Pillow Talk with Bob

Pillow Talk

by Bob Ianson

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The Bottom Line on Sheets

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The Bottom Line on Sheets

Your sheets are worn out, you put your toes through the fabric, they feel like sandpaper or they will not stay on the mattress. Whatever the reason it's time to buy some new sheets and you are confused by what's out there. Let us shed some light on your choices.

Fitted Sheet Depths 

Now comes the big question you need to have an answer for: How deep is your mattress?  Today's consumers are faced with mattress selections that vary from as little as 6" - 8" on hide-a-beds all the way up to 20" or more! Unfortunately, it is not sufficient to say a mattress is "extra-deep" or “regular”, you must know the measurement and buy sheets that will accommodate your mattress depth.

For many years, mattresses were virtually all the same thickness. At that time, the number one complaint was "my fitted sheets will not stay on".  After many years of this, sheet manufacturers made their fitted sheets a little deeper. Seemingly overnight, mattress manufacturers said, "let's make our mattresses deeper". The result was that initially the extra deep sheets accommodated, but as these mattresses became more popular and ever deeper, the fitted sheet issue reared its ugly head again. The other problem is that although the fitted sheet may be extra deep, there is no assurance that the flat sheet is made any larger to accommodate the tuck-in you might want, and every brand differs. That's where you need a knowledgeable sales associate to guide you.

As a general guide, if you wash your sheets in cold water and dry on a low setting, add 3-4" in sheet depth to your mattress depth to allow for shrinkage. If you have a 14" mattress, choose sheets that have a 17" pocket. If you wash in warm or hot water and dry your sheets until crispy, be sure to add an 4" or even 5" on top of your mattress depth to be sure your sheets will still fit over time, especially if they are 100% cotton.

Fabric Types 

Cotton sheets have become the standard for most people due to their sleep comfort and breathability. Comfort is king and therefore cotton is the natural choice. Organic Cotton, Cotton, and Egyptian Cotton are your three standard choices. Organic Cotton has been around for several years but has not gained significant traction in the marketplace. As a result, these are less common and usually quite pricey. Regular Cotton sheets come in a wide variety of qualities but tend to be very soft and after repeated washing tend to wrinkle less as the bonds in the cotton soften. Egyptian Cotton tends to be stronger and finer, though can vary in softness based on the weave of the fabric. One should base their final decision on how the fabric feels, as quality, thread count, and softness may vary widely amongst these three cotton varieties.

Rayon from Bamboo sheets have been a great addition to the sheet business and are quickly gaining in popularity. These sheets are extremely soft and smooth.  They are usually made from all Rayon from Bamboo or a blend of Rayon from Bamboo and Cotton. Sheets made with Rayon from Bamboo help wick away moisture 3 - 4 times more than cotton and also block bacterial growth. Considered by many to be the "New Age" material, these sheets offer the ultimate in sleep comfort. They do, however, require a cold-water wash as the fiber is more delicate than standard cotton.

Polyester/Cotton blends are less common these days and a limited selection of thread counts and sheet depths. These blends take colours very well and are known for their vibrant colours as well as the tried and true natural colours. They are a no-iron finish and therefore tend to look crisp even after repeated washings. They are however, generally not as soft as cotton and can feel stuffier to sleep under as they do not breathe as well as 100% natural fabrics.


The construction of a sheet is generally referred to as the weave. Sheets were once all constructed with the warp and weft yarns in a basic percale weave. For simplicity's sake, let's describe this as a straight over under, over under, weave of warp yarns going left to right and weft yarns going up and down. This was a very efficient method of production...but then along came Sateen weaves, which are woven with one warp yarn over several weft yarns (5-7) and then back over the warp yarns and repeated. The process resulted in a sheet with a smoother hand and a more luxurious feel which has become the standard in sheeting over the crisper feeling percale.

Many people confuse Sateen with Satin, but they are in no shape or form the same thing. Satin sheets are generally made from Polyester or Nylon. They are very hot to sleep under and very slippery. A Sateen sheet, while soft and smooth, is not at all slippery.

Thread Count

Thread count simply means the number of thread in one square inch of fabric. To some the word percale means something else, but the very basic definition of a percale sheet is that to be called percale, it must have 180 threads per square inch or better.

Now here's where I may say something that surprises you - there is a misconception amongst consumers that the higher the thread count, the better my sheets must be. As you step up in thread counts, the product becomes less breathable. An important distinction for many of our customers. You should also be aware that since all thread counts are measured based on a single square inch of fabric, when you get into the 800 - 1000 thread count sheets, the only way to make the thread counts this high is to use very fine yarns, which if not of the highest quality cotton are sometimes more likely to pill. 

Higher thread count sheets can often woven with 2 or 3-ply yarn.  Some manufacturers get away with higher thread count fabrics, by taking two or three very thin threads and wrapping them around each other to create a single thread.  They will still count this as two or three threads even though they should be counted as one.  Now your 1000 thread count sheets are really a 500 in 2-ply and your 900 thread count sheet is actually only a 300 thread count in 3-ply.

It has been our experience that 220 - 400 thread count sheets provide the most comfort, breathability and longevity.

Grams Per Square Meter

The measure of flannel sheets is grams per square meter. This information is not readily available to consumers as it is often not mentioned on the packaging.  The weight is measured after weaving and brushing. Some flannel is brushed on both sides and some on one side only. The more brushing, the more material that's removed so it's a fine line to maintain the gram weight while making a nice feeling flannel.

Caring for Your Sheets

You would not take your fine, 100% cotton blouse, throw it in the wash with some detergent, toss it in the dryer until it is so dry, it's hot. You should treat your sheets with the same care as a good piece of cotton clothing.  Always read the care label on your sheets and follow the washing instructions.  Do not use bleaches or detergents claiming to whiten and brighten.  Instead we recommend the use of a natural laundry soda.  Laundry soda will leave your fabrics fluffy and more absorbent as liquid detergent always remains in your fabrics.  Use a cool or at most warm water wash, cool water rinse and dried at a low temperature until dry. Take them out of the dryer, give a quick shake and fold them up for your laundry cupboard. Having multiple sets of sheets allows for a longer lifespan in general instead of washing and replacing on your bed, the same set of sheets week after week.