I'm a hardcore comparison shopper when it comes to bedding. Sheets lay the foundation for a sweet night of sleep — and both of these don't come cheap — so it only makes sense that I commit to products that wrap me up like a soft, heavenly cocoon.
Over the years, I've come to hone my preferences for the right material. Surprisingly, a certain expensive-sounding fabric just doesn't do it for me: Silk, luxurious as it may be, is not very breathable. I'd often wake up feeling uneasy and sweating in the middle of the night. The one textile that tops my list? Plain ol' cotton.
However, not all cotton sheets are created equal. Their quality varies greatly, and brands are known to deploy a dizzying array of fancy words — plies, weaves, thread counts — that can be confusing to navigate as a consumer. In my experience, there's only one magic factor makes a huge difference: Finding sheets that are made from long staple cotton.
I've tapped Vicki Fulop, co-founder of Brooklinen, a Brooklyn-based bedding startup, to give a low-down on this soft and supple material, along with some helpful tips to keep in mind next time you go linen shopping. Thank us later for the best nap ever.
What's So Great About Long Staple?
In a nutshell, long staple cotton means that the fabric is created from strands of fibers between 1.125 and 1.25 inches in length, and can be spun into stronger yarns. "It's like making a braid: You'll create a long and consistent braid with longer strands of grass. If you try to make one with short and stubby pieces, the braids will poke out and it will be coarse," says Fulop. "Long staples will result in a much better final, soft and supple product."
Percale vs Sateen
The words "percale" and "sateen" are often seen to describe high quality sheets. A percale is a plain weave — it creates a cooler and more breathable sheet. "If you get really hot while you sleep, percale is for you," says Fulop. "It feels like a freshly-starched oxford shirt thats light and crisp to the touch."
Sateen is the more luxurious alternative: It features a tighter weave and higher thread count. The material lets less airs pass through, making it a great option for cooler months. "Sateen sheets have a subtle luster, and the silkiness feels like an air kiss," says Fulop.
The Truth About Thread Count
"Thread count does matter and it does reflect the quality, but there's a lot of misleading advertising out there," says Fulop. "It's said that the higher the count, the better the sheet, but the numbers can be inflated." Some manufacturers use multiple plies of fiber and count them as individual threads, resulting in coarser-feeling sheets with a deceiving thread count.
"There are only a certain number of threads that can be woven in a square inch, so 500 is really as high as you can realistically go," says Fulop. "A thread count between 250 and 500 is generally the sweet spot." Brooklinen's percale sheets have a 270 thread count, while the sateen sheets comes in a 480-count weave.
Be A Smart Consumer
OEKO-TEX is third party tester that audit brands to make sure their fabric are free of hurtful chemicals, and their claims are backed up. Their database is available to the public, where brands are ranked by tiers between 1 to 4, with one being the safest.