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Finding the Right Bedding for You: A Guide to the Best Pillows, Blankets, and More

Updated October 21, 2019

Have you ever sunk into your bed after an exhausting day of work only to be greeted by scratchy sheets, concrete-hard pillows, or a sweltering comforter? If the answer is yes, it’s time for an upgrade. Finding the right bedding, including pillows, blankets, and sheets, doesn’t have to cost a fortune. (There’s more to life – and quality sheets – than high thread count.) Follow along as we walk you through the basics of making a dream bed, such as defining your style and making decisions about materials, upkeep, and more. This easy guide will help you turn your bed into cloud nine in no time. 

What Makes a Quality Bed?

If your bed looks like something you’d find in a college dorm room, you may need a refresher on what makes up an “adult” bed. A quality bedding setup starts with pillows, pillow shams, a fitted sheet, a top sheet, and a comforter. 

  1. Pillows: Your bed should have at least two pillows for sleeping on. A lot goes into choosing a pillow: the type, level of firmness, fill amount, and more. 
  2. Pillow shams: Pillow shams come in three sizes – standard (20 inches by 26 inches), euro (26 inches by 26 inches), and king (20 inches by 36 inches). 
  3. Fitted sheets and top sheets: While fitted sheets can be a beast to fold, they are there to provide a barrier between you and your mattress. Top sheets provide warmth and a barrier between you and the duvet cover or comforter. 
  4. Duvet covers, comforters, and quilts: There are a lot of options out there when it comes to a top layer. This is where personal design taste will matter most. 
  5. Bonuses: Some extra items to consider for your bedding include a bed skirt, throw pillows, and throw blankets. It all depends on your bedding style and budget. 

Defining Your Bedding Style 

Now that you’ve got the basics down, it’s important to pin down your bedding style. There are literally thousands of styles, colors, and patterns to choose from. Defining your general design style and taste will help you narrow down what to search for when you begin shopping.

Start by taking stock of your current bedding.

What do you like about it? Make a note of the characteristics you want in your next purchase, including colors, patterns, and unique features, like whether you want stain-resistant fabric or dense pillows that offer added support. Then do the same for what you want to avoid with your next bedding buy, like “the thin duvet cover,” “the itchy feeling of the top sheet,” or “the cheap pillow sham material.” Refer to your new list throughout the shopping process.  

Determine your general design style. 

Style can be interpreted in an endless amount of ways. For the sake of your bedding search, we’re focusing on home design style. If you could design your dream home, what kind of elements would you be drawn to? What makes you walk into a room and instantly feel like you’re home? For some guidance, here are six common design genres to spark some inspiration. 

common sheet materials inforgraphic

  1. Modern: This design genre is marked by minimalism and simplicity. Details are always practical, edited, and contemporary. Modern is often associated with Ikea-esque, Scandinavian style. 
  2. Farmhouse: Fans of this genre enjoy authentic, homemade touches in their spaces. This is a casual, homey style that often features materials like exposed brick, shiplap, and wide wood planks. 
  3. Industrial: This type of bedding style has roots in urban design – reusing items to serve new functions. If you love the look of open loft spaces with exposed concrete and ductwork, this may be your style. 
  4. Rustic: This genre is similar to farmhouse with touches of rural and country materials. Common rustic materials include stucco, stone, and terra cotta. 
  5. Boho: Boho is perhaps the “loudest” genre. Purveyors of this style usually go for bold colors and textures and don’t mind mixing patterns. The feel is whimsical, eclectic, and playful. 
  6. Traditional: This is the kind of genre you’d find in Northeastern homes, full of classic furniture, historical details, and timeless materials. 

If none of these genres speak to you, that’s OK. Part of the fun of shopping is discovering what you love based on sight alone. 

Think about bedding layouts for different styles.

Remember when we talked about the bonus pieces you can add to your bed for extra comfort and style, like a bed skirt, throw pillows, and throw blankets? Choosing whether to include these on your shopping list depends on your bedding style, as well. Do you love the look of a relaxed, lived-in (but not messy!) bed? Having cozy layers of pillows and sheets that are not completely tucked in will help you achieve this look. Do you want a luxurious setup straight out of a five-star hotel? Invest in some luxe throw pillows, a bed skirt, and a silk throw blanket to place on top. Aiming for a more minimal style? Try tucking in all your layers, including your blankets, and avoid bed skirts.  

