Think about the most comfortable bed you’ve ever slept in, and what comes to mind? If it’s the sheets, you’re in good company. Because they come in direct contact with our skin, sheets are as important as a quality mattress and cozy blanket in sending us off to dreamland.
The sheer variety of sheets on the market, however, can throw you for a loop when you’re shopping. Here are our top pointers to help you decode the labels and choose the sheets that will suit you best.
Back in the day, most sheets on the market came in cotton and … cotton. And it’s still the most popular sheeting fabric, due to its durability, comfort and breathability.
Cotton both traps heat and lets cool air pass through in summer, so it’s a great choice for almost any climate. It can be blended with rayon and other materials that affect its weight and feel. As with any sheets you buy, do a hand test to gauge how you like these blends.
Egyptian, pima and Sea Island cottons are the gold standard, so look for those terms on the packaging and check to be sure the fabric is 100 percent that material. Some growers use the term “Egyptian cotton” loosely, however — true Egyptian cotton is grown and processed according to specific stipulations. Be sure you’re buying from a quality manufacturer and again, feel the material for softness.
With all the buzz about thread count — the number of threads in 1 square inch of fabric — it’s easy to assume that higher means softer. But that’s not always the case. A lower-thread-count sheet made from fibers that are softer by nature, such as Egyptian cotton, will feel silkier than a high-thread-count sheet made from a lower-quality cotton blend.
All other things being equal, high thread counts can indeed translate to increased comfort. Don’t be tempted to buy 800- or 1,000-count sheets, however; you’ll do just fine with a style in the 400 or 450 range. The extra thread count doesn’t make enough difference in feel to justify the price. In fact, the highest-count sheets can even be stiff because so many fibers are jammed so closely together.
Crisp or soft? If you like your sheets with a little snap, choose percale, which is a plainer weave than the more supple sateen. Neither is inherently better; it’s a matter of personal preference.
Jersey sheets — which you probably think of as T-shirt sheets — are made with a flat knit that keeps them soft but also means they can be prone to slipping and sliding on the bed. If you live somewhere that gets extremely cold, consider nubby cotton flannel sheets, unsurpassed for keeping you toasty.
If you’ve ever tried to wrestle a too-small fitted sheet onto a mattress, you know how important it is to buy sheets that are the correct size. If you have a standard-size bed, such as a twin, queen or king, look for features such as elastic edging all the way around, which helps to ensure a smooth, snug fit.
For extra-long twin, California king, pillow-top and other nonstandard mattresses, you’ll need to look for sheets specifically marked for those sizes. If you add a foam pad or other topper to your mattress, measure the height, then buy an extra-deep sheet that corresponds. Extra-long twin sheets stretch comfortably over a mattress that accommodates taller sleepers.
And don’t forget about pillowcases: If your pillows are under- or overscale (king pillows on a double bed, for instance), buy fitted sheets, flat sheets and pillowcases as separates rather than as a same-size set.