Sheets — How to choose and care for bed sheets

Do you love your bed sheets? Have you ever slept on sheets that you thought were perfect — just the right weight and texture — and wondered what made them dreamy? (I once checked the labels on sheets and pillows that I loved at a hotel so that I could track them down for myself.) It pays to be thoughtful about bed sheets. After all, snuggling down into comfortable sheets at night is one of life’s true delights!

There’s a lot to know about bed sheets, and sometimes it takes a little trial and error to get ones you love. But to minimize that, here’s some info to help you make a good choice right off the bat.

What are the most comfortable bed sheets?

a person's feet sticking out from white sheets at the bottom of a bed

It’s an individual preference, but, in general, the most comfortable bed sheets are cool (they have breathability and don’t trap in body heat) and soft. The fiber content, how the fibers are put together (the weave or knit), and how closely the fibers are woven together make a difference in how comfortable the bed sheet is. 

What’s the best fiber content for bed sheets?

Organic cotton percale is my favorite bed sheet material. (I like crisp, cool sheets — and I like to be able to launder my sheets in hot water). To help you decide what might be best for you, here are some things to know about the common choices in bed sheet fabrics:

  • Organic cotton is easy to take care of, it breathes (keeping you cooler in summer), it’s durable, and it’s environmentally friendly. Regular cotton has the ease of care and breathability benefits, too, though non-organic cotton production isn’t great for the environment. Oh, and cotton feels good — especially right off the clothesline, if you’re lucky enough to have one!
  • Polyester blends and microfiber fabrics are inexpensive. Some people love how soft they feel — especially microfiber. (Microfiber is super soft because it’s made from very fine fibers of polyester.) Synthetic fabrics don’t breathe, though (they leave me feeling clammy), and because they’re synthetic, they’re not environmentally friendly.
  • Bamboo sheets are also soft. Bamboo isn’t as sturdy as cotton or poly, though. And, although it’s not synthetic, the manufacturing processes of many bamboo producers aren’t ecological. (Converting bamboo to rayon, especially, relies heavily on chemicals.) If you like bamboo sheets, check out the sustainability of the brand’s manufacturing.
  • Linen sheets are usually the most expensive, though they don’t last the longest (not the best combo). Some people are devoted to their airy, natural feel and look. (They are beautiful, and I do love linen fabric for clothing, napkins, curtains, etc.!) If you care how wrinkled your sheets are, you’ll have to iron linen ones. (I can’t imagine!) I also find linen sheets a tiny bit rough for sleeping, compared to cotton. But again, many people consider them the very best in bedwear!

What’s the best weave for bed sheets?

A made bed with pink, burgundy, blue, and white bedding.

Bed sheet material isn’t only about fiber content. You’ll also want to know a little bit about how those fibers are put together. Here are some terms you might run across:

  • Long-staple fiber means that the fabric is made from long fibers rather than short ones. Those long fibers can be spun into fine, strong threads. This results in a softer, more durable fabric. Egyptian and Pima cottons are long-staple varieties.
  • Percale is a plain weave (individual threads woven over and under each other). It results in a crisp-feeling sheet.
  • Sateen is also a weave, but instead of going over-under each thread, it goes over three threads, under one thread. The result is a little luster and a soft, smooth feel. Because it’s not as tight as a plain weave, it’s considered a little less durable.
  • Combed cotton means that the short fibers have been combed out and the long ones remain, leaving the material stronger and softer. 
  • Jersey is a fabric that’s knitted rather than woven. (That’s why the fabric stretches.) Some people love the softness of jersey sheets. You might too, if you love the feel of a t-shirt. Cotton jersey doesn’t have the cool, crisp feel of woven (percale or sateen), but some people love the softness. 
  • Flannel is a soft, thick, loosely woven fabric with a nap or fuzzy finish. That soft finish comes from a loose weave and/or from brushing the fabric. Many people look forward to flannel sheets for winter coziness. It comes in cotton or poly/cotton blends. 

What’s single ply?

