What Makes The Most Comfortable Bed Sheets?

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Shopping for sheets is no longer just about finding a cute set that fits your mattress. Choosing between dozens of fabrics, countless designs and pesky number systems like thread counts and ply can weigh down your decision. Finding a way to relax in bed shouldn't be so stressful. So, to clear things up (and put you to sleep the right way), IdealHomeGarden.com has put together a Bed Sheet Cheat Sheet. Enjoy your slumber, folks.

Thread Count Definition

Thread count is the sum of horizontal and vertical threads in each square inch of material of the sheet. This "measure of coarseness" and has become the buyers' guide to finding their ideal sheets and towels, the theory being that the higher the thread count, the better the sheet. This theory is based on the general concept that to have a higher thread count, the threads need to be smaller and finer, making them smoother and softer than thick strands (and therefore lower thread counts) of fabric. While the general premise is true, manufacturers have found a way to cheat the system, in a way, providing higher thread counts without actually producing softer sheets. How, you ask? That requires another definition.

Bed Sheet Ply: Why It May Be Fooling You

Plying is the process of taking two or more fine strands of yarn and twining them together. Those two strands are connected and operate as one strand when woven into fabric. However, manufacturers often count each of these plies in multiples, stating that because they were originally multiple strands of yarn, they should be counted as such. As a result, the thread count in these sheets is inflated, but the softness is not reflective of that number. This is why bed sheets should be judged based on their thread count and ply equally. Don't waste money on "high thread count" sheets that won't feel any different than a lower, cheaper set. 

What's A Good Thread Count For Comfortable Sheets?

The "standard" cotton thread counts are around 150 TC (thread count), with good-quality sheets starting at 200-plus, and representing a satisfying sleep source for most consumers. High-quality sheets range between 250 and 300 thread count. Many professionals consider any thread count above 400 to be extraneous, and realistically, a single square inch of material will rarely exceed 500 TC, as a matter of physical impossibility. However, many sheets will advertise high thread counts such as these. However, they are often misleading, because manufacturers will count the individual threads in plied yarns for marketing purposes. As a result, a fabric with 250 two-ply yarns in both vertical and horizontal directions could be construed as a 1,000 thread count material. For this reason, shoppers should look at not only the thread count, but also the ply count.

most comfortable bed sheets  most comfortable bed sheets


Why Should You Want Plied Sheets?

Cold Weather: Plied fabric is thicker and heavier, making it ideal for thermal sheets that keep you warmer. Sleepers who need a lighter sheet should stick to single ply, but the multiple-ply design also adds a certain texture to materials that appeals to some sleepers. If you want thicker sheets, extremely high thread counts should not be completely dismissed, as the high thread count will prevent multi-ply sheets from feeling coarse or uncomfortable.

Warm Weather: However, if you want standard sheets that are comfortable for all seasons, then stick with low ply count and high thread count. You won't need the multi-ply sheets' thickness, warmth or price tag. 

The Best Bed Sheet Materials For You

Ply and thread count aren't the only qualities that make a good or bad sheet. Materials are extremely important to a bed sheet's quality. Long-fiber cottons, such as pima, Supima, sateen and Egyptian cotton, are stronger and less likely to pill. (Pilling refers to balls of fiber that build up on a piece of cloth from wear and tear. They commonly occur in weaker materials, but they do occur to some effect in all fibers.) Other common sheet materials are 100-percent cotton, linen, rayon, bamboo fiber and various blends of polyester and cotton.

Different materials serve different purposes. Combed cotton has short fibers and debris removed, making the fabric smoother. While cotton and polyester blends don't wrinkle as much as other 100-percent-cotton sheets, they are not as soft or porous, so they may be warmer when used. Linen sheets are highly absorbent and good conductors of heat, despite being cool to the touch.

Bed Sheet Weaves

The weave of a material is also a good indicator of its quality, as well. There are three types of weaves in the standard bed sheet. A standard weave has a one-stitch-over, one-stitch-under pattern. Sateen sheets have a sateen weave, which has a four-stitch-over, one-stitch-under weave. A pinpoint weave is somewhere in between, with two stitches over and one under. The standard weave, while the least soft of the three, is the most durable. It has a quality and reliability that helps resist damage during heavy-duty washing. Sateen sheets are the softest, because most threads are on the surface. They are, however, not nearly as durable as standard weave bed sheets, so they should usually be washed professionally. Pinpoint weaves are, again, in between. They are less soft than sateen but softer than standard weaves. In the end, sateen weaves will cost more, both off the shelf and in the long run, due to overall softness cleaning costs.

Good Bed Sheets Can Be Cheap

As you read above, higher thread count does not necessarily mean better sheets. However, manufacturers will often charge you more for these higher numbers. Therefore, do not take cost into consideration when shopping. More expensive does not always mean higher quality. Look at the characteristics discussed above: thread count, plies, material and weave.

Never decide on a set of sheets based on how they feel in the store. The in-store touch of the sheets will never be the same as after the first wash. In fact, sheets become softer after several washes, partially due to naturally softening properties in modern day detergents and fabric softeners. Therefore, let the material blend, not the touch, determine whether it's the right set of sheets for you. You can always bring them back if you're not satisfied. After purchasing a set of sheets, you should always keep the receipt until after the first wash, at which time you can ensure that the sheets did not excessively shrink or lose their color. If they do, you will need a receipt to return them.

Last Updated: February 4, 2013
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