Bed Linens

Monday, 26 May 2008

Ever wonder how to spot quality in linens? How about thread count vs. comfort? Since everyone spends about 1/3 of our lives in bed, we find out if you should trust the label, or your senses.


The Basics

  • The most important thing to look for when shopping for bed sheets is comfort.

  • Experts say to check the thread count, which is an estimate of the number of threads per square inch, lengthwise and width wise, and ranges from 80 to more than 340.

    • A lower thread count is usually a sign of thicker yarns.

    • A higher thread count means finer yarns and a higher price.

    • Most people are satisfied with a count between 180 and 200.

    • Thread count has become a status symbol that hotels, motels and even personal homes are succumbing to, but a 220-count sheet may be softer than a 400-count sheet if the cotton is higher quality.

  • Make sure you measure your mattress before you leave home so that you buy a fitted sheet that is the right size. A fitted sheet should encase the mattress and grip all four corners, with just a bit of room to spare.

  • Don’t forget to consider the overall strength of the sheet, and it will wrinkle or fade over time.

  • Cotton and cotton-polyester blend sheets are the two most common types sold, but there are a variety to choose from:

    • All cotton sheets are made of natural fibre that is inherently soft and absorbent and free from static cling. Egyptian cotton is the most popular and also the most expensive. It’s grown on trees instead of bushes and produces longer threads, which makes for a smoother fabric.

    • Cotton-Polyester blends are easy-care and more readily resist wrinkles. Polyester also helps reduce shrinkage and dries quickly. A good choice for families with children where convenience is a major factor and washing is frequently required.

    • Percale, an all-cotton or cotton-poly blend is another prevalent fabric and can be purchased in a plain weave, single threads woven one-over, one-under pattern.

    • Sateens are considered luxury-class linens. The satin weave gives fabric a slight sheen and a soft, smooth feel. The weave is one horizontal thread floated over four or more vertical threads and is usually all-cotton. These sheets may not stand up to every day wear and can be considerably more expensive.

    • Linen, considered the finest sheet fibre on the market, is spun from flax and is ideal for hot climates since it feels cool on your skin. The material is fairly expensive and requires special care, but it can last 20 years or more.

    • Silk is made from silk worm threads, which involves an intricate and delicate process. Cool on the skin, silk is one of the more expensive bedding materials.

    • Flannel, made by brushing loosely woven, lower thread count cotton fabric, to create a soft, fleecy "nap", is relatively inexpensive and a good choice for colder weather.

    • Jersey/Knit, the weave used mostly in T-shirts, is designed to feel warmer in cooler weather and cooler in hot weather. The porous nature of the fabric is meant to allow air to circulate. The softness when first purchased is often due to the finish, which is removed with laundering. Manufacturers, however, claim they get softer with wear, just like t-shirt. This fabric takes longer to dry than woven sheets, and is sold by weight; the heavier the material the better.

    • Satin is made from 100% Satin Polyester. It has a slippery, cool feel on the skin, but can become staticky if you move around a lot.

    • Muslin has the lowest thread count, around 130, and the lowest price. It has a reputation for being coarse and scratchy and is not widely sold.

  • If you’re after top quality Egyptian cotton, look first for “combed Egyptian cotton” on the label, and then look for “woven in Italy”. Finally, choose a good thread count.

Other Considerations

  • Watch for one-day sales or scheduled white sales at department stores to get good deals. You may not ever have to pay full price for sheets!

  • Some retailers and experts recommend having three sets of sheets. One for the bed, one in the linen closet and one in the laundry.

  • If you are concerned about pesticide residues, buy organic cotton sheets. With regular cotton, one set of conventional queen sized sheets requires over a pound of agricultural chemicals.

  • It’s recommended that sheets and pillow cases are aired daily as an average Canadian loses one litre of fluid every night through perspiration, salivation, etc.

  • When you first buy new sheets, wash them first, and follow label instructions carefully. Always wash dark colours separately.

Be Aware

  • Make sure you check the fine print on the package. It may say Egyptian Cotton in big letters, but when you check closer it may only contain 5 percent.

  • Save the receipts until after you have washed sheets several times and be wary of buying any ‘final sale’ sheets, especially irregulars that cannot be returned.

  • If you are buying at outlets or off-price retailers, inspect for fabric and sewing flaws.

  • Try to avoid using bleach on your sheets since it weakens fibres and makes them rougher.


To compare the feel of different sheets, we made up 4 beds in a local department store with sets ranging in price and material:

  • 50/50 Cotton-Poly (200 thread count): $105
  • Egyptian Cotton (600 thread count): $1200
  • Indian Cotton  (220 thread count): $355
  • Egyptian Cotton (250 thread count): $500

Comfort Test

We jumped in the beds and also invited shoppers to help us test:

  • No one liked the $500 Egyptian cotton sheets. One tester described them as stiff and crisp, like "Grandma” sheets.

  • The 50/50 Cotton-Poly sheets were the most familiar to testers.

  • The $355 Indian cotton sheets were well-received

  • The $1200 Egyptian cotton were the softest. And when we did a own blind feel test, they also came out as the number one choice.

Comfort Test

We laundered each set 20 times to see how they felt:

  • The 50/50 Cotton-Poly blend sheets were the least wrinkled
  • The $1200 Egyptian cotton sheets were still the softest.


While we definitely felt the $1200 Egyptian cotton sheets were the softest, we’re not sure if we’d spend that kind of money on bedding. We’d likely go with something a little more reasonable in price.



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