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How to Buy Cotton Sheets: A Buyers Guide

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Learning how to buy cotton sheets doesn't need to be difficult, but it can be confusing. A nice set of sheets can help make your night very luxurious, and there's little doubt that the sheets you use can make or break your night's comfort.

With no shortage of cotton sheets on the market today, finding the right fiber, weave and thread count can make your head spin. In our cotton sheets buyers guide, we'll show you what to look for, and even give you a few of our favorite picks. 


Cotton Sheet Buyers Guide

We spend a third of our lives sleeping, and let's face it, there's nothing quite like crawling in bed at the end of a long day. When our sheets are cozy and comfortable, we seldom give them a second thought.

But on those mornings when we wake-up and the fitted sheet has slipped off the mattress, or the "feel" of the fabric isn't welcoming, we're very aware of the situation, and the unpleasant night we experienced.

When it comes to buying cotton sheets, understanding the terminology can help you cut thru the sales hype. You'll be able to find a great set of sheets within your price range once you know what to look for.

Why Cotton?

Cotton has a number of benefits over other sheet fabrics. Here are just a few of the reasons why cotton sheets are one of the most popular fabrics in the United States:

  • Durablity - Cotton is a very durable fabric and holds up well to laundering.
  • Multi-Seasonal - Because the cotton is breathable, you can expect it to be cool in the summer and warm in the winter.
  • Wide Range of Colors - Since cotton is easy to dye, it's available in nearly every color you could image.
  • Affordable - Many cotton sheets are very affordable. However, if you're looking for extreme luxury, you can certainly pay more by purchasing high-end Egyptian cotton.
  • Hypoallergenic - Cotton is an excellent choice for those with allergy sensitivities. 

But as we'll see in our cotton sheet buyers guide, not all cotton is the same. Low quality sheets can have a scratchy, cheap feel, which makes them very uncomfortable. 

Price of Cotton Sheets

How Much Do Cotton Sheets Cost?

A common question people ask is: "How much do good sheets cost?" The answer: It depends. Thread count, construction, length of the cotton staple, and a number of other factors go into determining the price of sheets.

For the most part, you can expect to pay between $50 to $150 for a nice set of queen-sized quality cotton sheets in either a percale or sateen weave. 

Finding queen-sized cotton sheets under $50 isn't difficult, but the quality tends to be less consistent. You might be lucky and find a great set of sheets, but you also may purchase a set with low quality stitching and a rough feel. Longevity and soft material is rarely found in sheets that sell for less than $50.

Quality Indicators of Cotton Sheets

Many shoppers think that thread count is the primary way to determine the quality level of cotton sheets. In truth, it is an indicator, but there are several others that are more critical to consider. Let's take a closer look at each:

Yarn Size

Yarn size refers to the fineness of each yarn (thread). When the yarn size number is higher, the yarn is finer; and a finer yarn results in a fabric that is more supple and lighter. 

A quality set of cotton sheets will typically have a yarn size between 40 and 100. Very expensive sheets may have a yarn size of 120, but these are less common.

When a finer yarn is used, it requires more threads to be woven within a square inch, and thus results in a higher thread count.

Cotton Growing

Fiber Quality

When you see "cotton" on the label, you might think all cotton is the same, but in reality, that couldn't be further from the truth. 

The length of the cotton fiber is known as a staple, and how short or long the staple is determines the feel, durability and softness of the fabric. 

What is Staple?

Cotton plants grow soft, white puffballs that are called a "boll" and each boll is made up of individual cotton fibers (staples). There can be nearly 250,000 individual staples in each boll!

Staple length is broken down into 3 different classifications: Short, long, and extra-long staple. As you can see below, the difference between the length is only a fraction of an inch.

However, when the staple is longer, the fabric is stronger and smoother, resulting in increased longevity and durability. The longer the staple, the finer the yarn . . . and the better the sheets.

