The best bed sheets are comfortable, durable and stylish
Comfortable bed sheets are key to a good night's sleep, but sheets that feel heavenly to one person can be uncomfortable for another. Many choices in quality sheets are available for a reasonable price, but shoppers should still do their homework to ensure they buy the best bed sheets for their taste and lifestyle.
With the exception of silk or satin sheets, which are typically poorly reviewed, virtually all bed sheets are made of cotton or cotton blends, although a few are made of polyester, rayon or other blends. Cotton remains popular because it's a natural fabric that "breathes," providing natural air flow and wicking properties, while also providing warmth. In other words, you won't get too hot in summer or cold in winter.
Both percale and sateen sheets are made from cotton that is derived from different, but closely related, species with varying fiber lengths. The difference in softness, durability and texture comes when those different fiber lengths are woven and/or brushed in different ways. Terms like "Egyptian cotton" are used mainly as a selling point. "Bamboo sheets" is another popular but misleading buzz word. Bamboo fabrics are actually rayon or rayon blends. Many of the claimed environmental and organic benefits of bamboo sheets have been overstated to the point that the Federal Trade Commission has directed retailers to stop labeling and advertising rayon textiles as bamboo and stop misleading customers about the fabric's supposed antimicrobial and eco-friendly qualities. Yes, bamboo sheets are very soft, but don't be misled -- they're just rayon.
Finally, a word about thread count. A high thread count has long been seen as the gold standard in the "best" bed sheets. The thread count refers to the number of horizontal and vertical threads in one square inch of fabric, and higher thread counts supposedly means the fabric is softer. But experts say anything over about 300 thread count isn't necessarily softer or stronger, and may only be more expensive. The best way to buy any sheet is to put your fingers on it -- if it feels pleasant to you, that's probably the right one.
Keep in mind that if you're heading off to college, you'll probably need an extra-long twin set to fit your mattress. Throughout this report, we've noted which of our picks are available in this size and others – some, for instance, may skip twin sizes all together, or won't be available in California king. (Anyone shopping for a college dorm should also check out our report on mini fridges, another dorm-room staple.)
Once you've identified the best sheets for you, don't stop there: Our reports on the best mattresses, mattress toppers and pillows can help make sure your bed is as comfortable as it can be.
Percale sheets are best for that crisp, cool feel
Percale refers to a common type of weave used in cotton or cotton-blend sheets. Woven like a basket with one thread over and one thread under, percale sheets are very breathable and often lighter in weight than other sheets. Many users describe them as "crisp," but percale may not feel soft or warm enough for some.
Microfiber sheets are inexpensive, durable
Manmade microfiber is composed of finely woven fibers manufactured from wood pulp, or polyester and nylon blends. Microfiber sheets are quite thin, but, in spite of their seemingly fragile construction, are actually quite strong. Fans of microfiber sheets say they are soft and comfortable out of the package. They also tend to be very inexpensive. Downsides here include static cling and a tendency to attract lint. Some users also say microfiber sheets aren't as breathable as cotton sheets.
Sateen sheets provide soft, smooth surface
Woven with four threads over one thread, sateen sheets are slightly thicker than percale sheets and have a unique luster, or sheen. They're known for a soft, smooth feel, but some users find them too warm or "slippery," and they can be less durable than percale sheets.
Flannel sheets are warm, cozy for cool nights
Today's flannel sheets are usually made of cotton, although some may also use wool or synthetic fibers. The weave has a raised surface, or "nap," that makes the sheets soft and fuzzy. Flannel sheets are ideal for frostier climates or those who get cold easily, but they may not be best for those who sleep hot. The sheets may also shed and pill more easily than others.
How we chose the best bed sheets
Recent expert reviews of bed sheets are limited. ConsumerReports.org no longer tests or rates bed sheets, and tests performed by GoodHousekeeping.org are quite dated. One notable exception is TheSweethome.com, which maintains an updated guide to several types of sheets based on in-depth, comparative testing. Fortunately, there is no shortage of owner reviews at sites including Amazon.com, LLBean.com, JCPenney.com, Target.com and other individual retailers. When evaluating sources, we focused on comfort, durability and style. The result is our picks for the best bed sheets to ease you into a good night's sleep and keep you comfortable while you snooze.