Ply refers to how many yarns are twisted together to make each thread. (If you knit or crochet, you’ll be familiar with ply.) In general, single-ply threads are better, because they’re longer and stronger than multi-ply threads, in which shorter fibers are twisted together. Multi-ply yarn is heavier and less soft than single ply threads. Bed sheets made from single-ply threads will also last longer.  

What thread count is best for sheets?

a folded stack of light blue bed sheets against a blurred green background

The thread count of a sheet is the number of threads (both horizontally and vertically) in one square inch. Some people think the higher the thread count the better the sheet, because it will be the sturdiest. It may be the sturdiest and silkiest — or not. There are ways to create a high thread count without improving the quality of the sheet (by using lots of shorter-strand fibers, for example). A very tight thread count can also cut down on the sheet’s breathability. 

For good breathability and “hand” (how it feels and drapes), experts recommend something in the 300 to 400 thread count range, though some brands make decent (and less expensive) 200-count sheets, too. 

Bottom line: You can’t judge a sheet by its thread count.

How to take care of your sheets so they stay comfortable — and last!

  • Wash your sheets before you use them. This is especially important if they’re not made from organic fabric, because bed sheet fabrics are often treated with chemicals. You’ll want to wash away as much of the chemicals in the fibers as possible before sleeping on them. Note: Don’t buy bed sheets that just fit your bed before washing. They’ll probably shrink after washing (especially in hot water)! Too-snug sheets are a nuisance. Look for varieties that are generously made and that fit over your mattress pad comfortably, too. Nobody wants to start the day in a wrestling match with their bed.
  • Follow the directions on the label for washing. Hot water is best for killing germs and ridding your sheets of dust mites, sweat, and most germs. But not all sheets are able to withstand hot water. Cold water is often specified for linen and bamboo sheets, for example. 
  • Don’t overstuff the washing machine. Do more than one load, if necessary, to give your sheets plenty of room. 
  • Take it easy on the laundry detergent. Too much detergent can wear out the sheets faster. It can also accumulate on the fabric, making it stiff and scratchy. 
  • Don’t use bleach or heavy-duty detergents. They can contribute to pilling — those uncomfortable, ugly little balls on the fabric. Pilling isn’t attractive on a sweater, but it can be downright uncomfortable on a sheet!
  • Skip the fabric softener. It can make the fibers less absorbent. To soften and remove any residues, use white vinegar instead. (Simply add half a cup to your final rinse.)
  • Take your sheets out of the washing machine promptly. Open them up. (Tangled or twisted sheets won’t dry evenly.) Dry them right away (either in the dryer or on the clothesline). If you like your sheets a little less crisp when they come off the clothesline, pop them in the dryer for just a couple of minutes when you bring them in. 
  • Take sheets out of the dryer as soon as they’re dry, too. Continuing to dry them will weaken the fabric and cause pilling.

How often should I wash sheets?

messy white bed sheets

Wash your sheets and pillowcases every week. Some people go longer, but really — would you wear the same shirt for two weeks straight without washing it? 

In fact, sometimes sheets will need washing more often than once a week. If you’ve been ill, for example, you’ll want to wash your sheets every day or so. And if you don’t bathe before going to bed or if your pets sleep with you, well, step up the schedule! 

Also consider washing the pillowcases more often than the sheets. I’ll sometimes wash just the pillowcases in the middle of the week and then everything on the weekend.

What kind of sheets do you like? 

You might also enjoy:

Keeping a laundry hamper fresh

Towel care — How to keep bath towels soft, fluffy, and absorbent!

Mattress care 

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4 thoughts on “Sheets — How to choose and care for bed sheets”

  1. Thank you for this post! I have always thought that thread count meant everything, but now I see there are so many other elements to considering purchasing a sheet. I never understood ‘ply’ and and happy to learn the difference between percale and sateen. This has been incredibly helpful!

    • I think a lot of us thought thread count was the only measurement of quality! I’m glad you enjoyed learning about sheets, Kristine! Thank you for visiting!


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