Sprawling out on a clean pair of sheets is one of life’s simple pleasures. Well, unless your sheets are dirty, uncomfortable, or the wrong size for your mattress. We know that picking the perfect set of sheets isn’t always as easy as home decor experts make it seem, which is why we’ve compiled an extensive list of bedding-related questions. We’ve got all the info you need about bed sheets, whether you struggle to decipher thread-count descriptions or want to figure out why you get so itchy at night.
General Questions About Bedding
How often should I buy new bed sheets?
There’s not an exact timeline for sheet replacement, but Martha Stewart recommends getting rid of sheets that are frayed, faded, or stained. You may also want to discard sheets that smell like cat urine or mildew; sometimes these funky odors linger after you wash your bedding.
Do you like how your bed sheets look and feel? If the answer is no, it’s probably time to get new ones.
How do I figure out what size bed sheets I need?
Your bed sheets should be the same size as your mattress. For example, a queen mattress requires queen bed sheets.
Not sure what type of bed you have? Measure the width and length of your mattress to figure out its size. Measurements vary by brand, but here are some common measurements from The Sleep Shop:
- Twin mattress - 38 inches wide by 75 inches long
- Full mattress - 53 inches wide by 75 inches long
- Queen mattress - 60 inches wide by 80 inches long
- King mattress - 76 inches wide by 80 inches long
Remember, a twin XL and a twin mattress aren’t the same thing. Same goes for a king mattress and a California king mattress. If you buy sheets that are too small, they may rip - if you can even get them on the mattress in the first place. Sheets that are too big may sag and bunch.
What are the different styles of bed sheets?
Bed sheets come in a wide array of colors, patterns, materials, and varieties. We discuss materials in detail under the section titled “Selecting a Fabric,” so let’s just cover some bed-sheet basics now. Here are several common styles of bed sheets:
- Damask - a textured weave that is reversible; you can flip the sheet over and use either side when you sleep
- Embroidered - a small pattern or initials threaded somewhere into the sheet, usually near an edge rather than the center
- Top sheet - the sheet that goes between the comforter and the bottom sheet
- Bottom sheet - the sheet that goes directly on your mattress; also called a fitted sheet
- Solid-color sheets - sheets that are one color, such as blue or red
- Patterned sheets - sheets that have a design, such as flowers or stripes
Are there bigger bed sheets for pillow-top mattresses?
Yes, some companies make bigger bed sheets for pillow-top mattresses. Pillow-top mattresses are thicker than regular mattresses, so standard bed sheets don’t always fit. Look for phrases like “deep,” “deep-pocket,” or “extra deep” on the package, and if possible, measure the thickness of your mattress before you shop. Most packages list the exact specifications, so you know exactly what to expect from your bed sheets.
Should my pillow shams match my sheets or my comforter?
Only if you want them to. You spend a lot of time in your bedroom, so it’s important to choose bedding that makes you happy instead of worrying about society’s unwritten rules. With that being said, many folks opt for shams that match or complement their bedding.
If you’re not sure what colors go well together, look for complementary colors on a color wheel. Purple and yellow complement each other, as do blue and orange.
When it comes to patterned sheets, you may want to use solid-color shams that match a dominant color in the pattern. If you’ve got floral sheets, you may find that vibrant green pillow shams bring out the pattern without overpowering it. An ocean-inspired pattern might pair well with blue, green, or light purple shams.
Are a comforter and a duvet the same thing?
A comforter and a duvet are similar types of bedding, but they aren’t the same thing. Both of them sit on top of bed sheets and are stuffed with down or down substitutes, but a duvet requires a duvet cover. A comforter doesn’t require one.
Do I need bed sheets for my box springs or just my mattress?
You don’t have to cover your box springs with a sheet, but some people do anyway. Many people hide their box springs with a bed skirt. A bed skirt sits between the box springs and the mattress, and it’s specifically designed to conceal box springs.
You can also use a fitted sheet or long comforter, but these options generally don’t work as well. Also, they typically expose the bottom of your bed - so you might want to move your Christmas tree and whatever else you’ve got crammed under there.
What are the best bed sheets to buy?
It depends on your style, budget, and personal preferences. Our experts feel the overall best sheets are the ones that come in the Studio 550tc UltraFit Performance Sheet Set. The sheets are soft yet resilient, and they come in several attractive colors.
