Know the difference between Supima and sateen for a better night's sleep.

By Maridel Reyes
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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.

Comments (28)

Anonymous
June 10, 2019
Check this out (helpful) : nymag.com/strategist/article/what-are-the-best-bed-sheets.html PS: dear Martha. I bought two of your sheet sets at Macy's today. "whim" a 325 thread count 100% cotton (not further specified) and Percale 400 thread count. Out of the pkg the whim feels softer. All in the dryer now (on low heat) after warm water initial wash. We'll see! Goal: cool and soft for summer.
Anonymous
May 18, 2019
Very informative, I have been trying for years to find the sheets my mother had. Hanging them out on a line in the sun helps. My next try is for the ones from the Vermont Country Store. I have tried all kinds and either they pill or wrinkle or just don’t give me what I’m looking for.
Anonymous
January 7, 2019
be aware that christys hygrow is 85% owned by welspun india. This is the company behind the recall of cotton sheets & towels by target, macys etc.
Anonymous
September 4, 2018
It is discouraging when one discovers false advertising, even from usually reliable sources, and even more so that nothing is done to put a stop to what is an illegal practice. I too love Egyptian pima, percale-weave sheets. They're expensive but they're "sturdy," and crisp and smooth. I have learned something--while 350 or so thread count is good, the higher you go, the thinner the threads will most likely be. A thread count of 1600 may sound good, but the threads will be so thin they'll break eventually, and the sheet is pretty thin. Who'd have thought there'd be so much to know about sheets, and that there would be so many unsatisfactory choices--rough, pilling, thin, etc--to avoid!
Anonymous
August 17, 2018
Be very, very careful of buying sheets on Amazon. I bought 1000 thread count Egyptian Cotton sheets - advertised as hotel quality, percale, crisp etc. that were close to, if not actually cheap micro fiber sheets that you can get anywhere for $25 - $30. I paid $121. After 4 days emailing back and forth with Amazon and trying to get a full refund, I finally got my money back. However, do the research on cotton. Yes, there is pure Egyptian Cotton - however it is a trade marked brand and very expensive. The same goes for Supima cotton - also trade marked. Most real good cotton, like pima and percale will never exceed 600 thread count. Higher than that, it is not a good quality cotton and may even be a micro fiber, made out of wood (cellulose). I told Amazon about it, but they don't seem to care and continue to allow many dealers to continue to engage in false advertising. Recently, many stores like Target, Macy's, Bed, Bath & Beyond were forced to remove many sheets that were advertised as Egyptian Cotton that were not. I believe that these unscrupulous sellers are now peddling those same cheap sheets on Amazon. Shame on them for allowing this to happen!!
Anonymous
August 7, 2018
I just looked at sheet sets at Macy. It is rather confusing with there cotton terminology. Surrey cotton, nu-percale cotton, Hygro-cotton and damask. I ordered a set that came with the pillowslips missing and the 900 thread sheets were very thin. We are working out an exchange. I need your help.
Anonymous
July 22, 2018
Looking for cool sheets. Is cotton percale or polyester percale the way to go? Can you tell us what sheets have lasted you 60 years!!
Anonymous
June 26, 2018
The last paragraph of this article states the problem for consumers. We can't assess our sheets until we have used them. As the first commenter said, the labels don't help. Thread count means nothing, in my experience. Egyptian cotton can vary. Ideally, the package details would provide information on the quality of the cotton. My best sheets are over 60 years old. They were not expensive, and they have a low thread count. They have a beautiful sheen and drape, with no pilling. They are opaque.
Anonymous
January 19, 2018
Kind of informative this article is… But in actual thread count doesn’t exceed more than 500 Thread Count, After 500 TC layered cotton are made, and no company sells 100% Egyptian Cotton, they are custom handmade cottons. Visit aanya linen more to learn about this, Aanya Linen
Anonymous
April 2, 2017
SOFT SHEETS- BAMBOO AND COTTON
Anonymous
March 26, 2017
I want the following sheet qualities: Very, very crisp feel - I don't care if they wrinkle after washed. Very, very high thread count 100% cotton - the best that can be bought White or color - Is there a difference in the crispness of white or color? Not thin or sateen smooth feeling $$$ - Not looking for cheap My last set lasted for over 25 years. Have been searching ever since I could mend them no more. Please give the data I need to look for replacements. Percale? 1000 -1500 thread count? 100% Egyptian cotton from the Nile Valley? Generous fitting queen contour. Flat top sheet that is wider than standard queen. These are skimpy on the sides, and king are too big. So many questions. Can you please guide this purchase? Ever grateful for any help. Also, any suggested sources for on line, or store names that carry these items.