How to Shop for Pillows and Pillow Shams

With your bedding preferences and design style in mind, you’re almost ready to start shopping. First, we’re going to take you through what to look for when it comes to types, materials, and arrangements. No concrete-hard pillows allowed. 

Types of Pillow Fills

Down: If you want the feeling of sleeping on a cloud, this is the pillow for you. The light, fluffy material comes from birds’ undercoats. Avoid down pillows if you need optimal head and neck support. 

Down Alternative: Down alternative pillows offer the same comfort as down pillows, but offer more in terms of hypoallergenic and cooling performance options. 

Memory Foam: Memory-foam pillows are one of the best options to deter tossing and turning all night. The material forms to your shape so your neck and head can fall into a neutral, spine-friendly position. 

Microbead: Microbead pillows are filled with thousands of tiny, hard beads. These pillows offer the most support, but often at the sake of comfort. Think of the rounded neck pillows sold at airports. 

Buckwheat: If finding an eco-friendly option is at the top of your list, check out buckwheat pillows. Husks from buckwheat seeds are used as the material for these supportive pillows. 

Types of Pillow Shapes 

Standard: This is the basic 20-inch by 26-inch pillow that you’ll find on just about every bed in America. Two of these will fill a double bed. 

King: These pillows add 10 inches to the standard length and, of course, are meant for king and California king-sized beds. 

Euros: These square, 26-inch pillows are a great investment if you don’t have a headboard. Line up two or three behind your standard pillows to mimic the look. Euro pillows are typically packed with European down material, so they never slouch down. These are also a great option for when you want to read or watch TV in bed. 

Body: Body pillows are a common purchase for pregnant women, thanks to the stellar hip and lower-back support offered. Body pillows typically clock in at 55 inches. 

Wedge: Wedge pillows come in a triangular shape and can be used to prop up and support various areas of the body. If you’ve been standing on your feet all day, use a wedge pillow to elevate your legs. If you’re feeling discomfort after a big meal, try out a wedge pillow for supporting your upper body. 

Lumbar: Lumbar pillows get their name from what they support – the lumbar area of the back. If you suffer from back pain, be sure to add this type of pillow to your shopping list. 

Common Pillow Arrangements 

The way you arrange your pillows will be determined by the size of your bed. 

Twin: Going from your headboard forward, start with a euro pillow, followed by a standard and a throw pillow. 

Queen: Double the backing pillows used for a twin: two euros, two standards, and one to two throw pillows. 

King: Larger beds call for larger arrangements. Line the back with three euros, followed by two king pillows, two standard pillows, and any throw pillows you desire. 

How to Shop for Sheets 

If you’ve ever spent a night under scratchy sheets, you understand the importance of finding the right material. We’ve got you covered with the lowdown on thread count and common materials.

Does Thread Count Matter?

It depends on what matters to you and your sheets. Thread count is determined by the total number of horizontal and vertical threads within a square inch (which creates a weave). Sheets with a higher thread count are typically softer to the touch and last longer, but that’s not always the case. Beware of ply; that is, the number of threads that are wound together to create a “single” thread. Manufacturers will often use two-ply and three-ply to increase the thread count without actually increasing quality. That’s why you may see an 800-thread count sheet set in the sale section at T.J. Maxx. In reality, higher-quality sheets typically come with single-ply thread. Word to the wise: A 200 to 300 thread count will get you extreme comfort without an extreme price tag. 

Common Sheet Materials 

common sheet materials inforgraphic

Cotton Percale: If you wake up in a sweat at night, this material is a great option to experiment with. These sheets feel breezy and cool when you lay down. Percale has a matte finish that is easy on the skin. 

Cotton Sateen: Sateen is best for fall and winter months or for people who need extra warmth at night. The satin weave feels luxe while locking in temperatures and wicking away moisture. 

