Shopping for good sheets can be frustrating. Between all of the available thread counts and materials, the whole sheet buying process is exasperating.
There are so many options to choose from. And quite often, you find yourself buying something in the store, and after a few washes, the sheets don’t feel as soft, or look as new they did inside the package.
We’ve all been programmed to think that higher thread count = better. To a certain point, that is true. But thread count isn’t everything. It’s just one aspect of a sheet to consider.
Knowing what to look for and what to avoid is a good place to start. Let’s break it down.
What do you really need
First off, be honest with yourself. Will you ever even notice the thread count?
Are you the type to wear full sleeve pajamas year round? Well the only place you’re ever going to feel the sheets are on your face. In which case, you don’t need a soft sheet set – you just need a good pillowcase.
Do you actually use a flat sheet? The majority of people don’t. And if you’re a single person, you most likely need just one pillowcase, not the two that sheet sets provide.
In other words, if you sleep alone, you can probably just get away with 1 fitted sheet, and 1 pillowcase. It will save you money, and makes everything simpler.
Looking past the thread count
Higher thread count does not equal better. A thread count is the count of threads per square inch. A realistic thread count is between the 160-400 range. It’s just not physically possible to get more than that in a square inch. To get a higher number, manufacturers use thinner strands bound together. So the quoted thread count is higher, but the number of threads does not actually increase.
A 600 thread count sheet, is basically a 300 thread count sheet, but with 2 ply threads instead of 1. The higher the thread count, the more strands that are bound together. This equals a poor quality sheet that will shred apart after a few washes.
Sheets with a thread count of 250 or 300 will outperform those of 500, 600, or even 1000 in a service application. They will be as soft (or softer), and will survive the washing machine for many more years. If you see fuzz or small pills on the sheet after a wash, this is the sign of a poor quality sheet.
Do your high threat count sheets look like this? That’s pilling. That is what happens when the thin strands tear apart.
If you want an everyday sheet that will last for years in the washer, go with a 250-300 thread count sheet.
250-300 is the sweet spot as far as thread counts are concerned. This is where durability and softness are both still at a high level. If you decrease the thread count, durability increases, but softness decreases. On the opposite end, a higher thread count turns out a softer, but less durable sheet.
If you walk into a department store, it’s common to find 300 thread count sheets selling for double or triple the price of the 1000 thread count sheets. Now you know why!
This is a 1000 thread count set being sold on Overstock.com. If it was really that luxurious, do you think it would sell for only $28?
Earlier I mentioned that higher thread count = better, but only up to a certain point. Well that point is somewhere around 300.
One more thing to keep in mind: The higher the thread count, the tighter the weave. Which means more body heat gets trapped inside the sheet. In other words, if you want a cool bed, a super high thread count is not your friend.
Type of fabric
Top quality sheets focus on the fabric and the weave, not on the thread count. The quality sheets will mention their cotton type like:
- Egyptian cotton
- Long staple cotton
Egyptian cotton is generally regarded as the superior sheeting fabric – but other types of fabric turn out high quality sheets as well.
Good quality sheets will mention a weave type like:
The two most common types of cotton weaves that you’ll find are percale, and sateen. This is a close up of a percale weave vs a sateen weave. At first glance, they look identical right?
Look closer. Each horizontal thread on the left percale side, is held in place by 3 or 4 vertical threads.
On the right sateen side, each horizontal thread is held in place by 1 or 2 vertical threads.
What does this mean for you?
Sateen is usually more expensive because it is made with the more elaborate weave which results in a bigger surface area, with a softer feel, along with a bit of sheen. Sateen sheets will usually feature a thread count of 300 or more.
Percale is cheaper, but it is crisper and cooler to the touch, and also more durable. Percale sheets will usually feature thread counts of 300 or less. A percale set like this will generally be the top end.
Looking past cotton
We’ve been conditioned to think of cotton as the king of fabrics. But that isn’t necessarily the case.
Do you sweat a lot? Do you need sheets that stay cool. Cotton does breath fairly well (especially at the lower thread counts), but there are better options.
Do you want sheets that are super durable? Single ply cotton sheets are fairly durable – but again, there are better options.
Do you want sheets that have a bit of sheen? Sateen woven sheets offer that – yet again, there are other options that are equally as good, or better.
100% cotton doesn’t always equal a better sheet. Let’s look at some of our options:
Cotton rich is a fancy terms for a cotton/polyester blend. A cotton blend gives the fabric a smoother hand feel, longer performance, and less wrinkles.
Cotton/polyester blends are the fabric of choice at most hotels. Hotels use sheeting and bedding that can survive daily washing, and yet still feel like new to their guests.
If you have stayed at hotels like Sheraton, Marriott, Hilton, etc., then you have slept on sheets made by a company called Standard Textile. Those sheets were most likely their Comfortwill model:
Having been in the hospitality bedding business for the past 11 years, I can tell you that most people who stay at a hotel that uses these sheets, go home afterwards, and immediately start shopping for a Comfortwill sheet set.
They often describe these as the most comfortable sheets that they have ever slept in!
Well guess what? Comfortwill sheets are a cotton/poly blend, and have a 250 thread count – I think that should put an end to the high thread count myth.
You may have seen these three terms when shopping for a sheet set. They are basically the same thing – fibers made from wood or bamboo pulp.
Rayon is usually made from bamboo. Tencel is almost always made from Eucalyptus wood. Lyocell is just another form of Rayon.
Fabrics made from these materials are actually stronger than 100% cotton (more durable), breath better than cotton, and provide for a smaller thread as well. Which means that a 600 thread count rayon sheet has an honest thread count of 600.
These types of sheets also have the type of lustrous sheen found on cotton sateen sheets.
The only downside to rayon, tencel, or lyocell is the cost. They are often sold for double or triple the price of a similar cotton sheet set.
What to avoid
Ridiculously high thread counts – like 1000. No one ever actually counts the threads in a sheet set, so I strongly doubt that any sheet has 1000 threads. But even if they do, that high of a thread count will compromise the durability of the sheet. You may not even get more than 5 washes out of them before they shred.
Look at these 1500 thread count sheets. Before you click on the link, take a guess. How much do you think they sell for?
Sheets with a thread count this high are almost exclusively made with…
Microfiber – Microfiber sheets are made of 100% polyester. Microfiber threads are super thin. Sheets made of microfiber are very light in composition, and are very prone to wear. They also don’t breath very well. You’ll often find these sets for a super bargain of a price – and for good reason. Avoid microfiber!
Embroidery and embellishments – Embroidered hems are very visually appealing. They provide a visual aesthetic that plain sheets just don’t have. But from a practical standpoint, they are actually worse!
Embroidery on a sheet set, especially on the pillow cases can cause irritation to your skin, and can inconvenience your sleeping habits to varying degrees. They are also not very durable, and tend to break apart after several wash cycles.