The Best Sheets

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We spend up to a third of our lives sleeping, so it’s important to choose great bed sheets that are comfortable and durable. To find the best, we conducted roughly 200 hours of research and testing with a veteran textile designer and current adjunct professor in Fashion Institute of Technology’s Textile Development and Marketing department, trying 20 new sets for this update on our own beds, as well as rubbing, ripping, and weighing samples of each at FIT’s textile-testing lab. We’ve found that L.L.Bean’s 280-thread-count Pima Cotton Percale Sheets and JCPenney’s sateen Royal Velvet 400tc WrinkleGuard Sheet Set offer the best combination of softness, durability, and reasonable price for most people.These sheets have won in our tests three separate years, with three different writers, so we’re confident they wear well and the quality is consistent.

Last Updated: August 1, 2016
We've moved Crane & Canopy’s 400 Thread Count Sheets to the competition section discussing sateen sheets.
Expand Most Recent Updates
June 1, 2016: We tested 20 new sheet sets, including those from a handful of direct-sale bedding companies, and the L.L.Bean percale and Royal Velvet sateen sheets remain our top choices for their smooth finish, durability, and reasonable price.
April 21, 2016: We recently tested more than a dozen new sheet sets, including those from a handful of direct-to-consumer bedding companies, and the L.L. Bean percale and Royal Velvet sateen sheets remain our top choices for their smooth finish, durability, and reasonable price. We'll have a full update in the next month.
June 27, 2015: L.L. Bean’s Pima Cotton Percale sheet set remains our top pick for a third year because they are easy to maintain, durable, and better-constructed than any other sheet set we’ve tested. If you prefer sateen sheets instead of percale, we recommend the Royal Velvet 400-thread-count Wrinkle-Guard sheets. Our budget pick is the very affordable (and durable) Hemstitch 400-Thread-Count Sateen Cotton Sheet Set, perfect for the kids’ or guest room.
Our pick
L.L.Bean Pima Cotton Percale Sheets
If you like a cool, crisp feel to your sheets, these are comfortable, very breathable, and reasonably priced.
Our pick
Royal Velvet 400tc WrinkleGuard Sheet Set
If you prefer soft, smooth, drapey sheets that resist wrinkling, this Royal Velvet set feels luxurious and is better than sets twice the price.

If you like a sheet that’s crisp and very breathable (ideal for summer nights), L.L.Bean’s 280-Thread-Count Pima Cotton Percale Sheets offer a superior, cool feel at a great price. They aren’t the smoothest percale sheets we tried, but they’re very soft and did as well in testing as much-more-expensive sets. In three years of testing, they’ve held up over many uses and gotten softer with progressive washes. And L.L.Bean’s generous lifetime guarantee means you can return them at any time. We tested a reader’s set this year and it performed equally to a new set we bought. Some readers have complained about these sheets feeling rough. If you want something softer, we recommend going for one of our sateen picks.

For those who sleep better with silkier sheets with a heavier drape, we recommend JCPenney’s sateen Royal Velvet 400tc WrinkleGuard Sheet Set. In our tests, these beat out sets that cost twice as much. As with our L.L.Bean pick in the percale category, the Royal Velvet sheets have won in our sateen category three years running (with three separate sets). They have a soft luster and are very durable. And though it’s hard to truly be wrinkle-free, this set comes pretty darn close. Some sateen sheets snag easily because of their weave, but these exhibited barely any wear over the course of three rounds of testing. Also, these were one of the few sets we found that come in California-king size.

Upgrade pick
Casper Sheets
These are similar to the L.L.Bean sheets but are slightly softer, crisper, and cooler on the skin. This set also comes in a California king size.

*At the time of publishing, the price was $180.

Upgrade pick
400-Thread-Count Sateen Cuddledown Sheets
These have a similar drape and softness to the Royal Velvet sateen sheets, but feel even more luxurious, lightweight, and airy. They’re also about 60 percent more expensive.

If you’re a fan of percale sheets and willing to pay a little more, Casper’s The Casper Sheets are even more crisp and dry-feeling against the skin. These wrinkled more than the L.L.Bean set, but not so much that the sheets looked messy. Some of our testers also thought these sheets felt a little lighter than those from L.L.Bean. We think this is a good choice if you tend to overheat while sleeping, as these will keep you even cooler than the L.L.Bean sheets will in warm weather.

