When you were a kid, it was easy enough to pick out what sheets you liked based on which cartoon character was on them. But as an adult, wading through minutiae about fabric terminology and thread count can be overwhelming.
On the way to launching our new line of organic cotton sheets, Saatva Dreams, we learned a whole lot about fabric, finish, weave, and everything else that goes into creating quality bedding. Here’s a download of the most important things sheet shoppers need to know.
The definitive guide to buying sheets
What your sheets are made from and the methods used to produce them have an impact on how they feel, how they fit, and how long they last. Use this guide when comparing products.
Cotton: The classic sheet material. Cotton is a default fabric for sheets for several reasons: It’s not super-expensive, it’s easy to care for, and offers breathability and moisture-wicking to keep you cool. But since growing and producing cotton can have a significant environmental impact, an increasing number of manufacturers offer organic and Fair-Trade options.
Polyester/Microfiber: Microfiber sheets made out of polyester are soft and affordable, but the drawback is that they don’t breathe as well as cotton or other natural materials, and their synthetic nature makes them less environmentally friendly.
Bamboo: Sheets made from bamboo-derived threads are soft and silky, but they can be more delicate—and often more expensive—than their cotton counterparts. Even though bamboo is considered a green option, the most commonly used methods for manufacturing bamboo sheets include processes and products that can have an outsized environmental impact (think chemical-laden wastewater).
Linen: Fans of linen sheets like this natural material’s airy feel and superb moisture-wicking ability, but some people find it scratchy. It also wrinkles easily, so if you’re not the type to iron your sheets, you might want to take a pass. One big consideration is cost: Linen sheets come in at the high end of the price spectrum. What’s more, linen sheets have a reputation for being less durable, so if you love the look and feel of linen, just keep in mind that you might be spending a lot to replace them more often.
When you’re sheet shopping, you’ll probably run across the terms percale and sateen, which describe different ways the threads are woven. Percale is a straightforward over-under grid, while sateen has an over-three, under-one pattern. This gives sateen sheets a better drape and an attractive luster, although some people prefer the “crisp” feeling of percale.
People tend to get hung up on thread count, which refers to the number of horizontal (weft) and vertical (warp) threads in one square inch. While higher thread-count sheets can give you a silkier, more luxurious feel, they can also cost more and may not perform as well in terms of breathability. The National Sleep Foundation recommends a 400 thread count or less because anything more traps body heat and could cause you to sleep too hot. (That’s one reason why we chose a 300-thread count for Saatva Dreams.)
An equally important attribute is fiber length; longer fibers make for a softer and more durable fabric, even at a lower thread count. Look for terms like Egyptian and Pima, which denote long-staple varieties, or read the manufacturer’s description to find out from what kind of cotton fiber their thread is spun.
(Fun fact: Egyptian cotton is made from the plant Gossypium Barbadenese, which comes from the Nile River Valley, although it’s grown in other places now too. The cotton is hand-picked so the fibers stay intact, which creates long-staple threads that are longer than other cotton types.)
Besides thread count and fiber length, there’s also ply, a reference to how many yarns are twisted together to make one thread. With two-ply fabric, two yarns are twisted together to make one thread that is then woven into sheets. Single-ply threads are longer and stronger than multi-ply ones and result in lightweight, soft sheets that last a long time. Multi-ply threads, on the other hand, are typically made from shorter, weaker fibers and produce a yarn that is coarser and heavier.
You can also get sheets made out of cotton jersey, a fabric in which the threads are knitted rather than woven. As a result, they don’t breathe as well, but they do have a cozy softness some people find appealing (think T-shirt material).
Care and maintenance
It’s a good idea to wash your sheets before using them initially. Many conventionally produced sheets come from the factory with a coating of chemicals; you’ll need to wash them out to get a sense of the material’s true texture. Some shrinkage may occur after your initial wash, so you also don’t want to be surprised by this later on. (Saatva Dreams are slightly oversized to account for the natural shrinkage that happens during the first wash.)
After that, sheets should be washed once a week or every other week to get rid of dead skin cells, dust mites, and other microscopic-but-gross particles. (Read all about what’s living on your sheets in our guide to how often to wash sheets.)
Most sheets come with instructions to clean them in cold water, as this will preserve the fabric and extend the life of the sheets. But to kill germs, you’ll need to get your sheets hot. If you don’t want to launder them in hot water, throw them in the dryer after washing them in cold water.
Some selling points may not last as long as the sheets do. For example, sheets advertised as wrinkle-free achieve that thanks to an application of chemicals, which eventually will wear off after repeated washings. Some linen sheets also have coatings to make them softer, and those also will come off after a while too.
Retailer return policies
Before investing in a new set of sheets, it pays to check the retailer’s return policy, especially if you’re springing for a more high-end set or choosing a material with which you have less experience. Your best bet is to buy from a retailer that doesn’t require returned bedding to be unused, so you can wash your sheets before trying them out. Expect to pay anywhere from $50 to $250 for a quality set of sheets.
Learn More About Saatva Sheets
Saatva Dreams Organic Sheets and Pillowcases
Made from 100% long-staple organic cotton in a fine sateen weave. Soft and luxurious for a cool, comfortable night’s sleep.
Before buying sheets, measure them. Make sure the fitted sheet has pockets deep enough to be a good fit for your mattress. If you use a mattress topper, you might want to look for sheet sets with a fitted sheet advertised as extra-deep.
Of course, you can get sheets in every color of the rainbow, but if you’re interested in environmentally friendly bedding, that might mean sticking to muted or neutral tones. Sheets in bold or dark colors are dyed with chemicals to get their hue, whereas sheets made with non-toxic, chemical-free dyes tend to be lighter in color and more natural-looking.
The other thing to keep in mind with regard to color is how well it can help you get to sleep at night. Surveys have found that blue hues induce a more relaxing effect. However, if you’re committed to white or off-white bedding, not to worry: Neutral shades also promote sleep-friendly tranquility.
Much of the world’s cotton is produced in places with less-than-ideal conditions, so Fair Trade is another consideration. Fair Trade advocates for transparency along a product’s supply chain so that raw materials can be traced from their origin to their destination. Fair Trade also supports workers by giving them the resources needed for economic empowerment. Products that carry the Fair Trade Certified™ label are produced in Fair Trade Certified™ factories, with equipment and working conditions monitored and assessed regularly—and these factories have policies that give workers a voice when addressing issues or negotiating with management. Learn more about Fair Trade and why it’s so important.