Different Types and Weaves
Types of Cotton
Egyptian cotton grows only in specific regions and is hand-picked to keep the cotton fibers straight and clean. This variety is known for having excellent long-staple fibers and creates silky, durable sheets.
Pima cotton is an extra-long staple (long fiber) cotton that makes strong and soft sheets. Considered second only to Egyptian cotton, Pima may be trademarked as Supima cotton, indicating it has been grown in the U.S.
Several varieties, including American upland cotton, are considered “regular” cotton. These plants produce cotton with shorter fibers and less durability than Egyptian and pima cotton. Sheets made from ordinary cotton can be coarser as well, but are often much less expensive.
These sheets are woven vertically and horizontally one thread at a time. They feel the same on both sides and because of the tight weave, are very smooth. To be authentic percale, thread count must be 180 or higher.
Because of their tight, even weave, percale sheets have a crisp, light texture that is sometimes compared to a dress shirt. Their breathability makes them an excellent choice for anyone who sleeps hot or wants cooler sheets for the warmer months.
Some percale sheet owners iron them to emphasize their crispness and avoid wrinkles. This makes them feel even more luxurious but isn’t necessary for a good night’s sleep. Overall, percale sheets are durable, comfortable, and light.
These sheets are woven in a long lateral pattern and are chemically treated in a process called mercerization that soaks the cotton fabric strands in lye then an acid wash. The process makes it satiny, receptive to dye, and with a slight sheen.
Sateen’s heavier weight makes it warm and comfortable for cold weather or people who enjoy warmer sheets. Since the weave on sateen sheets exposes more of the thread, these sheets also have a silkier and less crisp feel than percale.
Caring for sateen is also easier. Because sateen sheets are naturally wrinkle-resistant, they require very little ironing. However, they can be less durable than percale and may lose their sheen over time.
Jersey cotton isn’t woven but instead is knitted from one long continuous strand. It’s ultra-soft and drapes like t-shirt material, with little to no stiffness or crispness.
The least durable of common sheet weaves (or knits), jersey sheets are prone to pilling and holes. These downsides are tolerated by those who prize jersey’s softness and comfort, and these sheets are a good choice for anyone with ultra-sensitive skin.
Fit, Color, and Pattern
Most sheets come in single, full, queen and king size. If you need a California King or Twin XL, check the options to ensure the brand offers what you need. If you have a very tall or shallow mattress, you’ll want to pay close attention to the depth of the fitted sheet pocket. Measure your mattress height as some brands come with deep and some with extra deep pockets while others aren’t as roomy.
When looking at the aesthetics of cotton sheets, consider going subtle with color. First, brightly colored sheets can be a visual distraction. Second, if you want to avoid chemicals, natural-colored sheets will have fewer dyes and processing.
Patterns are nice, but you want to coordinate with your comforter and consider what happens if you change your duvet. A neutral palette on walls, bedding and accessories is soothing and can help you get the best night’s rest in your sleep sanctuary.
Finding the Right Thread Count
What is Thread Count?
You calculate thread count by looking at a 1” square section of the sheet fabric. You count the number of yarn strands (threads) going lengthwise and crosswise. If there are 200 threads in one direction and 200 in the other, you add them to get a 400-thread count sheet.
Things get technical when you look at multi-ply yarn. Some yarn is single ply meaning it is one solid strand. That keeps the math simple. But if the yarn has several strands woven together to form a single strand, the manufacturer might count that as multiple threads.
400-thread count sheets made with 2-ply yarn might be marketed as 800-thread count. Be sure to look at the thread strands to accurately assess the true thread count of a cotton sheet brand you’re considering.
Why Thread Count Isn’t Everything
Thread count is important but shouldn’t be the sole determiner of your purchase decision. First, be sure that the thread count is accurate. One way to avoid the marketing hype is to look at single ply sheets, so there’s no opportunity for misleading math.
Some manufacturers use filler yarn to boost thread count artificially. Be sure to check the manufacturer specifications and reviews. You also don’t want an excessively high thread count because tighter weave can lead to material breakage and sheets that aren’t durable.
What is the Ideal Thread Count?
Ideal thread count varies by sheet material. Here’s a look at the optimal range for each fabric:
Cotton Sheet Care and Maintenance
As a natural fiber, cotton is easy to care for. However, following these guidelines will help you keep your cotton sheets looking and feeling their best.
- Sheets should be washed every week or every other week. Even if your bedding looks and feels clean, a build-up of sweat, skin cells, and skin oils can cause irritation and attract dust mites. Build-up can also cause cotton to break down more quickly.
- The fewer laundry products you use, the longer your sheets will last. While dryer sheets and fabric softeners might make your sheets feel or smell good in the short-term, over time they can leave residue which breaks down cotton and attracts dirt. Similarly, using bleach should be a last resort, as regular bleaching can cause fiber damage. Instead, pre-treat stains with an enzyme solution and look for a gentle, ph-balanced detergent.
- Treat your sheets gently when washing them. Natural fibers like cotton can tolerate higher heat than synthetics, but that doesn’t mean you should wash them on an extra-hot cycle. Wash your sheets alone on a warm cycle to avoid damage and pilling.
- Hang your sheets to dry if possible. Sunlight disinfects, lightens stains, and keeps white sheets looking pristine. If using a dryer, look for a no-heat or low-heat cycle. Hot air not only weakens cotton fibers but can also change the texture of your sheets.
What Else Should You Consider When Buying Cotton Sheets?
Choice of cotton bed sheets is subjective. In the end, what matters is how the sheets feel against your skin and how they perform for your unique circumstances. Be sure the size is a match, and the pocket is deep enough to fit your bed. If you sleep hot or cold, look for cotton sheets designed to warm or cool.
Here are some other factors to consider:
- Set or Individual Pieces? The typical bed sheet set is a fitted sheet, top sheet, and 1-2 pillowcases. If you don’t want a top sheet or want more pillowcases, some brands let you customize your set.
- Organic Cotton: Natural cotton sheets are those made with 100% raw ingredients found in nature, meaning there are no synthetics blended with it. Organic cotton goes a step further and is grown and processed without pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, or chemicals. It is also harvested by hand so that the raw cotton can be hand-cleaned with soap rather than a chemical solution.Organic cotton sheets are almost always more expensive than the conventional variety. However, choosing organic might be worthwhile if you are concerned about the environmental impact of conventional cotton. It is also a good option for people who have had allergic reactions to sheets in the past.
- Return Policy: If you’re not sure what cotton sheets are best for you, buying from a manufacturer that offers a sleep trial or satisfaction-guaranteed return policy may be the way to go.