Trying to settle on a set of sheets? Understanding some basics about the fabrics they’re made of will help you compare labels wisely and make a smart choice.
“Cotton is by far the most-loved fabric for sheets,” says Jim Symmes, vice president at Revman International, which manufactures sheets for prominent brands such as Tommy Bahama and Laura Ashley. “It’s soft, durable and breathes well. But improvements in the manufacturing process and finishing techniques mean that other fabrics like polyester can be a viable alternative to cotton.” What you’re looking for is what the industry dubs a nice “hand”-soft and luxe to the touch.
Some fabrics may fit your needs better than others. Here’s a guide to choosing the sheet that’s right for you.
What Does Thread Count Mean (And Why Isn’t Highest Always the Best)?
Thread count refers to the number of horizontal and vertical threads per square inch. Generally, the higher the thread count, the softer the sheet, and the more likely it will wear well — or even soften — over time. Good sheets range anywhere from 200 to 800, although you’ll occasionally see numbers over 1,000. Astronomical thread counts don’t necessarily mean the sheet is better — there are even tricks to inflating the thread count (such as using multiple yarns twisted together) that don’t actually improve the hand of the fabric and may even detract from its quality.
Don’t assume a low thread count means low-quality sheets. “There are 200-count cotton sheets out there that are finished very nicely and actually feel like they have a higher thread count,” Symmes says. “Fewer chemicals and more mechanical finishings are used these days, giving a nice hand and performance.” If you’re watching pennies, try 200-count combed cotton sets from a well-known brand; name brands are likely to have high certification standards for their finishing processes.
Symmes says that his ideal sheet is a combed cotton sheet in the 300 to 400 thread count range.