The Buyer’s Guide
To The Best Cotton Bed Sheets
My name is Tom Muscalino and I am president of Thomas Lee Ltd. I have spent my entire working life in the textile industry: over thirty years with two of the leading home textile companies – WestPoint Pepperell and Dan River, and was president of both. I have put together this eight point guide to help you find the best cotton bed sheets available at any price. This guide is based on my years of experience and hundreds of questions our Thomas Lee customers have submitted since we started our retail business ten years ago.
The simple fact is that no other fiber provides the natural softness and absorbency of cotton. Lower quality bed sheets often feature blends of cotton and other fibers, such as polyester. These fibers often significantly reduce the cost of the sheets, since they are usually less expensive than cotton, but they also significantly reduce the quality of the sheets, since the sheets will feel noticeably stiffer, hotter, and less absorbent. Hands down, cotton is the most comfortable and luxurious fiber for use in bed sheets, and the best sheets are all cotton, not blends of cotton and other fibers.
Cotton quality is primarily determined by the “staple” length, which is the length of the actual fibers in each cotton bloom. The longer the staple, the better the cotton. The best cotton actually is grown in the American Southwest. It is called “Pima” cotton and is sometimes marketed under the Supima trademark. Generally speaking, Pima cotton is superior to “Egyptian” cotton, which denotes cotton grown in Egypt. Egyptian cotton does not consistently have the long and strong staple length necessary to weave the best cotton sheets. Bed sheets made with ring spun yarn require cotton with the longest, strongest and finest fibers available.
The finer the yarn the finer the fabric. Ring spinning produces the only single ply yarn fine enough to manufacture a true 500 thread count bed sheet. Inferior quality bed sheets are made with faster and less costly yarn spinning technologies that have significant quality limitations.
Additionally, lower quality sheets are frequently made with plied yarns, where two to four strands of yarn are twisted, or plied, together to produce a single strand of yarn. Then the seller overstates the thread count. Most sheets claiming a thread count in excess of 500 threads per inch are made with plied yarns and have an actual thread count of ½ to ¼ of the claimed amount. This questionable practice results in not only a misleading overstatement of actual thread count, but creates a fabric made with lower quality yarn. The United States Federal Trade Commission has issued an opinion that this practice likely deceives consumers. In fact sheets that claim thread counts of 1000 are generally made with yarn that has been plied as many as 4 TIMES. The real thread count is actually 250.
A plain weave simply means that the horizontal and vertical threads form a simple criss- cross pattern, with each thread alternately crossing the other. A twill weave is actually a bit stronger and involves crossing one thread under the other, then under two of the threads, then under one, then under two, and so on, resulting in a zig zag pattern, which given the extremely fine single ply yarns used in a high quality sheet, is not really noticeable to the naked eye. Both the plain and twill weaves produce a very strong, long wearing fabric that is resistant to pilling.
Many sellers today utilize a “sateen” weave which consists of a four threads over, one under weaving pattern. Sateen fabrics are cheaper to weave and, along with the use of plied yarns, are ways to offer so called “high thread count sheets” at a lower price. Additionally, sateen fabric is very appealing to some, in that it comes out of the package with a very soft, lustrous hand, or feel. Unfortunately, because of the less stable construction, sateen does not wear well and is prone to pilling, which consists of little balls or bumps of fibers that form on the surface of the fabric, resulting in a rough and uncomfortable bed sheet.
In order to produce sheets in dark colors the manufacturer must utilize heavy dyes which reduce the absorbency and breathability of the fabric. Even worse are printed sheets, which are manufactured by application of a print paste to the fabric and utilize harsh (formaldehyde based) resins in the finishing process. Use of these resins not only results in a rougher, less comfortable sheet, but they also result in a weaker sheeting fabric. The most comfortable, luxurious sheets utilize a pure finish which avoids the use of heavy dyes, pastes or resins.
Wrinkle resistant sheets sound like a great idea until you consider what a manufacturer has to do to make them so. Without exception all wrinkle resistant sheets (i) incorporate polyester in a fiber blend (that is, they are not all cotton) and/or (ii) they are treated with a harsh finishing resin, usually incorporating formaldehyde. Thus, wrinkle resistant sheets are coarse feeling, do not breathe well and are thus hot and sticky to sleep on, and do not last as long since the fibers are already weakened by the harsh resins. Most consumers do not find wrinkling to be a problem if they dry their all cotton sheets on the permanent press setting, remove them from the dryer promptly, smooth and fold them, or go ahead and put them on the bed. Folks who find any wrinkling objectionable can lightly iron the sheets (or just the pillowcases) or send them to the laundry. It is worth it to sleep on truly luxurious, best quality sheets!
Also look for fitted sheets that have the elastic all the way around the sheet. In the best quality sheets the fabric will completely encase the elastic so that it is completely covered. This not only makes the sheets look better, but enable the sheets to better hug the sides of the mattress, which in turn provides a better fit on mattresses of varying thickness.
Like a high quality shirt or blouse, fine sewing results in beautiful, long lasting bed linens of which the owner can be proud. Look for quality features such as tightly sewn seams (at least 10 – 12 stitches per inch. (Most bed sheets and pillowcases are mass-produced on giant automatic machines that sew hems with 5 to 7 stitches per inch.) The tighter stitching requires that each sheet be sewn by a skilled craftsman and provides a beautiful, finished appearance with extra strong hems that will never fray or come unstitched.
Over the past several years mattress manufacturers have continuously increased the thickness of their mattresses. Nothing is more frustrating that trying to get a fitted sheet with a 12 inch pocket to fit on an 18 inch thick mattress, or to tuck an undersized flat sheet under an extra thick mattress. So the best sheets have generous dimensions and extra deep pockets. In those instances where a mattress is not as thick, as with some of the memory foam mattresses, the sheets will still work since a properly sewn fitted sheet will “snug up” with the mattress, and surplus fabric can simply be tucked underneath.
Okay, that’s about it. If you will follow the above general guidelines you will most likely purchase sheets that you will thoroughly enjoy for many years to come.
You are invited to review “The Thomas Lee Difference”, and see how our PerfectCale® bed linens meet each and every one of the above criteria. There are no better bed linens available anywhere at any price. At Thomas Lee, our mission is to take the guesswork out of your shopping experience.