We spend eight hours a night on our bed sheets — that’s 2,920 hours per year! It’s a pretty significant amount of time. So, of course, the material we’re laying on matters, right?
Sleep is one of the most crucial aspects of good health, and bedsheets can make or break the quality of our rest.
If you’ve ever spent the night tossing and turning, desperate to find a comfortable position, you know how much of a game-changer it is to have high-quality sheets.
Whether you have sensitive skin, live in a cold climate, or are just a human being, bed sheet materials matter.
Common Bed Sheet Materials
Does Material Really Matter?
Picking bed sheets isn’t as simple as walking into a store and buying whichever type of sheet feels best to the touch. It’s certainly not about choosing your sheet sets based on the price tag.
Identifying the best sheet material for you is a highly personal matter. Everybody’s preferences are different, and that’s okay! There is no one-size-fits-all solution.
Each material has its unique advantages, including temperature control, softness, and sustainability.
Ready to discover what type of bed sheets are best for you? Let’s dive in.
Cotton sheets are by far the most popular choice and have been for over 7000 years. This durable material is plant-based and generally affordable.
However, the process of purchasing cotton sheets is far from cut and dry. There are many factors to consider when buying cotton.
While many labels advertise they’re “100% cotton,” this information doesn’t go very far. It’s a poor indicator of the sheets’ quality.
Instead, look for the fabric’s thread count.
You’ve likely heard the term “thread count” before, but what does this actually mean?
Single-ply cotton is the only material that reliably measures thread count. If you see sheets made of any other material whose packaging lists a thread count — run. At worst, it’s a marketing ploy (maybe even a red flag), and at best, it’s an inaccurate portrayal.
Thread count refers to the number of threads — both vertically and horizontally — per square inch. High thread counts are often associated with high quality.
It is true that thread count affects how soft your sheets feel and how durable they are. Still, most people don’t notice a textural difference between sheets with thread counts above 500. A 1,500 thread count sheet can feel just as lovely as a 400 thread count sheet.
This means that thread count isn’t the most critical factor. Instead, consider the weave and type of cotton used when determining the best kind of sheets for you. Combed cotton can also transform a low thread count into a luxurious product. Keep an eye out for this process!
The way a fabric is woven plays a huge role in deciding what type of bed sheets are best.
Here’s a breakdown of common weaves and their characteristics:
- Sateen. Sateen-woven sheets are the most luxurious of all cotton bedding. This fabric has a silky, shiny quality that offers excellent temperature control. If sateen weave calls to you, be prepared to spend a fair bit more on your sheet set. This luxe material doesn’t come cheaply!
- Percale. Percale sheets have a fine texture, thanks to their tightly woven threads. While they may not feel as fancy as sateen, they hold up to washing incredibly well. In fact, the more you launder them, the more comfortable they’ll get. Not a bad deal.
- Oxford. The Oxford weave is a staple in men’s formalwear and pillowcases. It has a crisp and heavy yet soft texture. Plus, oxford-woven pieces are highly durable.
Egyptian cotton is the highest quality cotton. If you’re looking for luxury, keep this material on your radar.
Egyptian cotton’s magic comes from thin, long-staple cotton with a high thread count. This combo creates a soft, delicate texture that’s very long-lasting.
Beware of fakes when buying Egyptian cotton. The high quality of these sheets makes them a fair bit more expensive than other options. If the price tag doesn’t reflect this, watch out.
Pima cotton, also known as Supima — a trademarked name for American-grown Pima — is another long-staple cotton. While not quite as high quality as Egyptian, Pima is an exceptional cotton fiber.
Who says strength and softness won’t mix? Pima offers a balanced combination of the two.
Flannel sheets are cozy and toasty — perfect for any cooler climate. This wrinkle-resistant textile traps body heat, making it a great choice in winter months but a nightmare for hot sleepers. Factor your ideal sleeping temperature in before purchasing flannel bed sheets.
Though flannel is often made from woven cotton, manufacturers can also use synthetic or wool. Unlike other 100% cotton bedding, flannel is not measured in thread count.
Check that your flannel sheet set has combed fibers for superior softness.
If your sheets are 100% cotton, but the type isn’t specified, assume it’s upland cotton. Upland is the default cotton fiber and generally more affordable than other more luxurious forms.