  • Short Staple: Is found in cotton plants that have fibers that measure 1-1/8".  Short staple fiber fabrics are great for everyday use. 95% of US cotton is Upland cotton, making it the most common short staple cotton. It's strong and soft and is frequently used to make fannel clothing and denim jeans. 
  • Long Staple: The individual fibers for long staple cotton measure 1-1/4". Long staple cotton is often used to make bedding and towels because as the staple length increases, the cotton fabric develops a soft and silky feel. During the spinning and weaving process fewer fiber ends are exposed due to the longer fiber length, resulting in a smoother surface. Sheets that are made with long staple cotton are less likely to tear or pill, and often become softer with use.
  • Extra-Long Staple: These fibers measure 2" in length and are considered to be the most luxurious cotton available. The cotton plants that produce extra-long staple fibers are far more challenging to grow. They make-up only a small percentage of the US cotton crop. Egyptian and Pima cotton are both made with extra-long staple cotton. Expect to pay a premium price for these premium sheets.

Beware of Deceptive Labeling

Just because the label states that the sheets are made from 100% cotton doesn't mean that they are made from high quality cotton. 

You might think that if you purchase Egyptian cotton sheets they are made with 100% extra-long staple cotton. But unfortunately, some deceptive manufacturers mix different staple types together during the spinning and weaving process.

Without strict regulations, these manufacturers are able to label their products as 100% cotton, reduce their production expenses, and sell their incorrectly labeled sheets to an unsuspecting shopper.


Cotton Sheets Drying on a Clothes Line

Finishing

Once the yarn has been woven into a fabric, it should be finished. Lower quality sheets sometimes skip this step in order to cut costs. But the finishing process is important and includes singeing and mercerizing.

  • Singeing - Singeing burns off any small bits of fuzz or protruding fibers from the fabric. It improves the smoothness, luster and helps prevent your sheets from pilling.
  • Mercerizing - Mercerizing causes the fibers to swell by treating the fabric in a caustic solution under tension. This process improves the strength and luster of the fabric as well as allowing for better penetration of the dye into the fibers. 
Cotton Sheet Thread Count

Thread Count

Thread count refers to how many vertical and horizontal threads are within a single inch of fabric. As an example; if a square inch of fabric has 150 vertical threads and 150 horizontal threads, the thread count would be 300. 

A high thread count generally means that a finer thread was used. The fabric becomes warmer, softer and denser as the thread count increases. Sheets with a lower thread count have a crisper feel. 

Single and Multi-Ply Yarn

Single-ply fabric's are manufactured with single threads. They produce lightweight and sleek fabric. Multi-ply yarn uses 2 threads that are twisted together to form 1 single thread.

2-ply yarn results in thicker thread, which in turn produces a heavier fabric, with a rougher feel, and it is typically less durable.

Thread Construction

As we've stated before, thread count should not be your sole indicator for quality. However, when looking at thread count, it's critical to know how the thread count was determined. This is called thread construction.

Determining how many vertical and horizontal yarns used may sound simple enough, but sometimes, to achieve higher thread counts, manufacturers use less than honest labelling.

As an example, they may use 2-ply yarns and double the thread count on the label by counting each ply as an individual thread. FTC rules state that plied yarns are only to be counted as a single thread, however, it is not enforced. 

In response to the ruling, the most common method of achieving higher thread counts is to use single plies with multiple picks (a pick is a single horizontal yarn).

Top Quality Weave

The best weave quality is woven with a single pick using single ply yarns. This type of fabric construction can only deliver a thread count as high as 400. Any fabric that has a higher thread count is made using multi-picks and/or 2-ply yarns.

Watch the Video

Types of Cotton Sheets

There are several types of cotton sheets available, the one you select will likely be determined by your preference and budget. 

100% Cotton

If the label reads 100% cotton it's most likely American Upland cotton. This is the most widely used cotton and it's available in both short and long staple fibers. Read our full review on the California Design Den Sheets.

