Last Updated on March 30, 2023
Sheets and sheet sets are probably the most analyzed bedding component. A little too much in our opinion!
We used to have two choices of thread count, 200 or 300 – sometimes 250 as well. And maybe 4 or 5 colors to pick from. Buying a sheet set was simple and easy.
Choose one thread count or the other (usually based on your budget), pick your favorite color, and that was it.
You basically had as many choices as you had department stores to choose from. For most of us, that number was a handful – Sears, Macy’s, May Company, JC Penney, Dillards, Bloomingdale’s, etc.
The attention and focus on sheets were of an appropriate level.
Then about 20 years ago, a “sheet revolution” took over. Celebrity coverage increased, and we started to hear more about their luxury lifestyle – which always included a mention of high thread count sheets.
Tony Braxton, in particular, comes to mind.
Naturally, this led to bedding brands one-upping each other by offering more “luxurious” thread counts, introducing different fabric materials, and developing a few interesting packaging tricks (more on this later).
Modern sheet sets
Today we have thread counts that can range anywhere from 200 to 1800. You’ll find sheets made of Egyptian, Supima, and Pima cotton.
Or alternative materials like microfiber, Tencel, Lyocell, etc.
Buying a sheet set used to be simple. Now you have thousands of options to choose from. This leads to questions and confusion…
- What thread count should I choose? Higher is better right?
- What does 2-ply mean?
- Which brand is the best?
- Which set is the softest?
And on, and on until the paralysis by analysis sets in.
Let’s simplify the process a little. If you walk into a department store today, you’ll probably find somewhere between 50-100 different sheets or sheet sets to choose from.
Once you’ve whittled it down to a select handful, look for the following 7 characteristics of poorly made sheets. That will narrow your choices down quite a bit.
Some of these indicators are apparent from the sheets themselves. The packaging will state the others. Together they’ll combine to tell the whole story.
One thing to keep in mind though – more expensive does not always indicate quality when it comes to sheets.
A lot of poor-quality sheets are actually from the “luxury” brands. At Macy’s for example, they have two house brands: Charter Club and Hotel Collection.
In our experience, the Charter Club sheets routinely outperform the Hotel Collection brand.
Expensive doesn’t equate to better. A lot of “discount” brands are often a great choice – like this 300 thread count sheet set from Pinzon.
Here then, are the 7 characteristics of a poor quality sheet:
1.) 2-ply (Common with high thread counts)
The first thing you’ll want to do is to put back the packages which state 2-ply, double-ply, or multi-ply construction. This is an instant giveaway of an undesirable sheet (or set).
These multi-ply constructed sheets are almost always because of high thread counts.
Sheets the feature a high thread count such as 600, 800, etc. use 2-ply threads because it’s impossible to achieve those numbers with a regular 1-ply construction.
2-ply means that two thin threads are spun around each other to create a thread of regular thickness. This new thread is the same size as a regular thread, but since two threads were used, the technical thread count is doubled.
In reality, a 600 thread count sheet is equivalent to a 300 thread count sheet. But 600 sounds much better than 300 right?
Except that it’s not actually better. They will look the same, and they will feel the same, but the thinner strands of the 600TC sheet set will come apart much sooner. Durability is significantly lower with 2-ply sheets.
While technically equivalent, a 600 thread count sheet is of much poorer quality than a 300 thread count sheet.
Since people have started to catch on to the whole “2-ply gimmick”, manufacturers have started to get creative with their descriptions. You might notice sheet sets that use phrases like “Ultra-fine threads spun into a single-ply yarn” or “single ply separable yarns”, etc.
Those are just creative ways of saying 2-ply without actually saying 2-ply.
As a general rule, avoid sheets that have a thread count higher than 300.
2.) Thin material
A sheet should have some substance to it. If it feels like tissue paper, then it’s definitely not a good choice. The usual offenders here are microfiber sheets.
Microfiber threads are very thin, and so the resulting sheet will also be thin.
If you can, hold the sheet in your hands. If you can see your fingers through the sheet – it’s too thin! It will take just a handful of wash cycles for the sheet to wear out.
Most packages will have a bit of heft to them. If a packaged sheet set feels very light in comparison with others, it’s best to avoid it.
3.) Sateen sheets that are too smooth
Sateen is the name of a weaving method. Sheets that are woven with a sateen weave are therefore called “sateen sheets”. Sateen is different than a typical percale style weave:
Because of the weaving method, a sateen sheet should have a slight bit of texture to it. It should not feel super smooth like silk.
Run your fingers through the material. You should notice a very slight textured feeling. Again, the texture won’t feel like ruffles on a potato chip, but you should feel very slight ridges as you run your fingers against the fabric.
If it feels super smooth, like silk, put it away.
4.) Sheets that are fuzzy
Once again, this won’t be obviously apparent. You’ll have to take a close look at the fabric, but poor-quality sheets will always have a bit of fuzz.
Fuzziness on sheets, whether new or brand new, is the result of the threads coming apart. In general, you’ll see fuzz starting to develop on any sheet after a certain amount of wash cycles.
The fuzz on a new sheet is a sign of poor quality fabric or a cheap manufacturing process.
Fuzzing throughout the sheet is not a good sign, for two reasons:
1.) Newly manufactured sheets are singed to burn off whatever fuzz there currently is. This is a key step as that fuzz can lead to larger pilling later on.
2.) Sheets are washed shortly after being manufactured. This is done to soften them up with fabric softeners to make them feel softer in the package (one of the packaging tricks mentioned above).
If a sheet looks fuzzy in the package, it’s a direct sign that corners were cut, or poor quality materials were utilized (or both). This always results in sheets that won’t last very long.
5.) Loose threads
You should see three loose threads in a sheet set – one on the hem of the flat sheet, and one on the hems of each pillowcase. This loose thread isn’t really “loose” – it’s just the final thread, and if cut shorter, it can lead to unraveling.
Other than this though, you should not see any loose threads. If you do, it’s a direct sign of poor quality manufacturing.
6.) Sheets that don’t list their cotton type
All cotton is not created equally, and better cotton definitely costs more money. On a good quality sheet set, you’ll find the type listed. For example, it might say “100% Egyptian cotton”, or “100% Pima cotton”. Regardless of the type mentioned, this is an important factor to look for.
Put away the sheets or sheet sets that just say “100% cotton”. They are usually constructed of cheaper quality cotton, and more often than not, will lack durability.
7.) Fitted sheets that don’t have elastic all around
Look for the package to mention “fully elasticized fitted sheet”.
Sheets aren’t necessarily poor quality just because they don’t have elastic all around. But it is a sign that the manufacturer cut corners in the sheet-making process.
Not only will a fully elastic fitted sheet hold on to the mattress better, but it’s also an ingredient of a well-made sheet set.