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The Many Different Types of Bed Sheets: What You Need to Know

Updated August 20, 2019

What is the most comfortable space in your home? If you didn’t say your bed, that’s a problem. While you want to be able to relax in your living room and outdoor space, your bed is the most important place to assure you have a comfortable haven from everything else. You should go to bed at night knowing you’ll get a perfect night’s sleep to prepare you for the next day. And that involves more than a luxury mattress.

Your sheets are extremely important to creating the ideal sleep environment, but to assure you choose the kind of sheets that are best for you, it’s essential to first know what sort of options you have available to you. It might surprise you the variety of bedding options that are out there, especially when you realize that it’s not just different materials and thread counts. When you purchase sheets, you have to sift through material types, thread counts, cooling properties, elasticity, and more to determine what’s going to work best for you. We’ve prepared a comprehensive list of some of the most common sheet types on the market and their benefits, so you can make an informed purchase that will make your bed the most comfortable space in your home.

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The Most Common Material – Cotton

Not all cotton is created equal. Therefore, you have to understand the different categories in which the quality of cotton is rated, including thread count, weave, staple length, and more. Consider that cotton comes in boles, and you have to stretch it to create the fibers used to weave threads and sheets. The result of stretch boles of cotton is staple length.

Staple Length

Staple length refers to the length of the fibers used to weave the cotton into a sheet. There are basically three lengths – short staple (typically 1-1/8 inch), long staple (at least 1-1/4 inch), and extra-long staple (between 1-3/8 and 2 inches in length). The longer the staple, the higher the quality of the cotton and the softer, more durable those sheets will be. Typical examples of cotton staples include:

• Egyptian cotton

This is the highest quality cotton available in sheets and can be quite pricey, usually made with an extra-long staple. Expect supple softness and incredible durability.

• Pima/Supima

Supima is the trademark name for American Pima cotton, which is a long staple, and while it isn’t quite as expensive as Egyptian cotton, it’s still high quality and soft. Pima is known for durability and strength.

• American Upland

If the label just says ‘100% cotton,’ this is likely the type. A short staple cotton is rougher than the costly cotton sheets you’ll find but also the most common. They are still durable but don’t offer that luxurious feel most of the time.

• MicroCotton®

This trademarked and branded cotton is made with a very fine thread in India, and it’s not only soft but also durable, made from a long staple cotton blend.

Weave

Of course, you can’t base your decision solely on the sheet’s staple, considering that most people don’t want to carry the cost of Egyptian cotton sheets. Choosing the right weave can add a level of softness as well as structural durability to lower quality cotton so that you get more of the luxurious benefits without the added cost. Some common weaves include:

• Flannel

Flannel cotton sheets are constructed with a plain or twill weave, which makes them softer and more pliant than many other weave options.

Percale

This is also referred to as a ‘plain’ weave, and it’s commonly used for higher quality cotton that are combed and then woven tightly, giving it a softer feel and smoother finish. Because of the lightness of this type of weave, it’s also excellent for those who tend to sleep hot and need a cool sleep environment.

Sateen

There is a specific technique employed for this weave that takes four threads over and one under. While anyone who doesn’t weave or sew may not know what that means, what you should know is that this creates a lush, silky feel while also becoming the most durable option of the three most common weaves. It also tends to be heavier and, therefore, works better for people who tend to get cold at night and want a warmer atmosphere.

Jersey Knit

This is made of cotton – or sometimes, a cotton/synthetic blend – and is knit rather than woven. It results in a stretchy material that fits mattresses well and offers a soft, broken-in feeling. It’s similar to flannel in that it’s measured in ounces/yard rather than thread count, and it holds in heat, making it an excellent material for winter and for those who get cold at night.

Thread Count

In the past, people have come to assume that a higher thread count is always better. However, people learn that the number of horizontal and vertical threads in a square inch is not the only criteria that matter in determining the best sheets to purchase. In fact, with so many other aspects to the decision, thread count has become the least consequential detail in the purchase cycle. However, you want to assure that there is a high enough thread count to create a proper weave, meaning that you have the durability you require without compromising on the softness. So, when considering thread count, you may want to stay at 250 or higher, just to assure that the weave is tight enough to assure a long-lasting pleasure.

Choosing Single- or Two-Ply

If you’re thinking of paper towels and toilet tissue right now, you’ve got the right idea, except with bed sheets, it’s backward. Two-ply sheets are woven more loosely than single-ply sheets, which causes them to feel rougher to the touch and also be less durable. Therefore, you’re more likely to enjoy a single-ply sheet set, even if it has lower quality cotton than you would a two-ply set and has a higher thread count.