Cotton-Polyester Blend: If you have a tight budget to stick to or you are shopping for a kid’s bedroom, cotton-poly blend is a great choice. While this material can become slightly scratchy over time, it’s easy to care for and stays virtually wrinkle-free.

Flannel: If you love the soft, cozy feeling of a flannel shirt in the fall, then flannel sheets will be a match made in heaven. Perfect for cold nights, flannel sheets tie into the rustic and farmhouse design genres we mentioned. If you have a more polished taste, avoid flannel material because it tends to pill and look worn-in over time. 

Jersey: If you want a material that feels like it’s hugging your body, try jersey. The material is extremely soft and just a little clingy. 

How to Shop for Duvet Covers, Comforters, and Quilts

It’s time for the showstopper – the top layer. This is the piece of your bedding set that will make a statement and draw the eye in when someone walks into your space. The top layer is also what you’ll likely switch out the most based on seasons and temperatures. 

Types of Top Layers

Coverlets: Coverlets are one of the most modern and travel-friendly options on the market because of their compact nature. Their lightweight feel is perfect for warmer months and for layering under quilts and blankets once colder temperatures hit. 

Quilts: Quilts bring a warm and homey touch to any bedroom. They often come in bright, unique patterns that are ideal for fans of the boho decor genre. 

Duvets: Duvets are by far the most versatile bedding option available. Think of duvets like a giant pillow since there are two pieces to shop for – the insert and the cover. Match your pillow fill to your insert fill and you’ll instantly be in dreamland. Consider buying one thick duvet insert and one thinner duvet insert to switch out based on seasonality. Duvet covers protect your duvet insert, are extremely easy to wash, and help your design style shine. As long as you know how to put on a duvet cover, you can swap out designs as often as you’d like – often at a fraction of the price of comforters.

Where to Shop 

From online stores like Joss & Main to big-box retailers like Bed Bath & Beyond, you’ll have no problem finding an amazing spectrum of bedding options. Looking for low prices but decent quality? You’ll be pleasantly surprised by the selection at large retailers like Walmart or Target.. Amazon also offers great bedding (including Ikea products!) at a low price point. Want a mix of high-end and affordable options? Check out Nordstrom. Nordstrom has a killer return policy, as well, so you don’t have to worry if the bedding doesn’t turn out quite as dreamy as you’d hoped. If you’re actively trying to avoid chain stores, take a peek at Parachute’s online inventory. They offer premium linens at relatively accessible prices. 

Maintaining Your New Bedding 

A survey by the National Sleep Foundation found that over 60% of respondents believed a clean bedroom was crucial for sleep quality, with over 70% saying sheets with a clean, fresh scent were necessary for quality sleep. New bedding is an amazing investment but requires routine maintenance to keep that “fresh sheet feeling” going for years to come.

How often should you wash your bedding?  

Sheets and pillowcases should be washed on a weekly basis and duvet covers should be washed every other week. This is where having an extra set of linens comes in handy. It’s often preached that duvet inserts can be washed once every six months, but a study by the University of Worcester revealed that a six-month unwashed duvet insert contains nearly 20,000 live dust mites. Gross! Aim to wash your insert at least once every other month. Infrequently used quilts and blankets can be washed once a season. Don’t forget your pillows! Washing them twice a year will prolong their life. 

How should you wash bedding?

Always utilize mild detergents and warm water to avoid stripping fabrics or colors. Fabric softener is not necessary but adds a nice touch when washing linens. When adding your bedding to the dryer, tuck some tennis balls in to move the fluffing process along. Always ensure your bedding is 100% dry before putting it back on your bed, or you’ll risk mildewy smells. 

Is bleach OK for white bedding?

Avoid bleach! The chlorine does more harm than good to the material. Bedding experts at West Elm offer this natural alternative for keeping your whites white: a quarter cup of lemon juice and half a cup of white vinegar added during the rinse cycle and washed in warm water. 

There you have it. You’ve got your design style (relatively) defined, you know what thread count really means, and you know what makes up a quality bed set. You’re officially a linens pro, all set to find just the right comforter, pillows, and sheets. Are you drifting off to dreamland yet?