The Perfect Linens: Five Things to Know Before You Buy
We need seven to nine hours of sleep each night, according to the National Sleep Foundation. The right linens can help send you off to la-la land. But the choices can seem endless. Egyptian cotton? Tencel? Sateen? To make linen shopping easier and help you get a good night’s rest, here’s a cheat sheet on five things to know before you buy.
1. Thread count
The number of threads woven together per square inch of fabric is something you’ll see on almost all linen packages. Thread counts can range from 200 to 1,000. It’s counted both lengthwise and widthwise, so 200 lengthwise threads woven with 200 widthwise threads produce a thread count of 400. “Thread count was especially important about 15 years ago,” says Christa O’Leary, MA, MFT, founder and CEO of Home in Harmony Lifestyle, an interior design consultancy in Hingham, Mass., that focuses on helping clients create an inspired, healthy, and vibrant home. That’s when consumers were more apt to play the numbers game and assume that the higher the thread count, the better the sheet. “Thread count still is important but because manufacturers now use a wider variety of material, sheets with the highest thread count aren’t automatically superior,” O’Leary says. So don’t go by thread count alone.
2. How you like your sheets to feel
“The most important thing to do is feel the actual product,” O’Leary says, which is an argument for heading to the store first to do your homework even if you ultimately plan to sheet shop online. Scrunch the display linen fabrics in your hand. Whether they’re Tencel®, 100 percent Supima® cotton or Jersey knit, do the sheets have the texture and drape you’re looking for? Sheets with the highest thread counts can be stiffer, yielding a crisp feel. If you want something softer, you may prefer a sheet with a lower thread count, O’Leary says.
3. Mattress depth
“Your bottom sheet should fit like a drum,” says O’Leary. Mattress depth can range from 13 to 18 inches. To make sure your bottom sheet fits properly — and doesn’t come loose when you’re sleeping, measure your mattress before heading to the store or shopping online. Linen packages will specify measurements, such as “fits mattresses up to 18 inches deep.” Be sure to account for a pillow top, if you add one, such as this 3-inch Therapeutic Deluxe Luxury Quilted Memory Foam Mattress Topper. If your mattress is on the shallow side, buy a bottom sheet that comes as close to its depth as possible. Selecting a fitted sheet that fits a mattress “up to” 18 inches for a mattress that’s only 9 inches deep, for example, can result in lots of excess fabric, O’Leary says, which isn’t comfortable either.
4. Your height
If you or your bedmate are on the tall side, consider buying a flat sheet that’s a size bigger than the bottom sheet. “My husband is 6’2” and a top sheet that would fit me won’t fit him,” O’Leary says. “I buy a king top sheet to accommodate both of our bodies.” Feel free to buy fitted and flat sheets separately rather than in sets. You can also mix and match colors, textures and prints in tune with the seasons. “I recommend buying a different set of sheets for winter and spring,” O’Leary says. She suggests thicker sheets in warmer tones, such as maroon and deep green, for winter and thinner, breathable cotton sheets in cool colors, such as robin’s egg blue or lavender, for spring and summer.
Sheets come in a variety of fabrics, such as Supima® cotton, rayon from bamboo, Tencel®, lyocell, cotton sateen, Egyptian cotton, and modal. Each fabric has a different texture. O’Leary, a green-living expert, prefers organic cotton sheets, such as the Simply Organic line. They’re constructed of organic cotton that has been certified by the Control Union according to the Global Organic Textile Standard. For more information on the differences between linen fabrics, visit our buying guide.
No matter what type of sheets you buy, wash them first before putting them on your bed to rinse out any chemicals that may be leftover from processing. “Some chemicals are even approved in the processing of organic sheets. Get rid of anything you can before sleeping on new sheets,” O’Leary says.