Of the sateen sheets we tried, the Cuddledown 400 Thread Count Cotton Sateen Bedding were our absolute favorite. In terms of appearance, comfort, and ultrasoft feel, these sheets are hard to distinguish from the Royal Velvet sateen sheets. But they have more of a gentle luster, wrinkle even less, and are fairly lightweight compared with our top pick (and sateens in general). These are also OEKO-TEX certified, which means the fibers and finishes have passed a rigorous independent testing for safety to the environment and to humans.

Budget pick

*At the time of publishing, the price was $30.

Threshold Performance 400 Thread Count Sheet Set
Compared with our top sateen picks, these are a little less soft and breathable and they wrinkle more. But they performed equally well in our lab tests.

Of the seven sets we tried that cost under $100 (for a queen), the sateen Threshold Performance 400 Thread Count Sheet Set was the softest and most comfortable to use. None of the inexpensive percale sets we tried did well in our testing (they were all too rough), but these sateen sheets from Target were almost as soft as the Royal Velvet sheets. They wrinkle more and are a tad less breathable, but they passed all of our durability tests. We think they’re an exceptional value (around $50 for a queen set), especially if you like the feel of sateen and don’t mind sacrificing a little softness. To read more, see our guide to The Best Sheet Sets Under $50.

We’ve learned a lot about sheets during our three years of research and testing. One big takeaway is that if you want the best night’s sleep, you should figure out if you prefer sleeping on crisp percale or the silkier texture of sateen sheets (more on that below). And although thread count can indicate quality, superhigh thread counts are usually marketing hype. Also, for this update we tested sheets from many new direct-to-consumer bedding companies, including Brooklinen, Casper, Snowe, Parachute Home, Boll & Branch, and Crane & Canopy. The quality of all of these sets was very good, but from a cost-to-comfort perspective our top picks are better.

In this review we specifically focus on cotton sheets because they tend to be more popular and versatile year-round, but we have also published a full guide to linen sheets for the summer or for people in warmer climates. If you’re looking for more affordable sheets, read our guide to the best sheet sets under $50. Currently we’re in the midst of researching a flannel-sheet guide in time for winter.

Table of contents

Why you should trust us

Six of the sheets we tested in our 2014 review. Photo: Amadou Diallo

Six of the sheets we tested in our 2014 review. Photo: Amadou Diallo

In preparing this guide, we spoke with several professors in the Textile Development and Marketing department at the Fashion Institute of Technology, including associate professor Ajoy Sarkar and assistant professor Min Zhu, and with experts in Cornell’s Fiber Science and Apparel Design department. We also spoke with Mark Bagby, a representative for Calcot, a cotton-marketing organization, for more understanding of the difference between various cotton strains. And for this year’s update, we enlisted the help of assistant professor Sean Cormier in FIT’s textile-testing lab in New York.

To find the most promising sheets for testing, we pored over reviews in Consumer Reports (subscription required) and on Sleep Like The Dead. We looked to customer review sections on Amazon, JCPenney, Macy’s, L.L.Bean, and many other small and large retailer websites, and looked at reader comments on this piece to determine what people really love and hate about sheet sets.1

I have worked for 20 years as a textile designer. Among other things, I’ve designed bed linens for Spring Industries and Designerie. Currently, I teach textile science courses in FIT’s Textile Development and Marketing department, where I am an adjunct professor.

This guide builds on research done by Melissa Tan and Alex Arpaia, who worked on previous updates.

Who should buy these

If your sheets are showing signs of wear or if you just don’t like how they feel (e.g., too rough, not cool enough) it might be time for an upgrade. The price for both our percale and sateen picks (about $150 for a queen) is relatively affordable for a set of sheets that are durable, well-constructed, and soft. For most people, these sheets would be best suited for everyday use, given their quality and midrange price.

Percale vs. sateen

Percale sheets, such as our L.L.Bean pick (left), have a matte finish with a very dry, non-slippery feel. Sateen sheets, like our Royal Velvet pick (right), are silkier with a soft luster.

