Go By Thread Count, Fabric Blend, Weave and Fibers
Determine thread count. This indicates the number of threads per square inch of material. Sheets with thread counts higher than 180 are called "percale." Thread counts between 200 and 400 are associated with softer fabric and greater durability, but softness also depends on materials. Lower thread counts may not wear as well and should be less expensive.
Choose materials. All-cotton sheets soften with washings and repeated use, the way a favorite pair of jeans do. 100% cotton is the softest material available for bedding, but it is prone to wrinkles. A blend of cotton/polyester will have softness and be wrinkle-free. The more cotton, the softer the sheets will be. Polyester should make up less than 50% of the fabric for the best feel.
Choose the weave. Sateen sheets, which are shiny because most of the threads are on the surface, have a less durable weave even if they have a high thread count. Pinpoint has only twice the number of threads on the surface as underneath, making it highly durable but lacking in softness.
Look for cotton fiber types. Egyptian cotton is imported from Egypt. It is known for its softness, attributed to long fibers that average 1 3/8 inches. The longer the fiber, the softer the thread. Pima is the name of cotton that is bred for strong fibers from Egyptian plants in the Southern United States; they have an average fiber length of 1 1/2 inches. If the fabric is made up exclusively of U.S. grown Pima cotton, it will bear the certification mark of SuPima, the growers' association. Short fiber foreign cotton may be imported from Greece, India or other countries.
Read the fine print. Check to make sure that if "Egyptian Cotton" shows up in large letters on the front of the package that it doesn't make up only a tiny fraction of actual materials. Higher price is not always an indication of quality, and cheaper products are not always bargains.
- Wash sheets before use to improve softness. Colors and designs might be another factor to consider when buying sheets. Matching sheets perfectly to wall colors and window treatments may limit fabric choices to what is available in a manufacturer's line. Watch for seasonal sales; January is the traditional time that bedding prices drop in stores. Bargains and variety are also available for online shoppers. Determine mattress depth by placing sheets of cardboard above and below a corner and measuring the distance between. This will ensure a good bottom sheet fit. Take the measurements with pillowtops and pads in place.