Buying Guide to Sheets

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Sheets. Health professionals tell us to spend eight hours a day between them. And while they seem so simple, finding the right ones can feel surprisingly complex.

But it's nothing to lose sleep over—just ask yourself a few questions to help choose the best sheets for you.

Sheets

What's your ideal sheet feel?

You like sheets that feel Consider sheets with
Lightweight and crisp Percale weave
Silky and luxurious feel Sateen weave
Soft T-shirt feel Jersey weave
Soft and cool feel Cotton fabrics
Soft and smooth Modal, Tencel® fabrics
Crisp Cotton/Polyester blend

Are you looking for fabrics made with less environmental impact?

If you're looking for greener bedding, consider:

  • Organic cotton — grown without pesticides or synthetic fertilizers
  • Viscose made from bamboo — a synthetic fiber created from renewable bamboo plants that grow quickly and do not require replanting
  • Tencel® — a man-made fiber made from the natural cellulose found in trees.

What thread count do you want?

One popular way to evaluate sheets is by thread count, which determines fabric softness. Thread count is the number of threads per square inch of fabric, both vertical and horizontal. Assuming you are looking for the softest sheet, all other things being equal, a higher thread count will be best. But keep in mind thread count is only one part of the equation — the type of fiber, size of the yarn, and how it is finished all contribute to the overall quality.

(Note: Jersey or "T-sheets" won't have a thread count, because they're knitted, not woven.)

What is your mattress depth?

Not sure what size your mattress is? Measure it and use the table below as a guide.

Mattress depth is the measure of the mattress's thickness from top to bottom. Sheet manufacturers' use it to determine the "pocket depth" your fitted bottom sheet will require.

Don't forget to include the height of any mattress pads or toppers to your mattress depth—a featherbed can easily move your mattress up a size in pocket depth!

Mattress Depth Sheet Pocket Size
7 to 12 inches Standard
13 to 17 inches Deep
18 to 25 inches Extra Deep

What size is your mattress?

Sheets are sold based on mattress size: Twin, Twin XL, Full, Queen, King, or California King.

Mattress Measurement Mattress Size
39 inches wide x 76 inches long Twin
39 inches wide x 80 inches long Twin XL
53 inches wide x 75 inches long Full
60 inches wide x 80 inches long Queen
76 inches wide x 80 inches long King
72 inches wide x 84 inches long California King

Beyond the obvious differences in look and feel, sheets mostly vary in the materials.

Features to Look For:

Fabric

Most sheets are constructed from one of the following fabrics:

Material Fabric Varieties Loved for Drawbacks
Cotton Egyptian, Pima®, Supima®, Long Staple and organic. Considered one of the softest and most breathable materials for sheets, cotton is also a very durable fabric. To be truly wrinkle-free, cotton sheets should be ironed or look for cotton sheets with wrinkle-free treatment.
Synthetic Synthetic is a broad term for all man-made materials, but Polyester is the most common synthetic material used in sheets. Polyester sheets are wrinkle-resistant. Not as soft and breathable as cotton sheets; more likely to pill (develop little fabric nubs) than cotton.
Modal A fiber made from the pulp of beech trees. Modal is soft, silky, and holds up well when washed because it is both colorfast and resistant to shrinkage and pilling. These sheets don't like high heat in the washer and dryer, so care must be taken when laundering them.
Viscose made from bamboo Another synthetic fiber, made from bamboo stalks. Viscose sheets are made from a natural fiber base and are made soft and smooth through manufacturing processes. Many are designed with tiny holes to improve breathability. These sheets are not the strongest of fabrics and can wrinkle easily.
Tencel® Blended material made with a wood pulp, usually from sustainably harvested trees. Tencel® is a brand of modal:smooth and cool to the touch. Many, but not all, are wrinkle resistant. It may not come in as many colors as some other fabrics, which are easier to dye.
Blends The most common blend is cotton/polyester. In most blends, a natural and a synthetic material are combined to construct sheets that are easy to care for.

Blends are more durable than synthetic fibers.

Blends wear out faster than 100% cotton sheets.

Manufacturing Techniques and What They Mean

Before the fiber can be woven into a fabric, it's manufactured to create a material that has a specific texture and feel.

Technique How it's done Why it matters to you
Combed Cotton fibers are combed, which removes any short or uneven fibers. The combing leaves behind long, straight fibers that is even and aligned—which makes a soft, strong yarn.
Compact While the fabric is being created, the yarn is twisted, and outside fibers are compacted towards the yarn's core. Compacting significantly reduces the number of stray fibers (which can make yarn seem ‘hairy ’) and weak spots in the thread. These yarns also enable fabric to be resistant to wrinkling and pilling.
Flannel Usually made of cotton with a napped finish on one or both sides. Napping is a brushing technique that provides a raised surface with a fluffy appearance. This medium-weight fabric is soft and provides cozy warmth during the cold winter months.
Jersey This material is knitted, not woven, so you won't find thread count listed on the product packaging. Jersey feels like a T-shirt and provides an excellent stretchy fit for mattresses.

Weave

One of the factors that will have the most impact on the way the sheet feels is the weave of its fabric.

Weave Construction Description
Sateen The stitch is four-over, one-under, which puts the most threads on the surface. Not to be confused with satin, a sateen weave is extremely soft. It can be slightly less durable than percale or pinpoint.
Pinpoint Pinpoint weaves are made with a stitch of two-over and one-under. They're more durable than sateen, but a little less soft. Pinpoint weaves will take a few washes to soften.
Percale Yarns are woven one-over and one-under each other—leaving openings that will make the fabric very breathable. Percales weave means they're usually quite breathable, and can be finished to feel crisp or soft. These sheets are strong and long-lasting, but they will need some washing to soften.
Twill Twill can be easily identified by diagonal lines on one side of the fabric. With twill sheets, yarns are typically woven two-over and one-under. These sheets hold their shape well, drape well and tend to be somewhat wrinkle-resistant.
Jacquard This is a patterned weave that is extremely complex to create. These sheets are produced on a special loom to allow repeating patterns—a tapestry or other large design—on the face of the fabric. Jacquard fabric has a variety of textures, but you will be able to feel the pattern under your hand as it is woven in, rather than printed on the fabric.

Thread Count

Thread count, which determines fabric softness, is a commonly used way to evaluate sheets. Thread count is the number of threads per square inch of fabric, both vertical and horizontal. If you are looking for a soft sheet, a higher thread count will be best. If you are looking for a durable sheet, a percale weave or blended sheet is the way to go. But keep in mind; thread count is only one part of the equation — the type of fiber, size of the yarn, and how it is finished all contribute to the overall quality.

(Note: Jersey or "T-sheets" won't have a thread count, because they're knitted, not woven.)

Almost all sheets are machine washable, but you should follow the manufacturer's recommendations and keep these suggestions in mind:

  • Don't use too much heat, in either the washer or the dryer: It will cause fabric to age and wear.
  • Add your sheets to the washing machine after detergent and water: Too much undiluted soap can stain your material, and make it difficult for detergent to rinse out completely.
  • Go easy on the laundry "extras." Bleach—even color-safe varieties—can be hard on fabrics.
  • Changing sheets weekly will help extend their lives.
  • If you've got cotton sheets, avoid wrinkles (and ironing) by taking them straight from the dryer to the bed.