You might not think sheets matter that much—isn’t everyone so tired that they just collapse at the end of the day, regardless of bedding? But sheets come in all kinds of materials and sizes, and knowing the differences could help make your bed your favourite place in the world—or at least in the house! Contrary to popular opinion, you don’t need to spend a fortune on sheets, either. Read on to learn how to choose the best sheets for every budget.
1What are the main types of bedsheets?
There are a few types of sheets that you can use to make a bed. It all comes down to preference.
- Fitted sheets: Sometimes called “bottom sheets,” fitted sheets have elastic sewn into the corners so they can fit snugly against your mattress and stay in place.
- Flat sheets: Flat sheets, or “top sheets,” are simple pieces of fabric used between the comforter and fitted sheet. Flat sheets are surprisingly controversial: some say they’re absolutely necessary to keep comforter or duvet covers cleaner longer, while others contend that they’re just more work. Ultimately, flat or top sheets are a matter of preference—the key to a good one is making sure it fits with your mattress.
- Pillowcases: A pillowcase is a removeable, washable cover for a pillow. Look for cases that are the correct size for your pillows—standard pillowcases won’t fit oversized pillows, for example.
- Sheet sets: Sheet sets are just as they sound—a full set of sheets for making your bed. They usually contain a fitted sheet, a flat sheet and one, two, three or four pillowcases, depending on the size of the sheet set. (Not a fan of the top sheet? You can sometimes buy sheets without this item included.)
2What size bedsheets and pillow cases do you need?
If you have a queen size bed, you should just buy queen size sheets, right? That kind of thinking makes sense, but since bed and sheet sizes can vary slightly by company and even by country, your best bet is to measure your mattress and double check it against the measurements on your desired sheets.
Of course, you will want to measure the mattress’s length and width, but depth is especially important for finding the right-sized fitted, or bottom sheet. Measure the depth in a few spots so you’re sure you have the right number, and if there are any variations, go with the deepest measurement. Then, be sure to buy a fitted, or bottom sheet, in the correct depth—they can range quite a bit, from a slim seven inches to “extra-deep” sizes of 21 inches or more.
Pillowcases typically come in four sizes:
- Standard: Meant for twin, twin XL and full-size or double beds.
- Queen: To fit queen beds.
- King: Meant for king beds.
- Body pillows: Extra-long pillows meant for snuggling.
As with mattresses, pillow measurements can vary by brand, product and location, so it’s best to measure or check the manufacturer’s labels and ensure your pillow and pillowcase sizes match up.
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3What are the main types of bedsheet materials?
Most people think bedsheets are all about thread count (and we’ll get there later) but the first thing to consider is the weave. The weave is how the threads in the fabric interlace both horizontally and vertically. Different weaves produce different finishes.
- Percale: This is a “plain weave,” where the vertical and horizontal threads cross at right angles, making for durable, lightweight textiles. If you love the feeling of crisp, starchy sheets, this is the weave for you.
- Sateen: This weave has more vertical threads than horizontal, for a soft and luxurious finish. Although smooth and lovely, this weave isn’t as durable as others.
- Twill: A twill weave has a diagonal pattern, where the vertical threads are offset by two or more horizontal ones—think of the subtle pattern in denim. On its own, twill isn’t typically super soft, but it can be brushed to create a cozy, fuzzy finish, such as flannel.
A number of materials can be used in the three main weave techniques to create different finishes for sheets. Read on for the pros and cons of popular bedsheet materials.
The most common sheet type, cotton sheets are usually soft, durable and easy to care for. There are different types of cotton, each with different features to consider:
Egyptian cotton is the highest quality cotton and typically features extra-long fibres for a soft, smooth texture.
Pima cotton is second to Egyptian cotton for its durability, quality and softness. It is made of long fibres at a lower price point than Egyptian cotton.
Upland cotton—typically labelled as ‘100% cotton’—is short-staple cotton that is less soft than Egyptian and Pima, but the most common variety of cotton bedsheets on the market.
Flannel cotton consists of shredded cotton with individual yarns that have been shaved, giving it a thick, fuzzy feel that is also soft to the touch and ideal for colder temperatures.