Percale sheets, such as our L.L.Bean pick (left), have a matte finish with a very dry, non-slippery feel. Sateen sheets, like our Royal Velvet pick (right), are silkier with a soft luster. Photo: Michael Hession

Bed sheets are traditionally made with plain weave—as seen in percale sheets—or with satin weave, seen in sateen sheets. (Note: Don’t confuse sateen sheets with satin sheets, which are made from smooth, slippery filament fibers like polyester or silk.) One weave is not better than the other, but you may prefer the feel of percale or sateen against your skin.

In plain weave, alternating warp and weft threads cross over and under evenly, usually in a one-to-one ratio. For a satin weave, weft threads “float” or skip over multiple warp threads, mostly in a four-to-one ratio.

In plain weave, alternating warp and weft threads cross over and under evenly, usually in a one-to-one ratio. For a satin weave, weft threads “float” or skip over multiple warp threads, mostly in a four-to-one ratio.

One weave is not better than the other, but you may prefer the feel of percale or sateen against your skin.
Percale sheets are crisp, lighter than sateen sheets, and soft with a matte finish. This fabric has what’s considered a dry hand (the opposite of slippery/silky). If you like to crawl into bed and feel like you’re not going to slip around, percale is a great choice. The fabric is breathable, thus cool during the hot summer months, but it can also feel less smooth than sateen.

Sateen sheets are more luxuriously smooth than percale, a little silky against the skin, and have a heavier drape and warmer feel. Longer yarn floats in the satin weave structure allow more light to bounce off of them and give some luster to the otherwise matte appearance of cotton fabric. To compensate for any potential weakness and snagging due to the long yarn floats, more yarns are packed into a square inch of the fabric, resulting in a stronger, heavier, and denser sheet. Low-quality sateens (meaning lower thread count), may snag easily, but good-quality (meaning higher thread count) sateen fabrics shouldn’t.

Thread count

As we’ve mentioned, higher thread count can equal quality, but only to a certain point. Manufacturers calculate thread count by adding up the vertical warp and horizontal weft yarns in a square inch of fabric. Generally, the finer the yarns, the more that will fit into an inch, resulting in a smoother and more durable fabric. For sateen sheets, high thread counts are meaningful, because a higher yarn density reduces the likelihood of snagging of the longer floats, and increases strength and durability without diminishing luster.

Manufacturers calculate thread count by adding up the vertical warp and horizontal weft yarns in a square inch of fabric. Generally, the finer the yarns, the more that will fit into an inch, resulting in a smoother and more durable fabric.
Optimal thread counts for percale are about 250 to 300. (They are often around 180 to 200 for average-quality sheets.) Good-quality sateen sheets range from 300 to 600 thread count (average quality ranges from about 250 to 300). Higher numbers than these usually indicate a marketing ploy. Manufacturers often use ply—the number of single yarns twisted together in yarn—to artificially inflate thread count, counting two-ply yarns as two yarns instead of one. That means a 500-thread-count sheet made with two-ply yarns might be advertised as 1,000 thread count. Singles are more pliable yarns and lend themselves to softer fabrics, in contrast to fabrics containing plied yarn.

How we picked

Our four winning sets were among the softest and most durable in our in-home and lab tests, and were more competitively priced than the competition. From left to right: Cuddledown, Casper, Royal Velvet, and L.L.Bean.

Our four winning sets were among the softest and most durable in our in-home and lab tests, and were more competitively priced than the competition. From left to right: Cuddledown, Casper, Royal Velvet, and L.L.Bean. Photo: Michael Hession

Good sheets should be comfortable, durable, easy to care for, and affordable. Among the synthetic and natural fibers available, most sheets are made from cotton, which the experts say provides the best balance between comfort and value. Cotton sheets are soft and absorb moisture, allowing the body to stay warm in cold weather and cool in warm weather.2 Cotton’s also easy to clean and gets softer after multiple washes.

The best cotton sheets are made from long-staple cotton fibers, which result in smooth, strong yarn and fabric. The strongest, most durable cotton comes from strains of Gossypium barbadense, commonly called extra-long-staple (ELS) cotton, though the fibers can be either long staple (1⅛ to 1¼ inches) or true-extra-long-staple (1⅜ inches or longer).