Due to its shorter threads, upland isn’t the softest cotton. However, it’s still a durable, machine washable, and breathable material.
Unlike many other bedding options, polyester is an artificial material. This synthetic polymer textile didn’t come around until the mid-1900s — and maybe for a good reason.
Most polyester is a burden on the environment. Like plastics, it takes a long time to degrade. While this does make it incredibly durable, it’s not necessarily for a good reason.
Polyester sheets also offer minimal breathability, trapping moisture and readily holding onto oil-based stains. Not to mention this man-made fiber is notorious for pilling.
However, polyester’s lack of ventilation makes it great for cold climates as it retains heat. On top of that, it’s cheap, wrinkle-resistant, and built to last.
Think of microfleece as flannel but made of polyester. That’s the goal of it, anyway.
Microfleece has unique advantages in that it’s water-repellent and fast-drying. It’s also a low-cost material with high longevity.
Despite these properties, it’s easy to overheat while sleeping in microfleece sheets. This material traps warmth and is quick to pill. Additionally, microfleece can become irritating to the skin if not washed carefully.
Acetate is the bedding material that ranks lowest in popularity.
Like eucalyptus-based Tencel, acetate is made from wood fibers. This plant-based material is smooth and satiny to the touch but inconvenient to use.
Acetate fibers are notoriously weak, meaning these sheets can be short-lived if not adequately cared for. And how do you properly care for them? Dry-cleaning. Unless you can see yourself taking your bedding to the dry-cleaners weekly, this likely isn’t the textile for you.
Despite linen sheets being composed of a thicker fiber than cotton, they’re one of the most breathable textiles around.
While linen may feel light, its longevity is outstanding. Be sure to always air dry your sheets to prevent pilling (even though this may worsen the wrinkles linen is prone to).
Linen’s airy feel and moisture-wicking properties make it an excellent choice for warm sleepers. Still, it’ll keep you warm in winter. That’s what temperature control is all about.
Worried that you’ll be chilly during the winter months? Add a pom pom throw blanket to the foot of your bed!
Silk sheets are the pinnacle of luxury. No other textile compares to their smooth feel and lustrous look, but the beauty of silk is beyond skin-deep.
Silk is more hesitant to absorb moisture than other fabrics making it gentler on the skin and hair. If you struggle with sensitive skin, you might want to give silk a try. Its smooth texture minimizes friction leaving skin happy. Not to mention, silk is also hypoallergenic.
The downside to this glamorous fiber? It’s not cheap.
If you can look past the price tag, silk will reward you. While you’re at it, go all out by pairing your sheets with a luxury comforter to match.
Let’s address the elephant in the room: most fibers go through extensive processing before hitting the shelves. Even some plant-based materials often considered “green” can have detrimental environmental impacts.
That’s where Tencel comes in. Tencel comes from eucalyptus tree fibers and operates in a “closed-loop process.” This means that no chemicals escape into the surrounding environment. Plus, eucalyptus trees regenerate quickly, making them a sustainable source.
Despite the wonderful components of Tencel, its water-loving fibers make it prone to mildew. It also has a slicker texture and is more expensive than some cotton options.
Regardless, Tencel is the best material for sheets — at least from an environmental viewpoint.
Like Tencel, bamboo is a sustainable, plant-based material. The downside is that it’s generally difficult to find 100% bamboo sheets. They’re also exceptionally delicate, prone to wrinkling, and can be expensive.
On the other hand, bamboo sheets offer incredible temperature regulation, breathability, and sustainability. An added bonus? Bamboo is naturally antimicrobial.
It’s hard to say what you can expect from a textile blend as it depends on the types of materials involved and their ratios.
Cotton blends, for example, often contain mostly cotton with other — often man-made — filler fibers added. Introducing synthetic materials makes these textiles stronger but can compromise the overall quality. Plus, these synthetics make a plant-based material less sustainable.
What Is the Best Material for Sheets?
It can be challenging to identify which sheet material is best for you. Many factors affect the quality of a sheet, but overall, it’s a highly personal decision.
If you need a little help choosing, look no further.
Thread count. Remember: thread count is only important in cotton sheets. While an ultra-high thread count may not make a huge difference, there is a contrast between the 100-200 range and 300-500.
