One hundred percent cotton makes an excellent fabric for sheets. Cotton is a soft, natural fiber that absorbs sweat, allows the skin to breathe and is less likely to cause skin irritations than synthetic fibers such as polyester and acetate. Egyptian cotton is the premier of cottons because the humidity and rich soil along the Nile produces long-fibered, extra-absorbent cotton, which makes for strong, sleek threads. Silk, another exceptional fabric for sheets, is also natural, has the same benefits as cotton and an even more luxurious feel, although the price can be prohibitive.
Aside from the type of fiber used, thread count is the most vital element in determining the comfort of sheets. Thread count refers to the number of threads per square inch. The higher the thread count, the smoother the fabric. Typical thread count ranges from 130 to 600. However, it is not unusual to find discount retailers advertising sheets with thread counts in the 1,200 to 2,000 range. An inspection of the fabric will reveal no discernible difference between sheets in the 400 to 600 range offered by standard retailers. One can only assume the thread count was calculated in some alternate way to arrive at such enormous numbers. Generally, any thread count 300 or higher will produce a sleek texture.
The design in which the fibers are woven also affects the texture of the sheets. Cotton sheets are manufactured in plain weave, satin weave -- called cotton sateen -- or cotton knit. Cotton sateen has a particularly sleek finish, while knit sheets are extra soft and absorbent. Neither of these weaves hold up to wear as well as a plain weave, and the fibers are more likely to pill over time. Silk sheets are also manufactured in plain or satin weave. Be careful not to confuse these with satin sheets, which are woven from synthetic fibers. They feel lovely at first touch, but will likely result in a sweaty night.
Since sheets in the United States are sold in standard sizes -- twin, full, queen or king -- it is a fair assumption that choosing the proper size would be simple. Unfortunately, high-end sheets are often designed to fit extra-thick mattresses, and when put on a thinner mattress, the extra fabric will create bunches and wrinkles, often where you least want them. You can avoid this annoyance by examining the package before purchasing the sheets. It will usually state if the sheets are intended for an oversized mattress.