Other Materials to Consider

While cotton is the most popular bed sheet material by far, there are plenty of other material options to consider as well, depending on what sort of sleeper you are. Taking into consideration that new designs are constantly improving quality and also digging into the needs of the average sleeper, you might prefer one of these other choices among the materials for your bed sheets.

• Flannel

While flannel is cotton, it’s best considered separately from other cotton weaves because it’s warmer and better for cold winter nights. It traps body heat, keeping you toasty while you sleep. However, if you have night sweats or need to sleep in a cool environment, flannel may not work for you, even in the dead of winter. When looking at flannel, keep in mind that it’s not measured or rated by thread count at all. Rather, the quality of this particular cotton weave is measured in ounces per square yard, as it’s a loose weave that incorporates a technique similar to two-ply sheets without the worry of the material losing durability or strength.

• Tencel®

This branded material is made from the wood pulp of the eucalyptus tree, which is naturally anti-microbial and considered to be an environmentally friendly material. If you’re someone who likes to conserve resources, this is a great option since it requires less water, chemicals, and energy to produce than cotton while still turning out soft and comfortable. Perhaps the one downfall of Tencel is that it’s not as breathable as cotton, meaning that it tends to hold more heat rather than releasing it to keep you cooler through the night. Still, it definitely offers greater airflow than flannel and other materials, so if you don’t have significant issues with overheating while you sleep, you’ll still enjoy the feel of these types of bed sheets.

• Silk

There are tons of benefits to using silk sheets. This luxurious bedding material, produced by silkworms, is cool and sensuous with a lavish feel that is hard to beat. If you want a cool sleep spot, there is no better option than silk, and if you’re looking to add a little romance to your life, these are also a great way to go. Silk is also hypoallergenic, so if you have raw allergies that plague you night and day, silk might help you ease the symptoms while you sleep. However, there are two very difficult aspects involved with silk sheets. The first is cost – you’re going to pay quite a premium for these high-quality sheets and that may be a deal breaker when you start looking at the actual prices. Even more important is that silk is extremely delicate, meaning that caring and maintenance can be frustrating and difficult. In addition, that means they aren’t as durable as standard cotton and several other available materials.

• Polyester

You may not have realized it, but the man made polyester we have in our clothing and sheets is made from the same polymers incorporated into the manufacture of plastic bottles. In many cases, polyester sheets feel scratchy or stiff, but a polyester blend can be quite nice. For example, when you get a blend of cotton and polyester, you get a much less expensive sheet with a similar soft, smooth feel to it. Microfiber is a type of polyester material that is more tightly woven to create a softer feel and greater strength. However, the downside to this weave is that it’s not as breathable as other polyester options, especially cotton blends, so it doesn’t work to keep you cool through the night. At the same time, microfiber tends to be stain resistant and can be an excellent solution to bedding for children.

• Linen

For years, bed sheets have been referred to as ‘linens’. The truth is- linen is its own material that is separate from others and can still be trusted as a source for comfort, durability, and breathability in bed sheets. Made from flax, which is a fiber of the Linum plant, linen is often textured by as soft, giving you almost a quilted sensation in certain weaves. Whether choosing 100% linen or a linen blended with cotton, you’ll find that there is plenty of airflow through the material that is similar to a straight cotton sheet. These sheets will work for any season of the year, as they don’t ‘disperse’ heat but also don’t hold it in. It also works well, especially for children, since it’s incredibly strong and can withstand the beating of a rambunctious child.

• Bamboo – Rayon

The idea of ‘bamboo’ sheets has become popular since it sounds quite eco-friendly. However, consider that actual bamboo, when made into fibers and woven into sheets, is going to be extremely rough and unsatisfying in most cases. Much of what is labeled bamboo in terms of bed sheets is actually rayon – bamboo pulp that’s been chemically processed so that it truly isn’t good for the environment. Of course, if you’re not concerned with environmentalism and are looking for an option that is cool and smooth without spending the cash to purchase Egyptian cotton, rayon is a good alternative. It’s soft and durable, almost silky, and it sleeps quite cool with high breathability due to its light weave.

• Blends

The most common material blend is cotton and polyester, which creates an affordable option to 100% cotton that still remains breathable and smooth. However, you’ll find a number of different blends on the market today that create a compromise or even a better feel than some of the single material products on the market. A good example of an innovative choice is a cotton-rayon blend, which gives you the comfort of knowing that you haven’t had quite as harsh of an impact on the environment but also delivers a breathable, smooth sleep environment in a sheet that is wrinkle resistant for a better look, even if they’ve been folded for a while.

