Buying Bed Sheets

Get a good night's sleep on pretty and practical bed linens. Learn how to buy bed sheets and pillowcases for your bedroom.

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Combined with pillows and top coverings, sheets both practical and pretty refresh a room for an easy makeover. Crisp white sheets never go out of style. Sheets in colors, prints, and patterns are easy to find in all sizes and price ranges. Frequent washing tends to fade colors on budget-price sheets. Here are some additional sheet terms and facts to keep in mind.

BONUS: After you buy bed sheets, learn how to care for them so they stay in tip-top shape.

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Thread Count

Thread count refers to the number of threads woven into 1 square inch of fabric. Why does it matter? The higher the thread count, the softer and smoother the sheets will be.

Thread count also determines whether a sheet is muslin or percale. Sheets with a thread count of 140-180 are muslin. Everything higher is percale. The most common percale sheets have thread counts of 180-200. Higher-quality sheets have a 250-300 thread count and feel silky to the touch. Sheets with a high thread count (300-400) are considered luxury quality.

Look for a minimum thread count of 200 when selecting sheets. When buying cotton-polyester blend sheets, choose a thread count of 220 or more. Expect to pay more for higher thread counts, because it takes more finely spun threads to make them.  

Sheet Materials

For comfort and durability, cotton is still king. Want a natural, breathable fabric? Choose 100 percent cotton. If you are allergic to dyes and chemicals, look for sheets made from organically grown, natural, undyed cotton fibers.

Other Sheet Materials

  • Flannel, muslin, oxford, percale, and sateen weaves are most commonly used for cotton sheets. Percale, which is tightly woven, is still a basic weave for sheets, as is sateen.
  • Muslin sheets come at a lower price point than percale because prices are typically based on thread counts. Look for wrinkle-resistant cotton sheets as an alternative to stiff cotton-polyester blends. Machine-washable, combed-cotton percale with a thread count of 200-250 will provide long wear.
  • 50 percent cotton/50 percent polyester sheets resist wrinkling but can be stiff. The 60 percent cotton/40 percent polyester blend is another option. Look for a high thread count (above 220) to ensure quality in cotton-polyester blends.
  • Silk satin sheets are ideal for cold climates because the material traps warmth. These sheets feel smooth and luxurious, but they are expensive and must be dry-cleaned. Avoid satin-style sheets made of polyester; they feel scratchy against the skin.
  • Cotton jersey knit is made from the same breathable fabric as cotton T-shirts and is comfortable year-round. Dark colors and patterns tend to fade, however.
  • Linen, which is ideal for hot climates, is considered the finest sheet fabric. Fine linen sheets last for decades, making them a worthwhile investment.

Editor's Tip: Not sure which fabric is best for you? Buy a pair of pillowcases and see how you like them before committing to a complete set of sheets.

Sheet Sizes

Getting ready to shop for sheets? Start by carefully measuring the mattress. Mattress sizes can vary, and you want to make sure you're getting the right size for your bed. Write down your mattress dimensions, measuring from head to foot, side to side, and top to bottom (mattress thickness). That way you'll know exactly what you need.

These are the standard sheet sizes, listed in inches, for typical mattress options.

Twin Bed: As the smallest mattress, the twin is usually meant for one person.

  • Twin flat sheet: 66x96
  • Twin fitted sheet: 39x75
  • Pillowcase: 20x26

Twin Extra-Long Bed: Usually found in college dorm rooms, this mattress is longer than the standard twin.

  • Twin XL flat: Not made; use a standard twin flat sheet.
  • Twin XL fitted: 39x80
  • Pillowcase: 20x26

Full-Size Bed: Also known as a double, this mattress can sleep two.

  • Full flat: 81x96 (to 100)
  • Full fitted: 54x75
  • Pillowcase: 20x26

Queen-Size Bed: The queen mattress sleeps two. It is both longer and wider than a full-size mattress.

  • Queen flat: 90x102 (to 106)
  • Queen fitted: 60x80
  • Pillowcase: 20x30

King-Size Bed: Also known as the Eastern king, this mattress is the largest option.

  • King flat: 108x102 (to 106)
  • King fitted: 78x80
  • Pillowcase: 20x36 (to 40)

California King Bed: This luxurious mattress is longer and narrower than the Eastern king.

  • California king flat: 102x110
  • California king fitted: 72x84
  • Pillowcase: 20x36 (to 40)

Mattress Depths

Many newer beds feature pillow-top or extra-deep mattresses, which often run 14-16 inches deep -- and may be even thicker. Use these mattress depths as a guide when selecting sheets. Bear in mind that you might need to buy the next size up (e.g. a king flat sheet for a queen-size bed) to accommodate a deeper mattress.

Standard: 7-9 inches

Deep: Up to 15 inches

Extra-Deep: 16-22 inches

Stocking Your Linens

Traditional January white sales are the ideal time to purchase bargains. Linen outlets are year-round destinations for bargain hunters.

For the most savings on quality sheets, look for sales of marked-down individual sheets instead of sets. Mix and match fitted and flat sheets with pillowcases and shams. For mixing, choose white or a solid pastel for one of the sheets or for the pillowcases.

Another smart strategy: Consider buying identical sets of sheets so that you can trade off sheets if something spills or a sheet gets damaged.

Stock these items to dress every bed in comfort and style.

Master Bedroom:

  • Two or three sheet sets in the correct size. Each sheet set should include top (flat) and bottom (fitted) sheets plus two pillowcases. You may need additional pillowcases if you use more than two pillows. Change and launder sheets and pillowcases once a week.
  • Two mattress pads: one in the linen closet, one on the bed. Wash every two to four weeks.
  • Two pillowcase protectors per pillow
  • One duvet and duvet cover or comforter, if using
  • One coverlet, quilt, or spread
  • One summer blanket
  • One winter blanket
  • One bed skirt, if using

Guest Bedroom:

  • Two sets of sheets per bed. Wash linens and remake the bed after each visit so the room will always be ready. Note that a twin sheet set includes only one pillowcase.
  • One mattress pad for each bed
  • Two pillows per twin bed; four pillows per full-size bed
  • Two pillowcase protectors per pillow
  • Two pillowcases per pillow
  • One duvet and duvet cover or comforter per bed, if using
  • One summer blanket per bed
  • One winter blanket per bed
  • One bed skirt per bed, if using

BONUS: How to Fold a Fitted Sheet

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