Our Top Pick

California Design Den 100% Cotton Sheets - Softest 4-Pc Queen Sheet Set, Cooling Sheets for Queen Size Bed, Deep Pockets, 400 Thread Count Sateen, Bedding Sheets & Pillowcases, Queen Sheets (Taupe)
  • WINNER GOOD HOUSEKEEPING 2023 BEST BEDDING AWARD!: Wake up refreshed in all seasons with our certified 400-thread count sateen 100 percent cotton sheets which are soft and cool, providing you with comfortable sleep throughout the year. As featured in a 2023 Wall Street Journal article, our luxury sheets were referred to as "as soft as sheets 3x the price" - a great value indeed.
  • PERFECTLY SIZED AND WELL-FITTING: Our 4-piece cotton queen sheets deep pocket set includes 1 top sheet, 1 bottom fitted sheet with all-around elastic that fits mattresses 8 to 16 inches deep, and 2 standard/queen size pillowcases. The high-quality elastic won't loosen or bunch up, and head/foot side indicators make bed-making a breeze.
  • EASY TO WASH AND MAINTAIN: You can machine wash and dry our sheets at a normal setting, and they will come out looking great for years. Our queen sheet set deep pocket is durable, hardly wrinkles, and won't pill, fade, or shrink.
  • HEALTH BENEFITS: Cotton is naturally breathable and gentle on your skin. According to the National Sleep Foundation, synthetic fabrics like microfiber can disrupt sleep and cause health issues, while 100% cotton sheets promote natural temperature regulation and better daytime functioning. Our bed sheets cooling are certified “Oekotex Standard 100”, tested for harmful substances to protect your health.
  • OUR COMMITMENT: In 2022 & 2023, we donated over 22,000 pieces of bedding to local charities in the USA. We do not use plastic in our packaging, and our sheets are produced in our family-owned and operated factory in India. Each piece is inspected for quality, and we promise to replace any defective products at no cost to you. Buy with confidence with our 30-day return policy, even if you've washed or used our product.

Pima Cotton

This high-quality cotton is made with long-staple cotton fibers. It's both strong and durable with a very soft weave. The Supima Association promotes Pima cotton, so you'll frequently see it labelled as "Supima Pima Cotton" which basically means that it was grown in the United States.

Our Top Pick

Peru Pima, Bed Sheets Set with 4 Pieces, 415 Thread Count, Percale, 100% Peruvian Pima Cotton, Hotel Luxury Quality, Extra Soft and Cooling Sheets, Queen Size, Slate Solid Color
  • Complete Bed Sheet Set: The Queen 4-Piece Bed Sheet Set includes a flat sheet (92 by 102 in), a full elastic fitted sheet (60 by 80 in), and two pillowcase (20 by 30 in) with an envelope enclosure.
  • Peruvian Pima Cotton: Luxurious sets made from 100% Peruvian Pima Cotton with premium extra-long staple fibers. These sets are skillfully manufactured by expert artisans for unparalleled quality.
  • Percale Weave: The percale weave imparts a cool, soft texture with matte finish to our sets. Engineered for durability, our sets get smoother with each wash for an unparalleled sleeping experience.
  • Luxury Hotel Quality: Expertly crafted with elegant details, tight stitching, and favored by top hotels worldwide. Oeko-Tex Certified, environmentally friendly, and beautifully packaged for special occasions.
  • Easy-Care Convenience: Effortless maintenance - machine wash and tumble dry on low. Designed to withstand frequent washes while preserving softness and vibrant color. Enjoy a hassle-free bed sheet experience.

Egyptian Fiber

If luxury is your primary goal, Egyptian cotton is the way to go. These extra-long staple cotton fibers are grown in the Nile River Valley, and they produce the most luxurious soft sheets money can buy.

You can expect Egyptian cotton sheets to provide better moisture absorbtion and have a very sharp-looking appearance. But expect a higher price tag. High quality Egyptian cotton sheets aren't cheap.

To make sure you're getting the real thing, check that the label reads "Egyptian Cotton" and expect to see a higher thread count due to the thinner staple.