When you see “combed cotton,” “ELS,” “Egyptian cotton,” or “pima”/“supima cotton” on a label, it generally indicates the sheets are made from superior-quality long-staple cotton fiber—but not always. Companies sometimes use terms like “Egyptian cotton” and “Turkish cotton” to market lesser shorter-staple cottons grown in those countries. We talked to Mark Bagby, a representative for cotton marketer Calcot, who told us, “I wouldn’t say Egyptian, Pima, or Turk are generic names as much as they identify country of origin. Not all apparel or fabric goods made of Egyptian or Turkish cotton are ELS.”

Labels that say “Turkish cotton,” “Egyptian cotton,” and “pima cotton” usually indicate long- or extra-long-staple Gossypium barbadense, but quality and fiber length can vary. Pima is reliably Gossypium barbadense, and Supima is the brand name for American pima cotton. If the tag on your sheets only says “100 percent cotton,” it’s probably not the highest grade of cotton and the sheets are likely made from less-durable, shorter-staple American upland cotton (Gossypium hirsutum).

After narrowing the criteria for what we wanted to test, we turned to recommendations from reliable sources like Consumer Reports (subscription required) and Sleep Like The Dead, a site dedicated to identifying and testing the best sleep-related goods available. Though short recommendation lists from sites like Real Simple, The Huffington Post, and Apartment Therapy seem to make your decisions quick and easy, it’s not clear how well the sheets were tested. We focused exclusively on solid-white sheet sets rather than printed ones, as solid sheets tend to be more widely appealing to most people. This also allowed us to judge the sheets without personal design bias.

From there, we researched the top-selling and top-rated items at Amazon, Overstock, Bed Bath & Beyond, Target, Macy’s, Walmart, Costco, and other top department stores. Though user reviews are relatively useless individually, they can provide workable data on things like durability and feel when taken as a whole.

For our 2013 and 2015 reviews, we tested a total of 17 sheets. Both years, L.L.Bean’s 280-Thread-Count Pima Cotton Percale Sheets were the best percale, and the popular Royal Velvet 400tc WrinkleGuard Sheet Set from JCPenney topped the sateen list.

For the 2016 update, we researched articles and user reviews to try to find any new sheets that could unseat our previous top contenders. We then tested new sets of our previous winners against 18 additional competitors.

Percale:

Restoration Hardware’s Ultra-Fine Lightweight Cotton Sheet Set
Crate & Barrel’s Belo Sheet Set
Target’s Threshold 300 Thread Count Ultra Soft (flat, fitted, and cases)
Walmart’s Mainstays 250-Thread Count Sheet Set
Brooklinen’s Classic Core Sheet Set
Parachute’s Percale Sheet Set
Crane & Canopy’s 400 Thread Count Sheets
Casper’s The Casper Sheets
Snowe’s Sheet Set

Sateen:

IKEA’s Gäspa Sheet Set
Target’s Fieldcrest Luxury Egyptian Cotton 600 Thread Count Sheet Set
The Macy’s Hotel Collection European Collection 600 Thread Count Egyptian Cotton Sheets
Cuddledown’s 400 Thread Count Cotton Sateen Bedding
The Macy’s Charter Club Damask Solid Wrinkle Resistant 500 Thread Count Pima Cotton Sheet Set
Walmart’s Better Homes and Gardens 400 Thread Count Egyptian Cotton Sheet Set
Target’s Threshold Performance 400 Thread Count Sheet Set
Overstock.com’s Hemstitch 400 Thread Count Sateen Solid and Striped Cotton Sheet Set
Boll & Branch’s Hemmed Sheet Set

How we tested

Cut samples from our various sheets, ready for analysis at FIT’s textile-testing lab.

Cut samples from our various sheets, ready for analysis at FIT’s textile-testing lab. Photo: Michael Hession

We held each sheet up to rigorous testing criteria designed to evaluate the hand (feel) of the sheets, overall comfort when sleeping with them, and durability over time. To eliminate brand bias, we removed tags from the sheets and marked them with numbers. We also washed and dried all the sheets before conducting any tests.

To gauge the initial softness of each set, we rubbed the fabric against our cheeks (a common test for determining fabric softness) and slept one night on each set. We then washed, dried, and slept on them once more. We washed them an additional five times to simulate wear and tear over several months and had Sweethome and Wirecutter staffers try them out in our office.