Sheet Sizes

Once you’ve determined the type of sheet you want, including the level of quality you want to invest in, you need to consider the size of the sheets that involves more than the measurement of your mattress. You also have to consider how thick your mattress is since not all fitted sheets are constructed with deep enough pockets to fit around the whole of your mattress. In addition, if you have a mattress topper, you have to take that thickness into account so that you purchase the right sheets, as well. Aside from the standard twin, full, queen, and king size mattresses, you’ll find other options, including twin XL, full XL, California king, and even a few others that have entered the market. Standard king-sized sheets won’t fit a California king, and a twin XL mattress is longer than a standard twin, meaning you need specialized sheets. Be sure you know the exact size of your mattress before you make a purchase. Also, consider that you can choose from a variety of thickness to make sure your that your fitted sheet covers your mattress:

• Standard

A standard mattress requires a fitted sheet made to cover a thickness between 7 – 14 inches.

• Deep

Anything over 14 inches thick is considered ‘deep’, and most sheets fitted to deep mattresses will cover between 11 – 17 inches.

• Extra Deep

Anything over 15 inches is considered extra deep, and this often comes into play if you have a mattress topper along with your mattress. Most extra deep fitted sheets stretch between 15 – 22 inches.

Affordable ‘Back Up’ Sheets

While you may want to spend top dollar on the bed sheets you use all the time, it can be a good idea to invest in backup sheets that aren’t necessarily a top of the line. These are a more cost-efficient option that allows you to take the time to wash and care for your more luxurious set while still providing a comfortable bedding environment in the interim. By the same token, you probably need a set or two of guest sheets for when family and friends come to visit overnight. You want these to be cool, soft, and comfortable, but because they likely get comparatively little use, you don’t want or need to get the priciest, highest quality sheets on the market. Therefore, you’ll save money while still assuring that your guests sleep soundly.And what about your children? It wouldn’t be a very smart investment to pay the high price for Egyptian cotton, especially for a small child who might still have accidents at night or is likely to spill something in his or her room during the day.

At the same time, you’re talking about your child and his or her comfort, so you don’t want to aim too cheap and risk their young, sensitive skin being irritated so they don’t get a solid night’s sleep. Choosing a cotton/polyester blend or something similar can strike a good balance for all these applications. It’s a cost-effective blend that incorporates cotton for a smooth but breathable feel, along with the cheaper polyester that, when it isn’t used by itself, doesn’t create a scratchy surface or hold in too much heat. A rayon blend can also be cozy since it remains fairly cool and offers a nice sheen that is similar to a sateen cotton weave. Another good material for guests or children, as well as for a year-round backup option for your own bed, is linen or a linen-cotton blend. You’ll find them breathable but not overly cool, as well as smooth and silky against your skin. They’re extremely durable and can take a beating, so it doesn’t matter how often they have to be laundered or how rough a sleeper uses them. You can count on them to last.

Learn more on What is the Best Cotton for Sheets?

 

The Bottom Line

For a long time, people have advocated that thread count is the most important consideration when you decide to buy new sheets. As it stands, with so many other important details to consider that can completely override the need for a high thread count, this is probably the least vital aspect of bed sheets to consider when you go shopping and should only be a final consideration when comparing sheets that meet all your other needs. Take into consideration how you sleep. If you tend to get too warm too quickly, you’ll want a material and weave that allow greater breathability, so your excess body heat doesn’t become trapped and leave you in a world of discomfort. However, if you tend to grow chilled quickly after going to bed, you might want to consider a heavier weave or something that helps contain body heat, like Jersey knit or flannel. Staple length certainly means more than thread count since it tells a great deal about the quality of the cotton itself. While this doesn’t really come into play with other materials, it can be a guide in terms of mention of fiber lengths in other bed sheet types. Additionally, you’ll want to consider the monetary factor and how that affects your decision. After all, it wouldn’t make sense to break the bank if you’re just as comfortable with a less expensive material.

It also wouldn’t be ideal to outfit small children’s beds with Egyptian cotton, which is expensive and a little more delicate than some of the synthetic materials available. You can use the same linen or cotton and polyester blend sheets for your children’s room and your guest room, allowing you to save a little money while offering strength, durability, and a sense of comfort. For winter, you can offer the option of flannel to aid in staying warm, should your guests and children not sleep too hot. It’s most important to find the details that make you happy since everyone is different and requires some sort of specialization to create the perfect sleep space. Remember, your bed should be your paradise, and if it’s not the most comfortable spot in your house, it may be time to reconsider your bed sheets. With this comprehensive guide to the variety of options you have when you decide to go shopping, you should be able to determine much quicker what sort of bed sheets are ideal for you.