If you’ve got a generous bedding budget, consider the L.L. Bean Pima Cotton Percale Sheet Set. They’re the best percale sheets we’ve found, and they’re suitable for all seasons.
Here are a few of the other best bed sheets we’ve reviewed:
- Crate & Barrel Belo Sheet Set
- Cuddledown Sateen Sheet Set
- Threshold Ultra Soft Sheets
- Hotel Collection European Collection 600 Thread Count Egyptian Cotton Sheets
If you don’t want to spend much on bedding, choose Threshold Ultra Soft Sheets. You can get them for less than $20 at Target.
Choosing a Thread Count
What does thread count mean for sheets?
Thread count describes how many vertical and horizontal threads each square inch of a sheet contains. If you buy 200-thread-count sheets, it means each square inch has 200 different threads going length wise and/or width wise.
Thread count often affects softness and resiliency. That’s why sheets with high thread counts generally cost more than other sheets.
Does thread count affect the durability of sheets?
Yes, sometimes it does. Picture it this way: You have 2 shirts and decide to attach the same embroidered decal on each shirt. One logo is attached to the shirt with 100 pieces of thread, and one is supported by 200 pieces of thread. The logo supported by 200 pieces of thread is less likely to fall off, right?
However, there are exceptions. If you’ve got a sheet with a high thread count but it’s made from cheap thread, it might be less durable than a sheet with a lower thread count.
Are high thread count sheets better?
It depends on what’s important to you when you shop for sheets. Many people prefer sheets with high thread counts because they claim they’re softer and more durable than sheets with lower thread counts. They may also age better than sheets with fewer threads.
Consumer Reports warns that this isn’t always the case, though. The website evaluated sheets with thread counts as high as 1,000, yet it still favored budget-friendly percale sheets with a thread count of just 280.
What is the best thread count for sheets?
Thread counts often range from 200 to 1,000, but Consumer Reports says 400 is the magic number. That’s because some bedding manufacturers inflate thread count by twisting multiple strands of fine thread into one piece rather than actually weaving together hundreds of separate threads.
Pat Slaven from Consumer Reports dismisses claims of authentic 1,000-thread-count sheets, stating that “you just can’t get that many threads on a loom.” Thread count does matter, but fabric is also important.
Selecting a Fabric
What’s the best material for sheets?
Depends on your budget, lifestyle, and personal preferences. Consumer Reports says sheets made from Egyptian cotton, combed cotton, or Pica cotton are best, and we agree that cotton sheets are a great option for most buyers.
Not everyone sings the praises of cotton, though. If you get hot easily, cotton is still a good choice, but you may prefer to choose sheets made from bamboo or labeled “temperature regulating”. Linen is also a popular choice.
Opt for flannel or microfiber if you want a warm, cozy bed. Sateen and silk are versatile fabrics that keep you comfortable in any season.
Look for a material that holds up well if you plan to wash your sheets constantly (like if you’re buying them for a toddler who isn’t potty trained). Polyester or cotton percale are both great options.
What are percale sheets?
Percale sheets are sheets made from combed, woven cotton. Sometimes percale sheets are 100% cotton; other times, they’re a blend of polyester and cotton.
Because of the way percale sheets are tightly woven together, they feel the same on each side. They’re resilient and easy to maintain, making them a popular option for hotels and kids’ bedrooms.
Are satin sheets cool?
Satin sheets feel cool against your skin, and they help regulate your body temperature by letting air circulate as you sleep. Satin is smooth, so it’s less likely to tangle around you than other materials. This reduces your chances of trapping heat under a twisted sheet.
Pro tip: Remove your duvet or comforter an hour or two before bed so that the air conditioner hits your sheets. This makes them extra cool.
Are microfiber sheets hot?
Microfiber sheets trap heat, making them an ideal option for people who like to sleep in a warm bed. They’re generally too hot for summertime use, especially if you’ve got windows that shine on your bed.
If you like to eat or drink in bed, consider investing in microfiber sheets. The tightly woven material repels stains more effectively than fabrics like cotton and bamboo.
What are some ecofriendly bedding materials?
Organic cotton, bamboo, and silk are ecofriendly bedding materials - to an extent. Make sure you choose organic cotton and not conventional cotton, as 25% of pesticide use in the United States stems from conventional cotton production. If you choose bamboo, look for sheets that are produced without herbicides and pesticides.
