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    How to Buy Cotton Sheets: A Buyers Guide

    Cotton Sheet Buyers Guide

    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

    Price

    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

    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 LabelingJust 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 this video to learn more about thread count:

    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


    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


    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

    Thread Spread


    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.