Sheets Buying Guide

Sheets Buying Guide

A cool, dark, quiet room and a good mattress can only get you so far if your sheets are worn and scratchy. In fact, finding the best bedsheets for your needs can mean the difference between a sound night’s slumber and hours of tossing and turning.

But how do you know if you’re buying good sheets? It can be a challenge. All the sheets we tested are 100 percent cotton, yet our results reveal some significant differences in strength and quality among brands. In fact, several queen-size cotton sheets perform so poorly that they won’t even cover a 1-inch mattress after less than a year’s worth of washes, let alone a 12¼-inch mattress, which is the average height. And some sheets are so expensive that we suggest waiting until they go on sale before buying.

How Consumer Reports Tests Bedsheets

To test how well a set of sheets will serve you, we assess fit, softness, and wrinkling. We also test for strength and shrinkage, because we believe that good sheets should last.

Fit is important because if a fitted sheet (no matter how soft) shrinks so much that you can’t get it over your mattress, all other attributes are moot. All the sheets in our tests could initially fit the queen-size mattress depth claimed on their packaging.

In our shrinkage tests, we wash fitted sheets according to the manufacturer’s directions 25 times—equivalent to about a year’s worth of washing if you launder your linens every two weeks. After each wash, our testers put the sheet on 8-, 10-, 14-, and 18-inch-deep mattresses to see whether the corners and sides still fit and tuck underneath. 

We also compare sheets after each wash cycle with a set of references to determine how much they wrinkle. Wrinkled sheets don’t look as neat and crisp on a bed, and you may even feel wrinkles when you lie down.

Our engineers assess the strength of the fibers with a machine that clamps both ends of the sheet sample and pulls it with increasing force until it tears. In our tests, none were weak enough to be a concern under normal usage. 

To measure softness, a panel of sensory testers compares each sheet with a standard of fabric swatches covering a range of softness levels. 

What to Look For When Buying Sheets

How do you know whether a cotton sheet is a good-quality sheet? While consumers often hear a lot about thread count, many factors can affect the feel and longevity of cotton sheets, including the weave and type of cotton fiber. Consider the following.

Cotton-rich vs. 100 percent cotton: Sheets touted as “cotton rich” are less than 100 percent cotton. The claim indicates that the sheet is at least 50 percent cotton, while the remainder consists of some other fiber. 

Thread count: Thread count is the number of vertical and horizontal threads per square inch. The products we test have claimed thread counts ranging from 280 to 1,000. Thread counts exceeding 400 are most likely produced by using finer/silkier yarns such as Pima or Egyptian cotton. But we find that thread count isn’t necessarily an indication of quality. One of the best sheets in our tests, the L.L.Bean Pima Cotton Percale, has a claimed thread count of only 280, yet our tests find that these sheets are soft and strong. They also shrink very little and will still fit mattresses up to 14 inches high after a simulated year’s worth of washing. 

Percale vs. sateen: These terms refer to the weave of the cotton threads. Percale sheets use a “one-over-one-under” gridded weave. The result is a crisp feel and a matte finish. In sateen sheets, the horizontal threads skip over a few vertical ones before they loop under and over again. What you get is a drapier, smoother, somewhat glossier sheet that some might equate with a more luxurious feel. But the best bedsheet for you depends on personal preference. 

Types of cotton fiber: Cotton fibers—or staples—come in different classes. These include short staple, long staple, and extra-long staple. Bedsheets made with short-staple cotton (commonly Upland cotton) are simply labeled as cotton. Those woven from long-staple or extra-long-staple cotton often call that out: Pima and Egyptian cottons are popular forms of extra-long staple cotton; Supima is a brand trademark for a Pima cotton grown in America. Typically, long-fiber cottons are softer, stronger, and less likely to pill. However, unscrupulous manufacturers might mix different types of cotton, so just because a product is labeled as such doesn’t mean it will perform as expected. 

How to Buy the Correct Size

Before you shop, measure your mattress’s height, including your mattress topper, if you’re using one. While you should buy sheets that have a deeper pocket than the thickness of your mattress, doing so doesn’t always mean they’ll continue to fit after you wash them numerous times. We’ve seen shrinkage of up to 6 percent in the cotton sheets in our tests. In almost half the samples, there is so much shrinkage that the sheet no longer fits the mattress. Only one cotton sheet in our tests lives up to the claim of “deep pocket” sheets; few fit mattresses that are 18 inches tall. So keep your receipt. You should wash your sheets before sleeping on them to remove finishes or excess dye. If the fitted sheet shrinks so much that it’s difficult to put on your mattress, or if you don’t like how the sheets feel once they’ve been washed, return them. 

The Truth About Eco-Friendly Sheets

Contrary to popular belief, the growing practices for organic and non-organic cotton are quite similar, at least from a sustainability standpoint. “The big differences come down to where the seeds come from, and which chemicals are used to grow and protect the crops,” says Kavita Mathur, a professor at North Carolina State University’s Wilson College of Textiles in Raleigh. “When they are produced responsibly, both organic and conventional cotton can be grown with lower environmental impacts.”

She also says you can’t typically tell whether a sheet is made from conventionally grown cotton or organically grown cotton. “They’re indistinguishable,” she says. And, she adds, “all cotton, regardless of production methods, is biodegradable, microplastic free, and carbon-capturing.”

When a textile product carries Oeko-Tex certification, it means that every aspect of it—not just the cotton but also its threads, buttons, and any other components—has been tested for toxic chemicals (such as formaldehyde and harmful dyes) and therefore deemed safe for human health. 

As for bamboo sheets, they’re not as green as you might think. In fact, the Federal Trade Commission has ordered retailers to stop labeling and advertising rayon textiles as “eco-friendly bamboo.” Once the plant fiber has been processed, it’s rayon, not bamboo. (You may also see this labeled as bamboo viscose, but it’s the same fiber.) In addition, the processing uses toxic chemicals that emit hazardous air pollutants during manufacturing.

Sheet Brands

Boll & Branch sells sheets at Nordstrom and directly to consumers through its website. It offers 100 percent cotton, sustainably sourced sheets, made through family-owned farms and factories.

Brooklinen, an early online bedding brand to sell without an intermediary, brings higher-end sheets directly to consumers at more reasonable prices on its website. It also sells its sheets on Amazon.

Casper, the popular mattress-in-a-box mattress brand, has expanded to bedding and now offers a range of cotton (percale, sateen, flannel) and Tencel Lyocell sheets.

Casper, the popular mattress-in-a-box mattress brand, has expanded to bedding and now offers a range of cotton (percale, sateen, flannel) and Tencel Lyocell sheets.

Casper, the popular mattress-in-a-box mattress brand, has expanded to bedding and now offers a range of cotton (percale, sateen, flannel) and Tencel Lyocell sheets.

Casper, the popular mattress-in-a-box mattress brand, has expanded to bedding and now offers a range of cotton (percale, sateen, flannel) and Tencel Lyocell sheets.

Pinzon is Amazon’s private-label brand. It sells all-cotton percale and sateen sheets, as well as flannel sheets.

Threshold is Target’s home goods line. It sells sheets made in a range of designs and from a variety of materials, including cotton, cotton-poly jersey, linen blends, and microfiber.

Wamsutta is an American textile company that has been manufacturing linens since 1847. Its products are sold at a variety of retailers, from Amazon to Bed Bath & Beyond to Walmart.