Shopping for new cotton sheets is confusing. All bed linen packaging is filled with information about thread count, weave, and type of cotton fibers. What are the differences between cotton types anyways? Is Egyptian cotton better? Does thread count matter? What does any of it mean?
Luckily for you, you don't have to decipher it alone. We're here to help answer all your questions about cotton sheets. From basic terminology to explaining why Egyptian cotton is such a popular choice, we'll cover it all, so you can shop easily and sleep comfortably. Let's dive in!
Types of Cotton
One of the most important aspects of shopping for bed sheets is knowing the differences between cotton types. However, before we can get into that, we need to go over some vocabulary.
A few words will make identifying quality cotton a lot easier: thread count and weave.
If you've ever heard anyone refer to luxury bedding sets, they've likely tossed around the phrase "thread count." But what does this mean?
People often believe that the higher the thread count, the better the sheets. While this does carry some truth, there's more to the story.
Generally speaking, it's best to aim for a thread count above 300. These sheets will likely be softer, more durable, and even improve with age.
Still, that doesn't mean you need to buy the highest count you can find. Many people have reported they don't notice a difference in quality between 500 and 1,500 count sheets.
Even lower count sheets can feel dramatically softer if they're made of combed cotton. This process removes shorter fibers resulting in a stronger, higher quality fabric.
Keep in mind that thread count only matters when it comes to single-ply 100 percent cotton. If you see other fabrics, plies, or blends that advertise a thread count, it's purely a marketing trick.
So thread count is important, but it's not the only factor.
Weave is less of a buzzword than thread count — and may not even be listed on the packaging — but it's still a good phrase to know.
There are three main cotton weaves: percale, sateen, and Oxford. These fabrics differ in both construction and also texture. Each type is woven in a different pattern.
- Percale. Percale maintains a strict structure: one thread over, one thread under. This pattern creates a uniform, grid-like weave that is crisp, durable, and improves with each wash.
- Sateen. Sateen follows a structure of three threads over, one thread under. This relatively irregular pattern exposes more of each thread resulting in a silky, shiny, strong textile.
- Oxford. Oxford contains twice as many warp threads as weft threads. The resulting texture is heavy, crisp, and sturdy. You'll often find this weave in men's dress clothing, but it also works well as a throw pillow cover.
If you find a sheet set labeled "100 percent cotton" without any further information, it's probably Upland.
Upland is what most people would consider "regular cotton." It's the default variety.
Most often, Upland cotton is less expensive than other types. This textile is usually composed of shorter threads that don't feel overly luxurious. However, it's still strong, hypoallergenic, and breathable.
This fiber can be scratchy and uncomfortable at times, but if you pay attention to the weave and thread count, Upland can make nice bedding.
We've all heard the phrase before, but what is Egyptian cotton exactly?
This textile is the highest quality cotton available. As the name suggests, it's cotton grown in Egypt — in the Nile River Valley, to be precise.
What separates regular cotton vs Egyptian cotton is the latter's impeccably soft, strong, lustrous feel. We can thank this Egyptian textile's extra-long-staple cotton — a.k.a. extra-long thread lengths — for these extraordinary traits.
You won't be surprised to hear that all this luxury comes at a cost. Since Egyptian cotton is the cream of the crop when it comes to bedding, the price tag reflects its worth.
If Egyptian cotton wins the gold medal in the bed linen Olympics, Pima cotton wins silver.
Pima is still a lavish material but doesn't quite take the cake. It's also composed of fine threads creating a soft weave yet has a shorter staple length than its prize-winning counterpart. Pima contains medium to long-staple fibers, whereas Egyptian contains extra-long-staple cotton.
While shopping for Pima varieties, you may come across the phrase "Supima cotton." Don't be alarmed — this isn't an entirely different cotton type. Rather, Supima cotton is a trademarked name for Pima cotton produced in the United States.
Although flannel is often made of cotton, it acts quite differently from other cotton products.
Heat-trapping flannel, also known as brushed cotton, is an ideal textile for colder environments, but if you're looking for light, breezy, bohemian bedding, this isn't the material for you.
However, flannel is a good option if you're on the hunt for warm, slightly fuzzy bed sheets. Plus, you'll never need to worry about wrinkles.
Keep in mind when shopping that flannel is not measured in thread count.
Egyptian Cotton vs Regular Cotton
When it comes to cotton vs Egyptian cotton sheets, several differences distinguish the two.
Regular cotton, while more widely available and affordable, is much less luxurious than Egyptian. Upland cotton's shorter fibers are a drawback as they're naturally less soft.
On the other hand, Egyptian cotton is an indulgent material. Its extra-long staple fibers are incredibly fine, meaning they can achieve a higher thread count than different cotton types. These factors make Egyptian cotton the gold standard for quality and comfort.
Still, it is possible to find high-quality, comfortable sheets that aren't made of Egyptian cotton. Pay attention to thread count, combed fibers, and weave when looking for a cozy alternative.
Both cotton varieties are breathable, durable, and machine-washable.
Why Is Egyptian Cotton Better?
The most pressing question of all is: is Egyptian cotton better? In short, yes.
Quality is the name of Egyptian cotton's game. From its extra-long fibers to its delicate weave, there's just no topping this fabric.
While there's no doubt that it's pricier than other varieties, Egyptian cotton's durable, long-lasting nature makes it well worth the cost.
Benefits of Egyptian Cotton
Without a doubt, Egyptian cotton sheets have a ton of unique benefits that separate them from all other materials, including:
- Softness. Egyptian cotton's ultra-fine threads contribute to its exceptionally soft and delicate texture. Plus, the extra-long staple fibers' gentleness is unmatched by any other cotton type.
- Longevity. Since Egyptian cotton is hand-picked, the fibers endure less stress than those machine-harvested from cotton plants. The gentle nature of this process enhances the durability of the textile.
- Quality. If there were just one trait that makes Egyptian cotton stand out above the rest, it would be its quality. This material is nothing short of lavish. Thanks to the combination of fine, extra-long-staple threads, hand-picked fibers, and high thread count, no other cotton can beat Egyptian's quality.
- Breathability. The benefits of hand-picked cotton don't end with durability. Since the fibers remain more intact than machine-harvested varieties, Egyptian cotton can retain more moisture than regular cotton. If you struggle with temperature regulation at night, try Egyptian cotton.
How to Care for Egyptian Cotton Sheets
Properly caring for Egyptian cotton bed sheets can extend their already long life. If you're investing in sheets of this quality, delicate care is necessary.
The good thing is, it's easy to maintain Egyptian cotton sheets! Most sets are machine washable using cold water. Be sure to use the lowest, most gentle cycle — and avoid mixing your bedding with other clothing.
Skip the fabric softener or any laundry detergent containing bleach. Instead, add half the amount of detergent you would typically use. You can even toss a bit of vinegar into your washing machine to soften up your Egyptian cotton sheets.
Immediately after your washing cycle has finished, remove your sheets and aggressively shake them out to prevent wrinkles from developing. Move your Egyptian cotton bedding to the dyer, skip the dryer sheet, and set your machine to warm. Voilà!
Egyptian cotton's softness, longevity, quality, and breathability contribute to its luxuriousness. While regular cotton sheets can possess similar traits, given they have a high thread count and are combed, Egyptian cotton sheets are better overall.