How to Choose Cotton Sheets
Know the difference between Supima and sateen for a better night's sleep.
The average person spends about a third of his or her life sleeping. And the right sheets can make that time much dreamier. But shopping for bed linens means being confronted with a maze of options: Egyptian or Pima? Percale or sateen? Learning to decipher these terms will help you choose the sheet that makes you the most comfortable.
There are three factors that determine the quality and feel of a sheet: The fiber from which it is made, how the fabric is woven, and the thread count. When evaluating a set, look for these three key pieces of information and use it to find the best sheet for you.
What is it made from?
The most common fiber for bed sheets is cotton, and there are three main varieties: American Upland, Pima, and Egyptian. American Upland is the most widely used cotton and can be short- to long-staple ("staple" refers to the length of the individual fibers). If a label only says "100 percent cotton," it is likely to be American Upland. Pima is a fine, long-staple cotton that yields a very soft weave. The word "Supima" often appears on the labels of Pima sheets as a trademark of the Supima Association, which promotes Pima cotton. Egyptian cotton is the finest, longest-staple of all. Grown in the Nile River Valley, Egyptian cotton produces an extremely soft and supple weave.
Flannel sheets (also called brushed cotton) are made from cotton fibers that have been to pull loose tiny top fibers. They feel slightly fuzzy, making it a cozy choice for winter or cold climates. Other fibers commonly used for bed linens are linen and silk. These are more luxurious and considerably more expensive than cotton and require special care when it comes to cleaning, but they can be a worthwhile investment. High-quality linen sheets are durable enough to last for decades, are antimicrobial and are airy and cooler to the touch than cotton. (Since they are more breathable, they are more popular in warm climates.) Silk sheets, when properly cared for, are also durable and ideal for keeping warm in the winter and cool in the summer.
How is it woven?
Words such as Oxford, percale, and sateen on sheet labels refer to the way the fabric is woven. Each weave has different characteristics. Percale is a plain-weave fabric, meaning that the warp and the weft threads cross over and under each other one at a time. The threads are tightly woven, which results in a fine texture and finish. They get more comfortable with each wash. (Try: Martha Stewart Collection Cotton Percale 400 Thread Count Solid and Print Sheet Set Collection, Created for Macy's; from $60, Macys.com.)
Oxford has twice as many warp threads-threads that run lengthwise-as weft threads, which run widthwise. Commonly used to make men's dress shirts, oxford cloth stands up very well to laundering. It feels soft, heavy and crisp, making it perfect for pillowcases. (Try: Wainscott Oxford Weave Sheet Set; from $198, serenaandlily.com.)
Sateen sheets have a luxurious look and feel. The fabric is made in a satin weave, in which warp threads interlace with filling threads, exposing more thread surface and creating in a lustrous, silky, durable fabric and retains heat well-perfect for cold climates. (Try: Brooklinen Luxe Move-In Bundle in Window Pane; from $488, Brooklinen.com.)
What about thread count?
Thread count refers to how many threads compose one square inch of sheet fabric, including the horizontal threads and the vertical threads. This number ranges from 150-count (usually found in lower-priced sheets or children's bedding) to up to 1,000 or more (for the most expensive luxury sheets).
In general, a sheet with a higher thread count will be more durable and feel softer. A thread count of 200 is a good standard; a count of 300 will be noticeably softer. But above a certain point-say, 500 to 600 threads per inch-you won't be able to feel the difference. It's best to save your money for a different splurge. And very high thread count sheets tend to be less durable than something in the 400 to 600 thread count range.
While all of these factors should be taken into account when choosing sheets, ultimately, your personal preference is most important. The best test will come when you take your sheets home, wash them, and sleep on them for a while.