We conducted all tests on a queen-size bed with a foam mattress and a thick mattress pad, measuring about 10 inches thick in total. The 20 sheet sets we tried for this round clocked in with pockets averaging 15 inches deep, which is large enough to fit on most beds without being too saggy. Although people do sleep on thicker mattresses these days, any pocket more than 10 inches deep should fit on most beds.

For a scientific analysis of how the sheets would wear after many washes and years of use, we enlisted the help of Sean Cormier, assistant professor in FIT’s Textile Development and Marketing department, who runs the school’s textile-testing lab.

As with most textiles you buy, sheets are subjected to lab tests for end use (for factors such as durability, color fastness, strength, and finishes) before a manufacturer or large retailer will sell them. We knew that all of the sheets we tried had likely gone through some kind of lab testing, but we still wanted to test them at FIT’s lab because different manufacturers and retailers use different protocols. Professor Cormier tested each of the sheets for wrinkling, pilling, weight, and tensile strength.

We started by cutting multiple samples from all of the sheets (we used the flat sheets) and numbered all of the samples. Cormier washed a sample from each, tumble dried them on low heat in a regular home dryer, then compared how much each wrinkled.

To test for pilling—those annoying little fiber balls that form on the surface of fabric from regular wear—he inserted samples of each of the sheets into a Martindale abrasion and pilling tester. The device rubs two pieces of the same fabric against each other in a circular motion for a number of cycles; for this test it was 100 cycles, which should roughly simulate the abuse of a few years of regular use. Cormier then compared the samples to a photograph of various levels of pilling. He rated the pilling on a scale of one to five, with one being very bad pilling and five being no pilling (most of the sheets we tested came in between four and five, with slight to no pilling).

Testing the strength of a fabric swatch in a constant-rate-of-extension machine.

Testing the strength of a fabric swatch in a constant-rate-of-extension machine. Photo: Michael Hession


Cormier gauged the strength of the sheet samples with a constant-rate-of-extension (CRE) tensile testing machine (specifically designed for testing fabrics). He inserted each sheet sample and used the machine to slowly pull the fabric until it ripped. A computer recorded how much applied force (weight in pounds) the fabric could withstand. Optimal tensile strength for cotton is 40 pounds, and 50 pounds for cotton-poly blends. Other factors beyond tensile strength will also affect if a sheet will tear or if threads will break, so Cormier didn’t think this test by itself would give us the entire picture for the sheets’ long-term tear resistance.

Professor Cormier weighing a sample on a fabric scale.

Professor Cormier weighing a sample on a fabric scale. Photo: Michael Hession

To gauge the weight of each fabric Cormier used a fabric scale, weighing a sample that was 1/100 a square yard to determine the ounces per square yard. Lighter-feeling sheets were indeed lighter per square yard.

If you really want to geek out on the equipment in the FIT lab, check out this great Science Friday video of Cormier conducting various tests.

In years past, we also measured how much the sheets shrunk after washing and how much weight they lost (to measure loss of fibers). However, we opted not to include these tests this year. The sheets didn’t shrink significantly (at least not enough that they wouldn’t fit on the bed), and because most of our picks are made with long-staple cottons they didn’t shed much mass in the dryer.

On our top picks, we conducted some tests with a pick glass to confirm thread counts.

Our pick for cool, crisp percale

The subtle, decorative hem finish adds nice texture to the L.L.Bean sheets.

The subtle, decorative hem finish adds nice texture to the L.L.Bean sheets. Photo: Michael Hession

Our pick
L.L.Bean Pima Cotton Percale Sheets
If you like a cool, crisp feel to your sheets, these are comfortable, very breathable, and reasonably priced.
Of the 10 percale sets we tried this year, roughly half were a pleasure to sleep in and were nearly equal in terms of performance. L.L.Bean’s 280 Thread-Count Pima Cotton Percale Sheets stood out because they’re softer or less expensive than the rest of the top-tier sheets. They are as crisp and cool against the skin as most of the best sheets we tried, and they rated about equally in our technical lab tests. We’ve picked the L.L.Bean sheets three years in a row, with three separate writers (testing four sets total), so we’re confident the quality is consistent and that these sheets wear well over time. We think these will last a long time, but if they do shrink, tear, or unravel, L.L.Bean offers one of the best lifetime guarantees we’ve found.

