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Sheets Buying Guide

By: Angela Stringfellow on July 26, 2017

What the best bed sheets have

  • The proper pocket depth. Measure your mattress thickness to be sure you get properly fitted sheets for your bed. The fitted sheet should be deep enough to comfortably fit your mattress, with enough elastic to keep it in place. If you choose a sheet with extra-deep pockets and you have a standard-sized mattress, it may result in bagging or wrinkling. If you choose a fitted sheet that's too snug, it may slide off. If you use a mattress topper, which we cover in a separate report, be sure your fitted sheet will fit over both your mattress and topper. In that case, you may need to consider ultra-deep-pocket sheets with 22-inch pockets, although these are not as common as 15- to 18-inch pockets.
  • Breathable fabric that works for most seasons. Sheets made of natural fabrics such as cotton "breathe" more and are less likely to make you sweat than polyester blends, which is especially important during warmer weather. Even in winter, if you like flannel sheets, cotton will keep you from getting overly warm under your covers.
  • Sturdy, durable construction. Look for double-stitched hems that lay flat on flat sheets and pillowcases, and be sure the elastic on fitted sheets either runs all the way around the sheet or at least lines two opposing sides to minimize slippage. Sheets should not pill easily, even after quite a few washings.
  • Reasonable care instructions. With the exception of very high-end silk, nearly all sheets are machine washable and dryable. Follow care instructions for cycle speed, temperature and stain removal to maximize your sheets' lifespan.

Know before you go

Do you like warmer or cooler sheets? Sheets that are all cotton, all linen or a mix of the two will keep you coolest, according to experts. Sleepers who get cold easily may prefer flannel or a cotton knit such as jersey.

Do you like a crisp, soft or fluffy feel? This is where fabric weave comes into play. If you prefer a crisp feel, opt for percale, a plain weave made from combed and carded cotton. For a softer sheet, sateen puts more yarn at the sheet surface. Microfiber tends to be very thin, but also very soft; however, microfiber may not "breathe" as well as natural fibers like cotton. Flannel sheets feel fluffier than percale or sateen because they have a fuzzy, raised "napped" finish.

Check thread count, but don't rely on it. Thread count should be just one consideration when you purchase bedding. While good bed sheets should have a minimum thread count of 200, experts say higher counts can mean significantly higher prices with only marginal benefits. Fiber quality, yarn size, finishing and construction play a more significant role in sheets' comfort and durability.

Are you picky about colors and patterns? Many sheet manufacturers offer only solids in neutrals or muted pastels, although some of the top-rated bed sheets now come a few pattern choices. You may have better luck finding brighter colors and patterns on comforters or duvet covers that are made to coordinate with the sheets. Note that yarn-dyed fabric will generally resist fading better than printed fabric, but it will also boost the sheets' price.

Beware of the finish put on new sheets. Sheet manufacturers often apply chemicals, or sizing, to prevent shrinking and wrinkling, to add sheen, and to make the sheets look smoother and more attractive in the packaging. You should always wash sheets at least once before using. Some people like to wash their sheets multiple times to make them softer. Percale sheets, in particular, tend to soften up after the first wash or two. 

Know your retailer's return policy. Don't be afraid to inspect package contents before you buy to make sure you get the proper sizes and number of pieces. Many retailers will allow you to return sheets even after washing them if there are problems with fading, shrinking or feel.

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