Jersey cotton starts out soft and stretches with age. This type of bedsheet is easy to clean, though it is less durable and tends to pill over time.
|Cotton sheets are usually lightweight and breathable.||Cotton sheets wrinkle easily.|
|Cotton is generally affordable.||New cotton sheets may take a few washes to reach ultimate softness.|
|Cotton is a natural, biodegradable fibre.||They’re often made from blended types of cotton—if you’re after high-end Egyptian cotton sheets, make sure you’re not getting an Egyptian cotton blend.|
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Bamboo sheets are both super soft and durable. Bamboo is also hypoallergenic and antibacterial, so if you suffer from allergies or have sensitive skin, you might find this material is less irritating.
|Bamboo grows quickly, and doesn’t have to be replanted to regenerate, making it a sustainable option.||Bamboo sheets—especially pure bamboo—tend to be pricier than other materials.|
|Bamboo sheets are moisture-wicking.|
|Bamboo sheets start soft, then get even softer with use.|
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Tencel is the trademarked name for lyocell and modal, fabrics made from wood pulp. These types of sheets are soft, durable, breathable and typically considered eco-friendly. Because quite a process goes into making them, Tencel sheets can cost more than other natural fibres.
|Often made using a sateen weave, Tencel sheets have a satiny texture, which makes them feel luxurious.||Some people don’t consider Tencel a true natural fabric because it is so highly processed.|
|These sheets are moisture-wicking.||Not everyone likes the look of Tencel, as it has a slight sheen to the finish.|
Tencel fabrics are compostable and biodegradable.
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|Microfibre sheets retain heat and may be a good choice for people who run cold at night.||Microfibre’s heat-retaining properties may not suit sleepers who run hot at night.|
|Microfibre sheets are wrinkle-resistant.||Plastic microfibre remnants that wash off in domestic laundry create up to 0.19 million tonnes of aquatic pollution each year.|
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Polyester tends to get a bad rap, but it has its benefits. The plastic-based fabric is durable and fade-resistant. It also tends to be less expensive than natural-fibre sheets, making it a more affordable option for many families.
|Polyester sheets dry really quickly.||Polyester sheets absorb moisture and oil rather than wicking them away, and may stain easily.|
|Polyester is sometimes blended with natural fibres for a more desirable finish at a lower cost.||Polyester isn’t as breathable as other options.|
|Fabric can pill over time. (You can avoid this by hanging sheets to dry instead of putting them in the dryer.)|
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Specialty fabrics like silk and linen are pricier but worthwhile options if you’re looking for luxurious, natural and biodegradable fibres.
- Silk: Like cotton, silk may be soothing for skin conditions such as atopic dermatitis, with the American Journal of Clinical Dermatology stating that patients report it is comfortable. Silk pillowcases are also believed to protect hair and tame frizziness.
- Linen: Linen is a durable natural fabric made from flax, and a great choice if you’re going for a purposefully casual and perfectly rumpled look.
4Does thread count matter?
Thread count is often thought to be the barometer for quality, but it’s not exactly true. Thread count just refers to the number of horizontal and vertical threads in a square inch of fabric, which can range from 200 to more than 1000. The thinking tends to be, the higher the count, the softer the sheet, and the better it will wear. But there are some things to consider:
- Count inconsistencies: There are tricks to inflating the thread counts, like counting yarns twisted together, so more doesn’t necessarily mean better.
- Materials and weaves matter: A 200-count in one material, like combed cotton, may feel just as luxe as a rougher material at a higher count.
The best way to determine if a sheet meets your desired softness is to feel it, keeping in mind that most sheets get softer with use and washing.
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Shop Bedding Essentials
- Agricultural Biomass Based Potential Materials. Bamboo Biomass: Various Studies and Potential Applications for Value-Added Products.
- Advances in Technical Nonwovens. Microfiber.
- American Journal of Clinical Dermatology. Fabric Selection in Atopic Dermatitis: An Evidence-Based Review.
- Science of the Total Environment. Microfibres from apparel and home textiles: Prospects for including microplastics in environmental sustainability assessment.
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