There are so many sheets on the market these days, but how do you know which ones you'll actually love sleeping on? This easy guide can help you find well-made, high-quality sheets that'll make you want to hit snooze every morning. Oh, and it's not all about thread count—but more on that in a sec.
What Is Thread Count, and Does it Actually Matter?
First, the term "thread count" refers to the number of horizontal (aka weft) and vertical (aka warp) yarns per square inch of a fabric, according to Katie Elks, director of design and product development at Brooklinen. And as for whether it matters, the answer is not really. It can indicate higher quality sheets, but it's certainly not the most important factor. And it's not unlikely for thread counts to be exaggerated, or at least not what they seem, so you're better off considering other factors.
"Some manufacturers use multi-ply yarns which are made from poor short-staple fiber cotton, which is then plied together to make a durable yarn," explains Elks. "These manufacturers then inflate their thread count by saying the multi-ply yarn is actually two or three yarns, so the thread count is inflated two or three times, when in fact the yarn is a coarse multi-ply yarn that can make the fabric rough."
Parachute founder Ariel Kaye says that, because of this, thread count is "largely a marketing gimmick," noting that those multi-ply yarns don't make for a good set of sheets. "None of this improves the quality of the product—in fact it ultimately takes away from their durability and softness," she says.
What Is Long-Staple Cotton?
As Elks noted, those multi-ply yarns are often made with short-staple cotton. Rather than looking at the thread count—or at least, in addition to it—try looking for sheets specifically made with long-staple cotton.
"The length of the cotton fibers help to determine the quality, texture and strength of the fabric," Kaye says. "Longer fibers result in a crisp, smooth finish. Long-staple is also a better quality material that doesn’t pill or tear in the weaving process."
As you're shopping for cotton sheets, you probably come across terms like Pima (or Supima) cotton or Egyptian cotton—these terms, Elks says, indicate the origin of the cotton, but it's not always traceable or reliable. Egyptian is often revered as the best kind of cotton out there, but all of these terms essentially indicate that the fibers are long-staple. "Instead of always looking for a brand-name cotton, look for descriptions of the fibers," Elks advises.
What About All the Different Weaves?
The weave of your sheets is very important, especially when it comes to cotton sheets. The two most common types you'll see as you're shopping for cotton sheets are sateen or percale.
- Sateen: Like the name suggests, a sateen weave has a satin feel—it's smoother, and has a bit of a sheen to it, according to Elks. Kaye explains that sateen sheets are woven with a "four-under-over weave," which not only gives it its signature luster, but also makes it trap warmth (perfect for cooler months!) and keeps it more wrinkle-resistant than other weaves.
- Percale: Percale, Elks explains, is a plain-weave (Kaye describes it as a "one-over-one-under weave") that gives the sheets that crisp, cool feel and matte finish. "Think of this like fresh hotel sheets," Elks says. If you've seen brushed or combed cotton sheets on the market (these are my personal favorite—it's like sleeping in your favorite t-shirt, but breathable!), those are likely a percale or plain-weave construction. Kaye says they're "lightly brushed by a machine to give them a soft, textured finish."
Other weaves include flannel (brushed, warm, and super cozy for winter!) and jersey (super soft knit, stretchy, worn-in t-shirt-like material.)
Essentially, the weave of your sheets will most impact how they feel—and Elks says you can figure out which one is right for you by asking yourself a couple of simple questions. Do you tend to overheat in your sleep? What kind of feel do you prefer? "If they're a hot sleeper, or prefer cozier fabrics, those are easy ways to narrow down what sheet is right for them. Percale, for instance, is a much better choice for hot sleepers, since it doesn't trap heat the way sateen does.
Cotton vs. Other Materials
Of course, cotton isn't the only material out there for sheets—there are also options like linen, microfiber, silk, Tencel, and more—but cotton is the most popular (it comes in so many forms, after all!). Here's a quick breakdown of some of the other most popular materials out there.
- Linen: Linen is made from the flax plant, with yarns made from strands of large, hollow, grass-like stalks, according to Linoto. Because of this, linen fibers not only absorb moisture, but dry quickly too. Linen sheets are a great pick for hot sleepers and humid climates, and they softens over time—meaning linen sheets only get better with age.
- Microfiber: An extra-affordable (but still soft) option, microfiber sheets are typically made with polyester. Amazon's most popular sheets, for instance, are Mellanni's brushed microfiber sheets—and they have more than 70,000 5-star reviews to back them up.
- Silk: If luxury is what you're after and you love that signature buttery, slippery feel, then silk is a great option for you. Real silk sheets can be hard to find—not to mention, the most expensive kind you can buy. But, silk is great for your hair and your skin, so it's worth it (and you can always go for a silk pillowcase instead!)
- Tencel: Tencel is actually a cellulose fiber that's made from sustainably-sourced wood. Tencel sheets are made to be durable, soft, breathable, and moisture-absorbing. Oh, and they're less prone to wrinkling than other materials, too.
If you're in the market for new sheets, check out this roundup of some of our favorites to buy online—including several options for cotton sheets and beyond.
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