbent and static-y. 

2) Fiber Preparation

Combing and carding are two very detailed types of raw fiber preparation. Carding results in a fuzzy, rougher fabric, as not many of the fibers are aligned. In contrast, combing sifts out the short, scratchy fibers and leaves only the long, smooth threads. Raw fibers need to be combed over and over again in order to ensure they are fluffed, soft, and perfectly aligned prior to the spinning process.

3) Weave

The next thing to consider while purchasing a bedsheet is the weave. Here are the different types of common weaves:-

(a) Percale and Sateen

Percale refers to any finely-made, closely-woven fabric, whose threads cross each other only once. This beautifully woven fabric creates a very fine finish and texture. Percale sheets are characterized by a matte finish and crisp hand, which really brings them to life. This material is lighter in weight and more breathable, making it perfect for summertime and warmer climates.

Sateen, by contrast, is more of a silky, smooth fabric for those of you who love a sleek, refined and sophisticated character to your linens. This fabric consists of even longer sections of thread running in a single direction, with four threads crossing over at wide intervals, giving it an exceptionally smooth texture. Sateen sheets look and feel particularly luxurious, since the weaving pattern is the same as satin sheets. The delicate combination of a sateen weave with Egyptian cotton creates an alluring smooth touch with a brilliant shine.

(b) Poplin and Chambray

Poplin is a durable, plain-weave cotton fabric, meaning the threads alternate crossing over and under one another. Its high thread count means you’ll be purchasing a durable, trustworthy, comfortable, and eye-catching addition to your household linens.

Chambray, though very similar to poplin, is a plain-weave fabric with a unique construction process. A colored and a white yarn are interwoven to create a distinctive combination of threads. Chambray has been a popular choice for generations, first as work wear and later as breathable, casual fashion. It remains an extremely popular material that is still used in denim apparel and has become an increasingly popular choice for sheet sets.

The difference between Sateen and Satin

It is true that the two materials are made with the same weaving technique of four threads over and one under, creating a silky-smooth shine, so you’d be forgiven for mistaking the two as identical. However, while satin is made from silk, sateen is made from cotton. Please note that these days satin is made more commonly from a combination of synthetic fibers, including polyester or nylon.

The difference between Flannel and Fleece

Both flannel and fleece sheets are considered suitable for colder weathers as they offer warmth. Here’s the difference between the two:-

Flannel is made from natural cotton fiber, woven with a thickness that gives it extra warmth. Fleece sheets are made from polyester. 

Flannel is brushed fabric. The loosely woven fabric is brushed to raise the ends of the fibers, creating a soft or flannel surface.

Fleece is a knit fabric. Unlike woven materials, which have threads going in two directions only and are a maximum of two threads thick, knits are the result of threads being wound around each other, often several times, producing a slightly stretchy fabric that can be many threads thick.

4) Thread Count

Thread count refers to how many threads compose one square inch of sheet fabric, including the horizontal threads and the vertical threads. It produces various results of texture and breathability. 

This number ranges from 150-count (usually found in lower-priced sheets or children's bedding) to up to 1,000 or more (for the most expensive luxury sheets).

In general, a sheet with a higher thread count will be more durable and feel softer, but higher the thread count, the less air flow; thus, sateens feel warmer than percales.

A thread count of 200 is a good standard; a count of 300 will be noticeably softer. But above a certain point-say, 500 to 600 threads per inch-you won't be able to feel the difference. It's best to save your money for a different splurge. And very high thread count sheets tend to be less durable than something in the 400 to 600 thread count range.

1 Response

Sabita Burges
Sabita Burges

March 22, 2020

Extremely informative piece, interestingly written. Thank you!

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