The L.L.Bean sheets were in the top three for softness, ultimately tying with those from Casper and Snowe. After the first wash, the L.L.Bean sheets actually felt less smooth than the Parachute, Brooklinen, and Crane & Canopy sets, but after seven washes the L.L.Bean sheets became softer than all of those. In all three years of testing we’ve consistently found the L.L.Bean sheets have softened with more washes.

In all three years of testing we’ve consistently found the L.L.Bean sheets have softened with more washes.
We’ve seen some user complaints on L.L.Bean’s site and in our own comments section about these sheets feeling slightly rough. To determine if L.L.Bean changed its sourcing, we purchased a set of these sheets from one of our readers who found them rough. The reader’s set performed just as well as the new set we purchased from L.L.Bean this year. We think that people who dislike the texture of the L.L.Bean sheets might want something that feels silkier, like one of our sateen picks, which are smoother.

The other big factor in L.L.Bean winning was the set’s very reasonable price. A queen set is around $150, which has stayed consistent since we first published this guide in 2013. The closest competitors—from Casper, Snowe, and Restoration Hardware—were $30 to $100 more expensive for a queen set, and none performed so much better in any test that we thought the extra cost would be worth it to most people. We think $150 is very reasonable for the quality you get with the L.L.Bean sheets.

Many of the percale sets, including the L.L.Bean set, felt crisp and dry against the skin and kept us comfortable in terms of temperature regulation. The cotton fibers in the L.L.Bean sheets absorb well, keeping moisture off the skin and giving the sheets that classic cool feeling that percale is known for. They weren’t as cool and crisp feeling as the sets from Snowe or Casper, but were still very comfortable. The inexpensive Target sheets, in contrast, retained much more heat. Over long-term use, we’ve also found the L.L.Bean sheets breathable and comfortable to sleep in, particularly if you’re a warm sleeper.  And their fabric is also relatively quiet; by comparison, the crisper Snowe sheets rustled more noisily.

The L.L.Bean sheets wrinkle a little more than our sateen picks, but no more than any of the other top-ranking percale sets we tried.

The L.L.Bean sheets wrinkle a little more than our sateen picks, but no more than any of the other top-ranking percale sets we tried. Photo: Michael Hession

The top six percale sets performed almost equally in our FIT lab tests, so these tests didn’t end up serving as a huge tiebreaker. The tests did show that the L.L.Bean sheets are as durable as more-expensive sets, though. They showed little to no pilling and held up within an acceptable range in our tensile strength test. The new L.L.Bean sheets we purchased this year came in at 3.5 ounces per square yard, about equal with most of the percale sheets we tried. Interestingly, the set we purchased from a reader came in at 4 ounces per square inch. But that’s really a small difference that most people wouldn’t even notice when using the sheets. The L.L.Bean sheets wrinkled moderately in our lab tests, but no worse than the other high-performing sets from Snowe, Casper, Parachute, Brooklinen, or Crane & Canopy.

These sheets are also a top pick for percale sheets by Consumer Reports (subscription required), with a score of 71 out of 100, an “excellent” rating for build quality, and a “very good” rating for shrinkage, fit, crispness, and strength. User reviews on L.L.Bean’s website frequently refer to their excellent shrink-resistance and breathability, and many reviewers even mention that they have purchased multiple sets of the same sheets over the years, which indicates great long-term satisfaction and quality.

Flaws but not dealbreakers

Of the negative reviews that these sheets have received on L.L.Bean’s website, most are easily addressable. One common complaint is about these sheets being either too soft or too rough. Frankly, this is a matter of personal preference. Although these sheets come out of the bag feeling crisp, they do get softer with time and break in very nicely. As mentioned, we also tested a reader’s set and a new set this year, and both performed as well as sheets we bought over a year ago.

We’ve read some complaints that the fitted sheet is too big (deep, actually). The fitted sheet pocket is 15 inches deep, the same as most of the sheets we tried, and we found they fit snugly on a 10-inch-thick mattress. The sheet’s depth also allows for additional room if you put a memory-foam or pillow topper on your mattress.

