Because your bed should be a sanctuary

By Mir
September 26, 2007

Pretty Holly writes:

Pretty Mir,

Can I ask you about sheets? I’ve read your site long enough to know you’re a fan, and probably have vast knowledge. I, on the other hand, seem to be a bit of a nincompoop. After my current sheets wore out (holes I tell you!!), I decided it was time to shop for new ones. Newly familiarized with from your site, that’s where I started. I found some 820(!!) thread count sheets for about $80 and thought that would be the height of luxury at a good price, so I ordered them right up and waited patiently by the door for the UPS man. Anyhoo, they came and they feel like cardboard! I am not even remotely persnickety, but they’re really non-stellar. So that leads to the big question — how does one choose sheets?? I assumed that the thread-count number was directly proportional to the goodness number. Alas, it is not so. Fortunately the Overstock was kind in taking the cardboardy sheets back, but I’m stuck now with no knowledge regarding the purchase of new sheets — now that my thread-count number equals goodness number theory has been shot I feel paralyzed by ignorance. Any ideas?

Ooooooh. There’s nothing worse than buying something expecting it to be luxurious and having it arrive and be… not. I’m sorry your sheets were like cardboard! That’s no fun.

As to whether I have ideas, well yes, of course I do. I have lots of ideas! Oh, and some of them are even about sheets.

There are two main things that determine what your sheets feel like and how well they’ll hold up.

Fabric content refers to the material which composes your sheets. Cotton, pure cotton, and nothing but cotton, will always be the softest. Solid cotton will also wrinkle, so if that matters to you, take note—you may be willing to trade off a bit of softness for sheets that pop out of the dryer all nice and smooth.

Thread count refers to the number of threads in the weave per square inch, but be careful here because this number can be deceptive. Theoretically, sheets that claim to be 820 threads per square inch should be even better than sheets with a threadcount of 410, right? (Maybe even twice as good?) But if the 410 TC sheets are woven with single-ply yarns and the 820 TC sheets are woven with multi-ply yarns, in fact the higher thread count will feel significantly lumpier, coarser, and less luxurious than the supposedly lower-thread-count ones.

So your first lesson is that when you look at thread count, you always want to look for something that says this is a single-ply weave. I suspect the sheets you sent back were a double- or even triple-ply weave. That’s usually what results in sheets that feel like burlap.

Within these parameters, Egyptian cotton is going to be superior to everything else in terms of feel, but again—just as with thread count—labels can be deceptive. Depending on the country of origin, something may be labeled as Egyptian cotton when it’s not.

So what does all of this really mean, when it comes to choosing sheets?

1) Read the labels. You always want single-ply yarns. But as for thread count, remember that even amongst single-ply, higher isn’t always better. My most luxurious sheets are a set that’s around 400 thread count. When we moved and my daughter needed new sheets for a new bed, I found a deal on a 600 thread count set so I picked them up. I like mine better than hers (mine are a bit thicker).

2) Know your baseline. Anything below 200 threads per square inch and you’re venturing into uncomfy territory. I tend not to buy below 250, but that’s really a personal preference.

3) Read the reviews. This is one of the reasons I like to buy sheets at Amazon or Overstock, where there are reviews I can read before buying. There are too many wild cards in the process to be able to pick quality based on a number or a description. The best way to get a quality set of sheets is to pick something that has a hundred reviews that all say “Wow, these are soft!” I just don’t know of a better way to put it than that.

The sheets I love, by the way, are these ones from Amazon. I bought them in white (which is no longer available) way back when they were in the Friday sale one day. As you can see, the reviews aren’t unanimous, but they are overwhelmingly good, so I took a chance. And if you poke around Amazon a bit you’ll see that the reviews on that brand of sheets vary wildly. Without the reviews I never would’ve had any idea which ones to buy.

Hopefully this will help you a bit as you venture out for the next purchase, Holly.

