Categories: Bedding

Cotton Sheets Buying Guide

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Picking out the perfect cotton sheets can be overwhelming. Don't lose sleep over buying the ideal cotton sheets. Our cotton sheet guide demystifies all the jargon of the bedding industry.

What to consider when buying cotton sheets?

Consider the following factors when purchasing cotton sheets. All of these will impact the quality, feel, and durability of your sheets.

Thread Count

Thread count is the measure of threads in one square inch, which translates into a measurement of the fabric density. It includes both the horizontal (known as “weft”) and vertical (“warp”) threads to determine the thread count. If there are 100 horizontal threads in a square inch of the fabric, it has a thread count of 200.

Does thread count matter?

Thread count started in the mid-1990s as a marketing effort by manufacturers to differentiate themselves from the competition. Have you noticed that as thread counts keep getting higher and higher, and so do the prices? Thread count is one of a few things to consider when purchasing sheets. A designed thread count should be anywhere between 200 to 800. Generally, the higher the thread count, the softer the sheet. A higher thread count also leads to a more even wear.

If the thread count is too low (<200), the sheets may have small gaps in the weave and not have much durability. If the thread count is abnormally high, it doesn’t mean it is better. Anything over 800 won’t necessarily lead to a noticeable increase in quality because there are only so many threads that can fit into one square inch. The other issue with super-high thread counts is that the numbers might be higher due to multi-ply threads. Multiple-ply yarns are individual threads wrapped around each other. While the sheet looks better in terms of a higher thread count, the multi-ply may result in a heavier and scratchier sheet.

What is a good thread count?

Good sheets generally have thread counts that range from 200 to 600 depending on the weave type. You should be suspicious of numbers that are too high or low.

How are thread counts manipulated

There has been some dishonesty in the past about thread counts. The FTC stepped in to limit some manipulation of thread counts. Manufacturers would create multi-ply yarns by twisting two or more yarns together and then counting the plied yarns individually. The result was higher thread counts that were double or triple the thread count compared to how it was measured traditionally. The FTC stated that manufacturers should disclose the ply. Proper labeling of a sheet with multi-ply would look like: 300 thread count, 2-ply yarn, and not just label it as 600 thread count.

Ply Count

Ply refers to the number of yarns twisted together to make a single thread. It is a vital component to understand how the total thread count was calculated. Single-ply means there is only one strand of yarn per thread. Two-ply means two strands of yarn twisted together in each thread. Below is a visual to show the difference between ply in threads of sheets.

If a manufacturer used a 2-ply thread to weave a 300 thread count sheet with 150 horizontal and 150 vertical, they would call it a 600 thread count because of the 2-ply. But it isn’t necessarily better than a 300 thread count sheet that made with 1-ply. Read more about thread count manipulation.

Fabric Material

There is no shortage of different materials for sheets that include varieties of cotton, bamboo, and polyester. Cotton is the most popular choice for sheets due to its softness and breathability. However, there are lots of types of cotton and more to consider than just choosing cotton.

Types of Cotton

Below are a few of the most common types of cotton used for bedding.

  • American Upland Cotton (Gossypium hirsutum)
    • Most common cotton
    • Relatively short cotton fibers
    • Perfect for everyday products (95% of cotton in the US)
    • Rougher feel
    • If a label reads 100% cotton, it’s probably Upland
  • Pima Cotton (Gossypium Barbadense)
    • Finest cotton
    • Commonly faked
    • Extra-long staple
    • Subtle sheet
  • Egyptian Cotton (Gossypium Barbadense)
    • Extra-long staple
    • Historically grown in the hot, dry climate of Nile River Valley. Currently grown worldwide.

Staple Length

Cotton is differentiated by the length of the fiber (staple). Different varieties of cotton have shorter or longer staples. The length of the fiber is also called the staple, the strands that make up a piece of cotton. The longer the staple, the stronger, softer, and more durable the fabric. The more extended the staple, the cotton pilling is less and wrinkle less.

As the staple gets longer, so does the softness, strength, and smoothness. With fewer exposed fiber ends less stick up from the surface, which leads to less pilling compared to shorter staples. Long-staple cotton preferred for home goods such as sheets and towels.

Short-staple< 1 ⅛” long
Long-staple1 ⅛” – 1 ½”
Extra-long staple1 ⅜” – 2” long

Types of Weaves

Percale or plain weave

Percale sheets are characterized by a crisp feel that is cool and breathable with a matte finish. The fabric is lightweight and is perfect during warmer months and a favorite among warm or hot sleepers. Percale refers to the weave style. Each warp thread goes over one weft thread and so on. It’s an over-under-over weave (also called a single-pick). The result is a cotton fabric that is strong and durable.

Pros

  • Strong and smooth
  • Cool & crisp feel
  • Durable / Does not pill
  • Easy to care for
  • Highly breathable
  • Softens over time

Cons

  • Prone to wrinkles
  • Stiff and loud for first few washes

Sateen or satin weave

Sateen sheets typically have a sheen and a soft feel. The sheen comes from the weave of the threads. The warp threads interlace with filling threads exposing more thread surface. It makes for more silky-soft fabric but is less durable due to the looser weave.

Pros

  • Smooth & soft
  • Visually shiny
  • Wrinkle-resistant

Cons

  • Less breathable
  • Less durable
  • May lead to pilling
  • Shine fades over time

The figure below shows the difference in weave between a Percale and a Satin sheet weave.

Matt

I'm always open to finding new products and methods for improving my sleep. Sometimes I get to sleep on the job :)

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