If you do receive a set that’s a lemon or you just don’t like the feel, L.L.Bean will honor its 100 percent satisfaction guarantee that allows you to return any item at any time. Some customer reviews of the sheets confirm that the company will replace sets that develop problems, even when they’re old.

Long-term test notes

Three of our writers have used separate sets of these sheets since our first review published in 2013. All of these sets have worn well and gotten softer with more washings. One of our writers had a hole develop in her set (due to a cat claw ripping the sheets—which may go beyond the spirit of the guarantee), and L.L.Bean still honored its return policy, sending her another set.

In regular use, we’ve found the L.L.Bean sheets didn’t snag or lose fibers. Their solid stitching has held up beautifully through many washes. These sheets are also a cinch to maintain. Though some wrinkles are inevitable for any sheet, these sheets remain relatively wrinkle-free if you fold them or put them on the bed promptly after drying.

Our pick for silky sateen

Typical of sateen, the Royal Velvet sheets have a soft luster and silky texture.

Typical of sateen, the Royal Velvet sheets have a soft luster and silky texture. Photo: Michael Hession

Our pick
Royal Velvet 400tc WrinkleGuard Sheet Set
If you prefer soft, smooth, drapey sheets that resist wrinkling, this Royal Velvet set feels luxurious and is better than sets twice the price.
If you prefer the smooth, silky texture of sateen sheets, we recommend JCPenney’s Royal Velvet 400tc WrinkleGuard Sheet Set. Of the sets we tried in 2016, these were almost indistinguishable from sets that cost much more. They feel superluxurious, and have a nice, heavy drape. They passed all our durability tests, they wrinkle less than other sateen sheets, and they have a nice embroidered hem finish that makes them look and feel more luxurious than their reasonable price would suggest. They’re on the heavier side among the sheets we tried, but we never felt overheated using them. If you manage to get them during one of JCPenney’s sales, discounts can run up to 50 percent off. These sheets are also available in California king sets.

The Royal Velvet sheets stay very smooth, thanks to a wrinkle-prohibiting finish.

The Royal Velvet sheets stay very smooth, thanks to a wrinkle-prohibiting finish. Photo: Michael Hession

Picking a sateen set this year was an extremely tough call because there wasn’t a single bad one in the bunch. In fact, many of them felt similarly soft and luxurious. The Royal Velvet set was in our top three for softness, equal to our sateen upgrade pick, the Cuddledown, and the Hemstitch sheets from Overstock. The Royal Velvet and Cuddledown sets were so close that we could barely choose between the two. Our Sweethome and Wirecutter staffers slightly preferred the Royal Velvet, but my husband and I slightly preferred the Cuddledown.

In our durability tests at the FIT lab, the Royal Velvet sheets showed slight to no signs of pilling (rating between a four and five). They were also in the top four sets for wrinkle resistance. That’s thanks to their trademarked WrinkleGuard finish. Although it’s hard to be 100 percent wrinkle-free, these sheets do come pretty close. Of course, wrinkle-resistant finishes won’t be nearly as effective if you leave your sheets in the dryer for hours on end, but if you remove them promptly and fold them or make your bed right away, their smoothness is pretty impressive. We asked JCPenney to explain what the WrinkleGuard treatment entails, but were told that the company is “unable to disclose this information, as this is a proprietary treatment process.” It’s likely a kind of resin treatment that stays in the sheets and prevents cotton’s long cellulose chains from making the bonds that form wrinkles. This treatment might cause contact dermatitis in sensitive people. However, contact dermatitis is pretty rare, happening in only about 1 to 5 percent of the population for all kinds of irritants. (For more, see Eco-friendly cotton)

The embroidered hem finish on the Royal Velvet sheets is nearly identical to that found on the more expensive Cuddledown sheets. The detail adds to the luxurious feel of these sheets.

The embroidered hem finish on the Royal Velvet sheets is nearly identical to that found on the more expensive Cuddledown sheets. The detail adds to the luxurious feel of these sheets. Photo: Michael Hession

We also like the lustrous embroidered details on the hem of the top sheet and pillowcases. In fact, we found the embroidery detail almost identical to that on the pricier Cuddledown sateen sheets.

