THE 3 MAIN COMPONENTS OF A GOOD SHEET
You spend a third of your life in bed, and good sheets can make a huge difference to your quality of sleep. When looking for new sheets, there are three things to consider before making a purchase.
1) What material is it made from?
Cotton is the classic fabric for bed-sheets. It is breathable, hard-wearing, and relatively cheap. The longer and thinner the individual fibers (known as the staple), the more flexible and hard-wearing the cotton is.
The king is Egyptian cotton, with the longest and finest fibers in the world. Be careful when buying, though: often, standard-quality cotton is shipped to Egypt for weaving, so the label can legally claim to be “Egyptian cotton”. Pima cotton and Sea Island cotton, both American-grown fabrics known for their long fine fibers, are two other types worth looking out for.
Purists disdain poly-cotton blends, but they can be a practical budget choice. The key is to choose sheets with a high percentage of cotton (85-90%), which retain all the comfort of cotton with the added bonus of being easier to iron and quicker to dry.
Other fabrics are occasionally used for bed sheets. Silk looks beautiful and is reputed to be good for the skin; it is also slippery and easily damaged, meaning it’s best kept for special occasions rather than everyday use. Linen feels crunchy and tough at first, but softens with regular washing. Good quality linen sheets can last for decades, which is why they are a traditional wedding present in Europe.
2) How is the fabric woven?
The two most common weaves for bed-sheets are percale and sateen. Percale is a standard ‘criss-cross’ weave, where the warp (horizontal) and weft (vertical) threads make a grid pattern. Sateen cotton has more yarn surface lying on the top of the cloth, as it has long ‘float’ threads which lie flat across the top. These long threads reflect light, making sateen look slightly shiny. Sateen feels softer and thicker than percale, but it is not as durable.
3) What is the thread count?
Thread count is an easy rule of thumb to determine the quality of bed sheets, but it doesn’t tell the whole story. Thread count refers to the number of threads used in a square inch of fabric – for example, a percale cotton with 100 warp and 100 weft threads in each inch would have a thread count of 200.
Basic cheap bed-sheets have a thread count of about 60. Better quality cotton starts from around 180; at 300 you will feel a noticeable difference in quality; a thread count of 400 feels like sleeping on a cloud.
Beyond 500, though, quality actually starts to decrease. Why? Retailers know that shoppers see high thread count as a sign of quality cotton. Even with the finest cotton, it is difficult to cram more than 450 threads into a square inch. So manufacturers use dishonest tricks like weaving the cotton with four-ply thread (made of four strands twisted together), which technically quadruples the thread count but also makes the cotton stiff and uncomfortable.
There have been lawsuits in America about misleading of thread counts, but the practices linger. The thing to look out for is quality fabric. Egyptian cotton sheets with a count of 100 will feel better than a higher count made with worse cotton, and linen sheets have a naturally low thread count but are high quality.