Silk can be an ecofriendly bedding option if you use organic or wild silk. That means the manufacturer waits to harvest silk until a moth abandons its cocoon rather than collecting a larva-filled cocoon.
As with food, there are agencies that verify organic claims. Look for a label from the U.S. Department of Agriculture or another trusted agency that certifies your bedding is organic.
What are the softest bed sheets?
The softest bed sheets are generally made from flannel, microfiber, silk, satin, or a similar material. Flannel and microfiber feel fuzzy, while silk and satin feel smooth.
Thread count matters too (we discuss this in detail under the section titled “Choosing a Thread Count”). A high thread count generally results in soft, comfy sheets.
Setting up Your Bedding
What order does my bedding go on the bed?
Start with your bed skirt if you’re using one. The bed skirt goes between your mattress and box springs.
Once that’s on, slide your fitted sheet over your mattress, then add a top sheet. Place your comforter on the top sheet. If you’re not using a comforter, place a duvet, quilt, or blanket over your top sheet.
Don’t forget your pillows!
Why isn’t my fitted sheet big enough for my mattress?
Sounds like your fitted sheet is the wrong size. This means one of two things: You bought the wrong size for your bed (check out the question titled “How do I figure out what size bed sheets I need?” for help), or you need a deep-pocket sheet. A deep-pocket sheet is made just for thick mattresses.
If you’re sure your sheet is the right size and type for your mattress, your dryer might be the culprit. Some materials shrink in the dryer, which means your fitted sheet might not fit as well as it once did.
My sheets are too big - how do I fix this?
You can try shrinking them in the dryer, but that might not solve your problem. Dry your sheets on high heat and see if that helps. If not, you can try tucking part of each sheet under your mattress to minimize its size.
What’s the thing called that goes around the bottom of your bed?
You’re probably thinking of a bed skirt, also known as a dust ruffle. A bed skirt conveniently conceals the junk under your bed while enhancing the appearance of your bed. You place it between your mattress and box springs, and it hangs over the sides of your bed.
Do my pillows go under the comforter or over the comforter?
It’s up to you! Some people use pillows as decorations, so they like to place them on top of the bed. Other folks view pillows as functional objects, so they place them under the sheets. That way, they don’t have to move the pillows off of the comforter before crawling into bed.
Taking Care of Your Bedding
Are bed sheets machine washable?
Most modern bed sheets are machine washable, but there are some exceptions. It’s best to check the tag on your sheets or read their original packaging if you’re not sure. If you can’t find either of those things, here’s a quick cheat sheet:
- Cotton, organic cotton, and cotton blends are generally machine washable
- Fleece and flannel are usually safe in the washer
- Silk often requires hand washing or a quick spin through the delicate cycle
- You can typically wash microfiber on a delicate setting, but make sure there’s nothing in the washer that can snag the material
- When in doubt, use cold water and the delicate setting
Comforters, duvets, and duvet covers sometimes require a scrub in the tub or a trip to the dry cleaners, so be extra careful with those.
Can I put bedding in the dryer?
Sometimes, but be careful. We’ve heard numerous horror stories about bedding (mainly comforters and duvets, not sheets) that caught on fire.
How does this happen? Well, your bedding expands as the dryer removes moisture, and this can block air flow. Also, some bedding may leave behind large amounts of fire-friendly lint.
You can prevent this potential safety hazard by air-drying large pieces of bedding outside. Drape it over your deck, hang it from the swingset, or stick it on a clothesline.
How do I remove red wine from my bed sheets?
Act fast! The stain is more likely to set if you don’t treat your bedding right away.
Start by soaking up the extra red wine with a washcloth or towel. Blot the stain, but don’t scrub or rub unless you want to risk making the stain worse.
The next step varies. If you’ve got a special stain-fighting spray or powder on hand, apply that and follow the formula’s instructions. If not, grab some salt, a bowl, and a cup of boiling water.
Place a bowl under the stain, and sprinkle salt on top of the wine. Let it sit for 5 to 10 minutes.
Slowly pour boiling water over the salt mixture, then place the bedding in the washer. Wash on hot, and make sure the stain is gone before you dry your sheets.
