How to Buy the Perfect Bed Linen
Few would deny that at the end of a long, hard day, sliding into a bed fitted with beautifully soft, smooth bed linen, is one of life’s greatest pleasures. After all, we spend nearly a third of our life in bed, so why wouldn’t we want the best?
Yet when it comes to buying new bed linen, where do you begin? From thread counts to fabric there’s so much to know. So, we’ve made it easy for you with a guide to the key things you should look for when you’re in the market for new bed linen.
There are four main points to consider when purchasing cotton sheets:
Material: Cotton has always been a favourite for bed linen because of its softness and breathability, but it can vary greatly in quality. Always look for cotton identified as 100% long-staple cotton, because this produces the softest, smoothest and strongest weave. Sheets made with shorter staple cotton fibres lead to a coarser, weaker, albeit cheaper, fabric.
Cotton has always been a favourite for bed linen because of its softness and breathability, but it can vary greatly in quality. Always look for cotton identified as 100% long-staple cotton, because this produces the softest, smoothest and strongest weave. Sheets made with shorter staple cotton fibres lead to a coarser, weaker, albeit cheaper, fabric.
Thread count: Although thread count does matter, it’s not the most important factor and most experts agree that a higher thread count does not necessarily translate to a softer, or better quality sheet. As long as all the other factors are good, 200–600 is considered to be ideal, but it’s down to personal preference. Lower-end options are generally lightweight, cool, and crisp (like a percale), while the higher-end sheets are more tightly woven, which means they will be warmer, silkier and softer. Anything below 200 might feel a bit rough. Anything above 600 should be viewed with caution. This is because thread count refers to the amount of woven threads that make up one square inch of sheet fabric, counting both vertical and horizontal threads and there are only so many threads that can fit in that area.
Ply: Always go for single-ply because it produces the finest, strongest threads, which in turn produce the softest, longest-lasting sheets. Multi-ply yarns are a group of weaker yarns spun together to create a false strength. Some manufacturers will count each ply in one piece of thread to inflate thread counts. This is how numbers like 800 thread count are sometimes achieved. Because these super-high thread-count sheets are often made from inferior shorter, staple cotton, they tend to feel coarser and are not as durable as sheets made from higher-quality cottons.
Weave: The weave of a fabric ultimately effects how it looks and feels and is a matter of personal preference. The best cotton sheets for softness and quality are either percale or sateen. The former, percale, is a one-yarn-over and one-yarn-under weave that results in a matte finish with a cool, crisp feel that improves with every wash. It’s especially perfect for warmer sleepers as its lightweight and breathable. The latter, sateen, is a one-yarn-under and three-yarn-over weave. More thread surface exposed by this weave is what gives sateen its signature silky-soft feel and luminous sheen. Sateen is naturally wrinkle-resistant, usually more tightly woven and heavier in weight than percale, making it particularly sumptuous and slightly warmer. It’s ideal for year-round comfort and is especially cosy during the winter months.
A new material to the bed linen market is cotton blended with a revolutionary botanical yarn, Tencel™, which creates a lightweight textile that’s both soft and crisp. By choosing to sleep in Tencel™ you’re opting for one of the world’s most sustainable materials. This luxurious yarn is made from sustainably grown botanicals such as eucalyptus that produce a silky smooth, soft and lightweight texture.
Perfect if you want that über-chic rumpled look in the bedroom. Unlike with cotton, thread count is not a factor in linen in the same way, because a tightly woven, high thread count linen would feel far too heavy for bed linen. Linen is woven from the flax plant, which grows best in Europe’s temperate climates. Flax from Belgium, France, and Ireland is especially celebrated for its longer fibres which are key for a smoother, softer, and more durable weave. In stonewashing linen, the stones organically abrade the fabric to further loosen the weave and increase overall flexibility and softness.
Cotton and linen are both ideal fabrics for sleeping in the heat. They are both woven from natural fibres that breathe really well, which is crucial for staying cool. Whilst percale which is known for a crisp, cool feel is perfect for hot weather, linen has natural cooling properties, being more breathable, moisture-wicking, and absorbent than cotton. It is also a natural temperature regulator and insulator, keeping one cool in the summer and warm in winter.
Bamboo is an increasing popular fabric in the bed linen market and there are several reasons for this. It creates sheets that are as silky-smooth as fine cotton but for absorption and wicking away moisture from your skin they are superior, keeping one odour free even on the hottest night. The cross-section of the bamboo fibre is covered with micro-gaps for better ventilation so consequently the fabric is extremely breathable and thermo-regulating, even more so than cotton, so is able to keep you two degrees cooler in the heat, and noticeably warmer in the cold. And good news for those with sensitive skin, it also has a natural resistance to allergens and microbes.
Bamboo is in itself a very eco-friendly, sustainable plant requiring far less water than cotton. It grows very quickly and does not need much in the way of pesticides or fertilisers. It is also biodegradable.
At all costs avoid synthetic blends as these will leave you waking up hot and clammy.