If you want a high thread count, choose:
- Egyptian cotton
- Pima cotton
- Upland cotton
- Any non-cotton material as they are not measured in thread count
Breathability. Sheet material plays a huge role in breathability — which plays a huge role in sleep quality. Whether you want a sheet that keeps you warm in winter or cool in summer, look for a textile with temperature regulation like:
If you want a high thread count, choose:
Texture. Comfort is of the utmost importance when it comes to bedding. If you don’t like the surface of your sheets, it’s almost impossible to get comfortable. Your preferences are personal, but the sheets with the most beloved textures include:
- Sateen-woven cotton
- Egyptian cotton
- Upland cotton
Sustainability. For many people, sustainability plays a factor in the choices we make. If you’re looking to minimize your footprint as much as possible, try:
- Organic cotton
Hygienic properties. When you’re sleeping on the same bedding every night, your sheets’ sanitation should be on your mind. It’s important to wash your sheets regularly, but some materials are more hygienic than others, such as:
Price. Let’s not beat around the bush — price can play a significant factor in which options are available to us. If you’re looking for a budget-friendly bedding solution, keep your eye on:
- Upland cotton
- Egyptian cotton
Longevity. Care and usage are important factors in the amount of time your sheets will last, but some fibers are naturally more durable than others. If this is what you’re looking for, aim for:
Things to Consider Before Buying Sheets
Let’s narrow down your search for the perfect material a little further by exploring some factors you may not have considered before:
- Climate. Your climate, along with your home’s average temperature, can factor into what kind of sheets are best for you. If you live in a warm environment, a breathable sheet like linen would be up your alley. However, if you live somewhere cold, a fabric such as flannel will keep you cozy year-round.
- Skin sensitivities. Some people can do just about anything to their skin with no repercussions. Others, however, are not so lucky. If you have sensitive skin, the best sheet materials for you to try are silk and bamboo.
- Maintenance. Are you someone who has time to air dry or iron their sheets? Or are you a “grab and go” kind of person? If it’s the latter, you should aim for a low-maintenance fabric like flannel or cotton. A textile like silk or polyester requires more gentle, specific care to maintain quality. Heads up: linen is wrinkle-prone. If this bothers you and you don’t have time to iron them, skip linen sheets.
- Sleeping temperature. Do you sweat in your sleep? Be honest — many people do. If you’re a hot sleeper, you’ll want to avoid moisture-trapping materials like Tencel and polyester. Though microfleece is water-repellent, it won’t keep you cool. Try linen, bamboo, silk, or cotton.
Tips for Proper Care
Now that you’ve picked the perfect sheets, it’s essential to care for them properly to ensure they last as long as possible.
Each fabric has special washing instructions, so be sure to follow the manufacturer’s directions. However, here are some general maintenance tips to get you started:
- Prevent pilling. If you’re unfamiliar with the term, “pills” are the little balls some materials form due to general wear and tear. Not only is this unsightly, but it also means your sheets are beginning to degrade. How do you combat this? Use the gentlest, coolest settings on your washing and drying machines.
- Reduce the wrinkles. Wrinkling is another unsightly bedding issue. Creased sheets aren’t inviting and can be a sign you need to wash them. If your textile is okay with heat, try ironing (or steaming) the wrinkles out. This makes your bedding appear nicer and prevents permanent wrinkles from forming.
- Store your sheets with care. Get into the habit of properly folding and putting away your linens. Keeping them tidy means they’re less likely to get in the way and more likely to be treated delicately. When placed in proper storage (such as on a shelf or in a closet), they stay cleaner between uses.
- Wash regularly. Washing your sheets is the best way to preserve them. Sweat stains, bacteria, and general gunk collect on your bedding incredibly quickly. Do you really want to be sleeping on that every night? Aim to wash your bedding at least once a week. Your sheets will last longer, and your health will thank you.
- Swap them out. When you find sheets you love, consider purchasing a couple of sets. Regularly switching out your sheets is a great way to make each set last longer. With each experiencing less wear and tear, they’ll all go further. Plus, it’s always nice to have a backup — because life happens.
The process of choosing the best sheet material is highly personal. Factors such as climate, longevity, price, and comfort all affect which textile is suitable for you. No matter what you choose, be sure to preserve your bedding by taking proper care of it. Your comfort, health, and wallet will thank you!