One last thing—those cardboardy sheets of yours? I hope you went back to Overstock and left an appropriate review. It might help the next person!


  1. Wow, you’re a mind reader, Mir! I was JUST going through my gazillions of cardboardy sheets (my mother-in-law has a sheet buying which I now know entails cotton/poly blends, multi-ply yarns, and pitiful thread counts) to put up on as I only like this one super soft set of sheets that I use over and over. Now, I at least know how to pick out a second set of gooood sheets. Thanks!

  2. Our favorite are a sateen set, I think 350tc. love them. Won’t buy anything else anymore – sateen 300-400tc.

  3. A cotton/bamboo combination is also very nice, and doesn’t seem to wrinkle as much as all cotton. The bamboo adds some silkiness to the feel of the cotton. And, if you are a woman of a certain age, they are slightly cooler than all cotton sheets, and a big step up from (ugh) cotton-poly.

  4. Ah, yes, thank you, Karen. I don’t have any experience with bamboo, and as it is relatively new on the scene it’s not much-discussed when people are talking about sheet quality. But yes, I’ve heard it’s a nice option (not to mention that bamboo is often very eco-friendly, provided that it’s sustainably harvested).

  5. I bought cotton/bamboo towels and found that they don’t absorb very well, but the cotton/bamboo pillowcases I recently got for my daughter’s bed are the softest I’ve ever had — even before washing!

  6. I love a set of sheets I got at JCPenney – one of their “house” brand sets. I can’t recall the threadcount or ply, but they are my favorite sheets, and not cardboardy at all. I also have a set of bamboo sheets and they are quite soft. The JCPs are still my favorite, but the bamboo sheets spend just as much time on the bed as we alternate/wash them.

  7. Wow, thanks Mir! You’re gorgeous and brilliant and a veritable fountain of information. I feel much better educated, and maybe even un-paralyzed and now I can go buy sheets! Bless you.

  8. I find it helpful to always throw 2 cups of fabric softener in as well. It’s amazing how soft things can be if you use way too much fabric softener. LOL

  9. It must just be that time of year for new sheets. Last week I was searching your site for advice regarding buying sheets. I followed your advice and read lots of reviews (far too many!) I found a set on Smart Bargains that had rave reviews. I also found a coupon for an additional 12% off for new customers. Bonus – they were having their “white sale” too – so I believe I got quite the deal. (I think the sale ends this evening 9/26)

  10. We now have 2 sets of the 400 tc Pinzon sheets like you linked and lurrrrrrrrrrve them! Sooooo soft. If I were anal like my mom, I’d be ironing them, but no, I’m normal. Phew!

  11. I also bought the 400 or 500 ct pinzon sheets that you did a few months back (got them for a steal @ 27.00 I think) and I love them to death, literally. I could kick myself for only getting one set.

  12. One more thing to look for if you have an extra deep mattress and/or share you bed with someone who not only hogs the top covers, but also manages to yank the contour sheet out from under you (not that I’m married to anyone who does that. Ahem.). Make sure there is elastic all around the contour sheet. If it is only on the corners it can be pulled up far too easily.

  13. I love my bamboo sheets so much it’s ridiculous. But I will say, if you like your sheets to feel crisp and cool, they’re not for you.

  14. Ooh! I echo the comment about the JC Penney house brand sheets–we have a lower thread-count version (two sets) from my mother-in-law that we got before we got married…we loved them so much, we registered for the same brand but with a higher thread count and got two sets of those. Now that’s all we use! They are fantastic. The JCP house brand towels are also most excellent…soft and absorbent.

    I promise I DO know how to form sentences that are not run-ons. Unfortunately, I just got out of two 2.5 hour grad school seminars back-to-back and my brain hurts.

  15. Sheets, ahh yes. Those are the things on sale for 25 buckaroos at bed bath and beyond! Those Jersey knit types, but go by another name?? My huz works there and brought them home. Very nice.

Bargain Hunt





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