Our Top Pick

Pure Egyptian Queen Size Cotton Bed Sheets Set (Queen, 1000 Thread Count) Ocean Blue Bedding Pillow Cases (4 Pc) Egyptian Cotton Sheets Queen Size Bed- Sateen Sheets -16 in Queen Deep Pocket Sheets
  • Top Quality Egyptian Cotton Queen Sheets Set: Our Light Blue, Queen Sheets Deep Pocket Are As Soft As A Cloud And Will Help To Provide You With A More Restful Night’s Sleep. These Deep Pocket Sheets Queen Size Sets Made From Specially Compacted Yarns Made From 100% Long Staple Cotton Are Standard 100 By Oeko-Tex Ensuring You Of Thread Count And Performance.
  • 1000 Thread Count, Deep Pocket Queen Sheets (4 Piece Set): These Luxurious, 1000 Thread Count Queen Sheet Sets Come With A Flat Sheet (90” X 102”), A Deep Fitted Sheets Queen Size (60” X 80” + 16") With An All-Around Elastic That Fits An 16” Deep Mattress, & A Pair Of Standard Size 21” X 32” Pillowcases.
  • Silky Soft Sheets! These Egyptian Cotton Sheets Set Are Made From Pure Egyptian Cotton Which Is Renowned For Its Softness And Durability. We Apply A Top-Quality Sateen Finish To Our Queen Light Blue Sheet Set, Offering Lustrous Look Like Silk Or Satin, Yet Ensuring Breathability And Natural Feel.
  • Anti-Pilling & Fade Resistant: Our Sateen Sheets Queen Size Sheet Set Use The Best Quality Yarns Which Are Anti-Pilling And Fade Resistant. Don’T Risk It With Other Light Blue Queen Bed Sheets Set That Are Itchy And Fade In The Wash, You Deserve Luxury!
  • No Risk To You! At Threadspread, We Are Committed To Quality And Providing You The Best Sheets Possible! In Case You Face Any Problem, You Can Write To Us Directly And Get Your Grievances Addressed Immediately And You Can Return The Product To Us For A Full Refund.

Weave Types

How a fabric looks and feels is ultimately the result of the weave that was used. The 2 most common weaves for cotton sheets are percale and sateen. The one you choose is more of a personal preference, as one weave is not necessarily better than the other.

Percale

A Percale weave uses a one-over and one-under weave pattern. This traditional weave results in a matte finish and is beathable and light weight. 

The sheets have a cool and crisp feel and are an excellent choice if you tend to sleep hot. With exceptional durability and softness you can expect sheets made with a percale weave to improve with each washing.

Many hotels prefer a Percale weave for their sheets. A quality set of Percale sheets should have a thread count between 200 and 300.

Sateen

The sateen weave uses a one-yarn-under and three-yarn-over pattern which exposes more of the thread to the surface. The result is a very soft and silky feel, with a wonderful sheen.

More tightly woven than Percale sheets, they also tend to be heavier and warmer. Although, not as durable, they are buttery soft to the touch, and more than capable of delivering year around comfort.

Expect to see a thread count between 300 and 600 in quality sateen sheets.

This video will show you the difference between the 2 weaves:

Mattress Fit

Sizing your sheets to fit is relatively easy if you have a standard size mattress. If your mattress is a King, Queen, Full or Twin, your main concern is the depth of the pocket on the fitted sheet.

Pillow-top beds and other "thick" mattresses will need a fitted sheet with a deep pocket, otherwise the corners of the sheet may slip off the mattress during the night.

However, if you have a California King or extra-long twin it's important to pay special attention to ensure that the sheets fit properly.

Fitted Sheet

A fitted sheet has elastic along at least 2 of the edges, in addition to the 4 corners. It will securely "fit" the sheet to the mattress and prevent it from slipping during the night. 

Fitted sheets are the most common bottom sheets, but they are prone to wrinkling. They are also difficult to fold and store.

Flat Sheet

A flat sheet is similar to the top sheet and takes a little more work to make the bed since it doesn't have elastic to secure it to the mattress.

There's more flexibility on sizing with a flat sheet since it isn't limited to the predetermined size of the elastic edges. They are also easy to fold and store flat when not on the mattress.

Guarantee

No cotton sheet buyers guide would be complete without discussing return policies. Many companies offer a satisfaction guarantee on their bed sheets.

This is especially helpful if you're making an online purchase and won't be able to physically handle the sheets before buying.

Last update on 2024-04-19 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

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