Sound like a lot of work? It is, so you may want to invest in stain-resistant sheets if you’re a wine-before-bed gal (or guy). Microfiber helps repel stains, so that’s one option.
Can I bleach my bed sheets?
Yes, unless the sheets’ instructions specify otherwise. Make sure you use a color-safe bleach if you’re cleaning vibrant bedding, and be careful not to splatter the beach on your bedding when you add it to your washer.
How often should I wash my sheets?
As often as you need to, but aim for at least once a week unless you enjoy rolling around in dead skin cells. We were horrified when we read a recent interview with a microbiologist who explained what lurks in our bedding. Here are some of the yucky things that enjoy dwelling in bedding:
- Animal dander
- Feces from dust mites
- Anal and vaginal secretions
Oh, and don't even get us started on the amount of sweat that gets trapped in your sheets each night.
Can you use fabric softener on sheets?
Yes, unless the instructions on your sheets advise against it. We recommend air-drying your sheets outside whenever possible, which helps eliminate any “Should I or shouldn’t I?” worries you may have about using fabric softener..
Are bed sheets like towels - do you need to strip them occasionally?
It’s not a requirement - or even a common practice - to strip bed sheets. However, you can do it if you want to.
It’s pretty simple to strip your sheets at home. All you do is wash your sheets with vinegar rather detergent, then repeat the process with half a cup of baking soda. Use hot water each time, and dry the sheets the way you usually do (skip the fabric softener, though).
Some people believe this process makes sheets softer and cleaner than unstripped bedding.
How do you store bed sheets?
Store bed sheets in the bag they came in if you’ve still got it. This helps prevent dust mites from burrowing into your sheets.
Make sure you fold the sheets before you store them so you can stack them neatly in a closet or drawer. We recommend washing the sheets prior to use if you store them for a long time.
Are bed sheets safe for babies?
It depends on the age of the baby and the size of the sheets. A baby can easily become trapped or tangled in large sheets or blankets, and the outcome can be fatal. A baby can also overheat or even have trouble breathing under heaving bedding.
Instead of sheets, many parents use small blankets made just for babies or put them to bed in zip-up gowns that cover their feet and legs. Footed pajamas are another popular option.
Can I be allergic to my sheets?
Yes, but you need to figure out whether you’re allergic to your actual bedding or something related to the bedding. You may have an allergy to the fabric softener or detergent that you use to clean the sheets, or you might have dust mites in the sheets.
How often do you wash your sheets? If it’s been awhile, run them through the washing machine and see if that helps. You should also check for bed bugs. We’ll talk more about that in the next question.
If the problem persists, talk to an allergist or visit your primary care physician. A medical professional can run tests that pinpoint the cause of your allergies, making it easier for you to treat the issue.
I have bed bugs - what do I do?
Yikes! Bed bugs are a pain, but you’ve got options. You can treat them yourself with a bed bug kit (we’ve seen them at stores like Walmart and Target) or hire a team of professionals.
In the meantime, wash your sheets and comforter several times a week, and vacuum the area around your bed daily. Vacuum the mattress, too.
My sheets don’t feel as soft as they used to - is this normal?
Yep, unfortunately this is normal for many sheets. Some fabrics age well, but many of them loose softness over time. Sheets with high thread counts typically age better than those with lower ones.
Why are my bed sheets thinning out?
Do you have a low thread count, or do you wash them with harsh detergent or bleach? These are all factors that lead to thinning. Also, bed sheets aren’t designed for permanent use, so it’s normal to see some thinning if you’ve owned them for a long time.
Can I fix my bed sheets if I accidentally shrunk them in the dryer?
Well, you can’t unshrink your bedding, but you might be able to stretch it out a bit. This works better with cotton than it does with silk or polyester. Also, it’s much easier to try this process on clothing than it is to do it on a large bed sheet.
If that hasn’t discouraged you from trying, here’s what you need to do:
- Fill a bathtub halfway with warm water
- Add a few capfuls of baby shampoo or a gentle conditioner and swirl it through the water
- Add your shrunken sheet and let it soak for at least 30 minutes
- Gently wring out your sheet, but don’t rinse it
- Place your sheet on a large towel (or several towels) and lay it flat
- Gently smooth and pull your sheet until it expands
Keep in mind that this might not work. You may find it easier to just buy new sheets.