The Different Types of Bed Sheets

Learn Good Quality Sheets From Average

Sheets hanging to dry.
Siri Stafford Getty Images

Finding good deals on bed sheets involves a lot more than just looking at price tags. Understanding how sheets are made, including a basic knowledge about the fabrics, weaves, and finishes commonly found in sheets, is what determines how good of a deal you are getting.

Buying sheets can be a daunting task, but buying low-quality bed sheets is a waste of money. It is also a waste of money to buy expensive bed sheets that appear to be top quality, but are barely average in feel and performance.


Understanding the Thread Count

When people talk about sheets, inevitably the conversation turns to thread count. Thread count refers to the number of horizontal and vertical threads in a square inch of fabric. Back in the 1990s, the idea was born that the thread count used in constructing bed sheets was all shoppers needed to know to determine the . It was a very simple comparison; the higher the thread count, the higher the quality; the lower the thread count, the lower the quality. But today, knowing the thread count is just one piece of the puzzle when determining the quality of bed sheets.

Plying and the Thread Count Rip-Off 

Plying is when more than one strand of yarn is twisted together to form a single thread. Single-ply fabrics are made with individual threads, and the result is fabric that is lightweight and flowing. Fabrics that are two-ply are heavier.

When the thread count craze began, some manufacturers figured out a way to increase the thread count without adding any additional thread.

They decided that if a two-ply thread was used, then both pieces of the thread could be counted into the total thread count. In other words, a thread count of 500 could be just 250 two-ply threads.

When inflating the thread count was a success, some manufacturers pushed it even further. Instead of using two-ply thread, they would use four-ply thread.

Soon, shoppers were seeing thread counts of 1000 and even more. But as more and more sheets failed to pass the quality tests, consumers began to wise up and complain. Next, the Federal Trade Commission got involved and made a ruling that plied yarn could only be counted as a single thread when used to determine the thread count.

Today, the thread count is only one way (and the least significant way) to determine the   of sheets.

Deciding on Single-Ply or Two-Ply

After reading about thread counts, you might find that you are still confused about single-ply threads and multiple-ply thread, or even why it matters. Here is why knowing the . The quality of the fabric is determined by the quality of fibers used to make the fabric. With bed sheets, the longer the fiber, the better the quality of the fabric. When fibers are twisted together to create two-ply threads, it results in a looser weave that if heavier, rougher and has a shorter lifespan.

Knowing this will help you select the best product at the best price.

For example, if you see a set of bed sheets for $50 that are two-ply and with a thread count of 400 and an another set of bed sheets for $40 that are single-ply and with a thread count of 250, the best buy will likely be the $40 pair because the integrity of the fibers is intact which produces a higher quality fabric than the two-ply, regardless of the thread count.

Understanding Staple Length

Because of its softness and durability, cotton is the fiber most commonly used in bed sheets, but not all cotton is the same.

Picture the boll of a cotton plant. It looks like a ball of white cotton candy until you start to pull it apart. Then what you will see is around 250,000 fibers. When determining the quality of cotton, it is the length of the fibers, referred to as the staple, that determines the quality of the cotton.

  • Short staple fiber is one and one-eighth inch long and the lowest quality.
  • Long staple fiber is at least one and one-fourth inch long and is high quality.
  • Extra-long staple fiber is one and three-eighth to two inches long and is the finest quality.

American Upland
Known for its shorter-length staple fibers, this is the most commonly used cotton found in sheets. American Upland cotton has a rougher feel to it, and it is the least expensive of the other cotton. When a label reads, "100% Cotton" then it most likely made with American Upland.

Known for strength and durability, Pima Cotton is a long-staple cotton fiber that produces a super soft weave and a subtle sheen. It is a high-quality cotton with an average cost of around $200 or more per set.

Supima is the trademark name used when a product is made with American-grown Pima.

Egyptian cotton is the highest quality cotton. It is the finest and longest staple which produces luxuriously soft, yet extremely durable sheets. At one time Egyptian cotton sheets were sold primarily in the more expensive stores, but today you can find them in most linen departments. 

When buying Egyptian cotton sheets, beware of the many knock-offs that are sold. Real Egyptian cotton sheets will have a fabric tag that reads Egyptian Cotton. Also, the thread count will be high because of the thin staple. Sheets made of a higher thread count, weigh more than those made with a lower thread count. The prices on Egyptian cotton sheets will also be considerably higher. When it comes to buying Egyptian cotton sheets, if the price is too good to be true, proceed with caution.

Known for its breath-ability and how well it improves with age, Linen is also a  for bed sheets.

The Importance of the Weave

When choosing sheets is helps to understand the  commonly found in sheets and how different weaves perform over time.

Percale, also called plain weave, is made from high-quality combed cotton that is tightly woven. The weave produces a soft and smooth finish. Because of it has a light feel to it, it is the best choice for people who get hot when they sleep.

Flannel cotton sheets are made with a plain or twill weave and are noticeably soft and pliable.

Sateen is woven using the technique of four threads over and one under which leaves the fabric feeling lustrous and smooth and similar to silk. It is also heavier than other weaves, making it a good choice for people who get cold when they sleep. It is the least durable of the three weaves.

The Real Deals

There are many times when getting a real deal means buying the best quality that you can afford. When it comes to bed sheets, it pays off to hold out for the higher quality sheets to go on sale, rather than to load up the linen closet with sheets that lack comfort or durability. Poor quality sheets will often fall apart within a year of regular use. A pair of high-quality sheets lasts for decades and improves over time.

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