Shopping for new sheets or other bedding is a treat, and one of the fastest and easiest ways to give your bedroom a whole new look, but it can be a bit confusing. There are so many different types of fabric, but how do you know which is the best? Cotton? Tencel? Pima? And what exactly are those fabrics, anyway?
While picking your favorite color is a snap, choosing sheets made from the right fabric to suit your preferences is a bit more complicated. Read on for a breakdown of the most common fabrics used to make bed sheets.
Cotton is the most popular fabric used to make sheets and other bedding, and for good reason. It’s durable, breathable, soft, easy to care for, and generally quite affordable. You’ll find several different types of cotton, however. Here are some of the most common.
- Egyptian cotton is the most luxurious variety. This is what you’ll want if you’re shopping for super-soft, high-quality bed sheets. Grown in the warm, dry climates of North Africa, Egyptian cotton has extra-long fibers that create the softest, smoothest fabric.
- Pima cotton is also known for its softness and natural sheen. It has medium to extra-long fibers that are ideal for bed sheets. This cotton is primarily grown in the southwest of the United States, along with a few other locations.
- Upland cotton is native to the Americas, but is now the most commonly grown cotton in the world. Its fibers are not as long as Pima or Egyptian cotton, so it’s not as soft as those varieties. Most cotton sheets, unless they specify otherwise, are made of Upland cotton, especially if they are bargain priced.
- Supima® is a trademarked name for fibers and materials woven from 100% American Pima cotton.
- MicroCotton® is a trademarked brand of extremely fine cotton thread developed in India. This durable cotton, made from long-staple cotton fibers, is very soft and absorbent.
A staple for cold winter nights, flannel is cotton that’s been combed to fluff up the fibers. The result is very soft fabric with a nap that traps body heat, thus giving flannel its snuggly-warm qualities. Unlike other types of bedding materials, flannel’s quality is measured in ounces per square yard, rather than thread count.
You'll find the best selection of flannel sheets as winter approaches, along with flannel sheet sets in holiday-inspired patterns.
Tencel is a brand name for fabric made out of eucalyptus tree wood pulp. It’s soft, very durable, and naturally antimicrobial. Tencel is generally considered an environmentally friendly fabric, as its production requires less water, energy and chemicals than cotton does.
While tencel is fairly cool, it's not quite as breathable as cotton, and can have a slightly clammy feel.
Silk is a luxurious, soft fiber produced by silkworms. For sheer indulgence, it’s hard to beat real silk sheets – they’re cool, silky and sensuous, making them a must for the romantic or sexy bedroom. Silk is also naturally hypoallergenic. The downside to silk, of course, is its cost, which is high, and its care, which is delicate. Still, if you want the utmost in luxury, consider a set of silk sheets.
Polyester is a manmade fiber produced from the same polymers used to make plastic drink bottles. While polyester is inexpensive, it’s quite stiff and scratchy when used on its own. Generally, you’ll find polyester mixed with another thread, often cotton, in inexpensive sheet sets.
Very finely woven polyester is sometimes sold as microfiber. While these sheets can be very soft, they are still not as breathable as cotton, and so not the best choice if you tend to sleep hot.They are durable, however, and resist stains, so can be a good choice for a child's bedroom.
While bamboo can be made into fabric, it’s typically rather stiff and rough. Most often, what you find labelled as “bamboo” sheets are actually rayon. This means the bamboo pulp went through a chemical process to dissolve the pulp, re-solidify it, and then spin it into thread. This process involves harmful chemicals and is potentially hard on the environment, making bamboo sheets less environmentally friendly than its manufacturers claim. It does produce a very soft, durable and silky fabric, however.
Bamboo is as breathable as cotton and feels good against your skin.
There are lots of blended fabrics available, most including some form of cotton. Cotton/polyester is the most common, but you’ll also find cotton/bamboo and cotton/rayon. Blended fabrics are usually inexpensive, durable and wrinkle-resistant, making them a good choice for children’s bedding.
Updated by Michelle Ullman