Understanding Sheets

Next to mattresses, sheets are the most misunderstood product sold for the purposes of sleepThe main reason for this is that consumers are bombarded with the misinformation and exaggeration of those trying to get you to buy something that is often not what it seems. When choosing a sheet set there are a number of important considerations: fabric content,  weave, finish, and thread count.  It is not an easy subject to summarize, so what follows is rather lengthy.

Fabric Content

The most commonly used fabric in sheets is cotton or cotton blend.  Cotton-polyester blend sheets are wrinkle-resistant, and relatively inexpensive (up to half the cost of all-cotton).  If you’re looking for a cool, soft feel, (and don’t mind a few wrinkles) nothing beats 100 percent cotton.  Cotton wicks moisture away from your skin and is less likely to stain than polyester blends because it releases dirt more easily when wet.  Microfiber sheets are 100 percent polyester and can rival the softness of cotton; but, since microfiber does not breathe well and can cause sweating. Muslin is a loosely woven cotton fabric usually of lesser quality.  While useful in some applications, it should be avoided when choosing sheets. Certainly, there are other, including satin (which is usually polyester) linen, and silk, the above constitute the majority of the readily available choices.

cottonA word about the words associated with cotton sheets.  The term “Egyptian” cotton used to denote long staple (1 ½”+ fibers) cotton grown in Egypt.  Because of the long growing season and the variety of cotton plants the fabric produced from Egyptian cotton was of a higher quality.  Unfortunately, today, one cannot always be sure that a sheet set that claims to be Egyptian cotton contains only the high-quality staple cotton. Pima cotton is cotton that is grown in the southwestern US and also has long fibers for higher quality.  Certain companies are authorized to call their product “Supima” (superior pima) if it meets the highest standards for staple length and overall quality.  Fabric made from long-staple cotton produces a softer sheet; the surface won’t pill and lint like fabrics woven from shorter fibers.

Finally, bamboo rayon fabrics are becoming quite popular.  Until recently it was used only for structural elements. In recent years, technologies have been developed that allow bamboo fiber to be appropriate for a wide range of textile uses.  Bamboo fibers are converted into viscose rayon which can then be used in the productions of many different consumer goods.  Because bamboo grows so quickly and does not require the use of pesticides it is an ecologically sound product.  The resulting fabrics are soft, durable, and moisture wicking.


percaleThe type of weave greatly affects the way a sheet feels, its longevity, and its price. Plain weaves, which are woven from an equal number of vertical and horizontal yarns, are less expensive. Percale is plain weave with a guaranteed thread count of 180; it is known for its longevity and crisp feel. This is the bare minimum one would want in a sheet set.

sateenSateen weaves have more vertical than horizontal yarns. The higher proportion of vertical threads results in an extremely soft fabric, but one that is more apt to pill and tear than a plain weave. Satin is made using the sateen weave; of course, other fibers such as polyester or silk are used.


Most sheets are treated with chemicals, including chlorine, formaldehyde, and silicone, to keep them from shrinking, losing their shape, and wrinkling. Some f manufacturers offer sheets where no chemicals were used or that all traces of chemicals used during manufacturing have been removed. If you suffer from chemical sensitivities, these sheets may be a good choice for you. Organic sheets are untreated and woven from cotton grown without the use of pesticides, herbicides, or fertilizers. These sheets may shrink and wrinkle more.

Thread Count

warpweftThread count is the most misunderstood element of the sheet buying equation.  As stated earlier this is largely due to misinformation.  Thread counts refer to the number of threads, both vertical (warp) and horizontal (weft), per square inch. The main issue: what is a thread?  While it seems a simple question, it is not.  Some sellers count not just each thread, but each fiber or ply th­at make up each thread.  A single thread might be four plies twisted together; one seller will call that one thread, while another call that four threads.  Hence the confusion.  Generally speaking the comfort value of increasing thread count over 400 single ply is very little. A 300 or 400 thread count can feel far superior to a 1000 thread count depending on the other factors discussed above.

How to Buy Sheets

If you prefer a crisp sheet (one that resists wrinkling), choose a percale weave and a poly cotton blend.

For a soft, silky sheet, choose a sateen weave of 100 percent cotton.

Choose the right size.  Ensure that the depth of the side of the sheet will accommodate your mattress.

Price matters; good sheets will cost good money. Price is a good indicator of whether a sheet really is the thread count and fabric content you want. Remember, cheap sheets are susceptible to shrinking.  If you find that deal that is too good to be true, it probably is.

Watch out for “hand” enhancers such as silicone that is sprayed on to make the sheet softer.  It will disappear in the first wash.

Sheets get softer the more they are washed, just like that favorite old t-shirt.


SLEEP on it Sells Only High-Quality Sheets

DimIV_124830_5x7Not focused solely on price, SLEEP on it strives to offer only high quality, comfortable sheet sets and separates for your new mattress and old one alike.  Rayon from bamboo, flannel,  and microfiber from Malouf, six-Pocket waterbed sheets from Tri-Sew, microfiber, 300, 400, and 600 cotton and cotton blends from Malouf, and organic cotton from Gotcha Covered are all available at SLEEP on it