Anonymous
March 3, 2017
I'm looking for sheets as soft as the baby crib sheets by Aden and Anais only in queen size. They only sell crib sheets. Any idea Where I could get something like that?
Anonymous
March 2, 2017
Anonymous
August 24, 2016
Can anyone tell me how long Martha Stewart has been selling chambray sheets? I have a set that's quite old and am not sure if they are Martha Stewart. I may have actually bought them at a KMart years ago. Can anyone also tell me if todays chambray would hold up as well? I am on a quest to find a good set of cotton percale sheets, reasonably priced, that will stand the test of time. And of course it would be nice if they didn't need ironing. My old ones come out of the dryer nearly wrinkle free.
Anonymous
August 16, 2016
Growing up we didn't hear anything about thread-count. Our parents used cotton percale sheets and the kids got the muslin ones - more durable. And they were all ironed :) But my absolute favorite sheets I can't find anymore. Before the fad of the all cotton, high thread count sheets, you could get a cotton/polyester blend that was the best - cool, smooth, super comfortable. BUT, it has to be a Combed Cotton of 60% (50% minimum) and Polyester 40%. Combed cotton is the key!
Anonymous
July 23, 2016
Which sheets are the coolest?
Anonymous
July 17, 2016
I want sheets that don't have to be ironed. I've bought expensive and inexpensive sheets that all say they don't need to be ironed. I've laundered them exactly as instructed and they all have to be ironed. The sheets I grew up with didn't have to be ironed. Thats what I want but don't know what to look for. It seems the higher the thread count & the more expensive the more they have to be ironed. What should I look for? Even inexpensive sheets are expensive if they're not right.
Anonymous
July 17, 2016
Great information..
Anonymous
July 17, 2016
I find it so strange that my favorite sheets are the ones my grandmother had that I now use. Plain cotton sheets purchased at Sears over 40 years ago! Smoothest coolest sheets I own!
Anonymous
July 7, 2016
I crisp sheets. the last ones I found were from Peacock Alley called "Oasis." I've always thought "percale" sheets were "crisp" rather than the Egyptian cotton sheets, which are always quite soft. Could you recommend where I can find percale sheets?
Anonymous
September 27, 2015
I also see single ply, 2 ply & even 3 ply. I purchased some really nice sheets but that was 10 yrs ago & believe it or not they have finally lost their luster. I did not know anything about sheets back then & got lucky. Since then all the sheets I purchased don't last 1-2 yrs. Please help. I am willing to pay for something that will last.
Anonymous
August 12, 2015
Poor quality sheets will pill almost immediately after the first wash and use. The reason this happens is because the threads are often spun from short staple cotton and or mixed with filler materials to lower the cost of the thread. Short staple cotton will start to fray where it is joined to filler materials like polyester. American cotton is not all the same quality, nor is all Egyptian cotton the same. You have to know what you are buying and the package labels are very little help.
Anonymous
February 4, 2015
Hi Martha, I was just wondering if you could recommend a sheet that has little pilling, for some reason this seems to be a problem with our sheets. I don't buy expensive sheets, and launder them just like my clothing. But if I had to pay more money for sheets that didn't pill or had less chance of pilling, I would gladly pay it. Thanks Amy
Anonymous
February 2, 2015
I like crisp sturdy hard sheets. I purchased Marta Stewart percile 250 sheets from Macy's i don't like the fee tood soft not a tight enough weave. I like to dry sheets on the line. I remember these sheets from when I was younger. What sheets do I buy?
Anonymous
August 18, 2014
Did the original question get answered? What makes combed cotton different from other cotton sheets?
Anonymous
August 12, 2014
I have some sheets from Hampton House which I love. I have had them for at least ten years and would like to purchase some more but cannot find them on stores or online. They say "100% combed cotton" made in India #113585 and are 600 thread count. What would you suggest that is comparable? Is 100% combed cotton the same as Percale? Thank you.
Anonymous
July 30, 2014
@ n_smyly. JC Penney offers Liz Claiborne liquid cotton 100% pima cotton sheets. I haven't tried them but just yesterday (7/29/14) received an ad in the mail advertising them. Full size $49.99. Queen and King upward of that. Hope this helps. P.S. Ad states prices run through August 2.
Anonymous
June 28, 2014
Can you please tell me how I can purchase sheets/cases equivalent to the pima sateen sheets you had in kmart stores about 12 years ago. I bought several sets because I loved them so much but have been unable to ever find anything even close to the comfort of those. Mine are threadbare and repeatedly mended because we love them so much!!!