Part of what makes the Royal Velvet sheets so nice is the weight of the set’s fabric, which helps them drape nicely. In our tests at the FIT lab, most of the sheets (including percale and sateen) came in at about 3.5 ounces per square yard. The Royal Velvet sheets were 4.2 ounces per square yard. This extra weight gives them a bit more warmth, but they’re also very breathable, so we didn’t experience any overheating sleeping with them. They’re very comfortable to sleep in and regulated temperature well in our sleep tests.

In our 2013 tests, the Royal Velvet sheets did show a noticeable-but-acceptable amount of wear at their edges after wash testing. But this year—and in 2014—they showed almost no signs of wear.

Flaws but not dealbreakers

The only flaw we detected was some very minor static cling on the sheets when folding them. We also read at least one comment on JCPenney’s site about lint sticking to the sheets, but it didn’t seem to bother the commenter all that much.

A few of the JCPenney commenters also mention the colors of the sheets as being a little off from the colors shown online. We didn’t have this problem, because we ordered the white sheets.

A softer, crisper percale set

Casper’s percale sheets are a little softer but also feel crisper than the L.L.Bean set. Some testers found they felt a little lighter too.

Casper’s percale sheets are a little softer but also feel crisper than the L.L.Bean set. Some testers found they felt a little lighter too. Photo: Michael Hession

Upgrade pick

*At the time of publishing, the price was $180.

Casper Sheets
These are similar to the L.L.Bean sheets but are slightly softer, crisper, and cooler on the skin. This set also comes in a California king size.
We think the L.L.Bean percale sheets will please most people, but if you want a percale sheet that’s a little more luxurious, and you’re willing to pay around $30 extra, we recommend Casper’s The Casper Sheets. The fabric feels just a little softer than that of the L.L.Bean sheets. The Casper Sheets are also crisper, similar to what you’d find at a higher-end hotel.

They are made from a durable, medium-weight fabric with a thread count of about 200 yarns per square inch. In our FIT lab tests, the Casper set didn’t show any pilling, but did wrinkle slightly more than the L.L.Bean set. Although some testers said these felt lighter than the L.L.Bean sheets, the FIT weight test showed they weigh the same (both came in at 3.5 ounces per square yard).

The Casper sheets wrinkle more than our L.L.Bean pick.

The Casper sheets wrinkle more than our L.L.Bean pick. Photo: Michael Hession

In our in-home tests, the Casper sheets performed almost identically for softness and crispness as the much-more-expensive percale set from luxury bedding start-up Snowe. In fact, it was hard deciding between these two sets for our upgrade pick. But given that the Casper set is more than $100 less expensive (for a queen set), we think it’s a better overall value. The set includes a flat and a fitted sheet, and a pair of pillowcases, but you can also purchase the pieces separately.

A more luxurious sateen set

The Cuddledown sheets have a similar sheen to the Royal Velvet sheets, but are slightly softer and more luxurious against the skin.

The Cuddledown sheets have a similar sheen to the Royal Velvet sheets, but are slightly softer and more luxurious against the skin. Photo: Michael Hession

Upgrade pick
400-Thread-Count Sateen Cuddledown Sheets
These have a similar drape and softness to the Royal Velvet sateen sheets, but feel even more luxurious, lightweight, and airy. They’re also about 60 percent more expensive.
If you want a set that’s just a bit more luxurious, we really like the Cuddledown 400 Thread Count Cotton Sateen set. Similar to the Royal Velvet sheets, these sheets have a silky feel, nice drape, and subtle luster. But on all counts, they feel just a little better than the Royal Velvet set. These are about $80 more for a queen set, so we think it’s worth investing in these only if you’re very particular about the smoothness of your sheets.

The Cuddledown sheets are a little lighter than the Royal Velvet sheets, weighing 4 ounces per square yard versus the Royal Velvet’s 4.2 ounces (although this weight difference is so slight that most people won’t even notice it). The Cuddledowns wrinkled the least of all the sheets we tried, in both our lab and home tests. These sheets hardly had any creases after sleeping in them and after several rounds of laundry, but the Royal Velvet sheets did show traces of wrinkles after some wear. And unlike our Royal Velvet pick, the Cuddledown set didn’t have any static.

The hem embroidery on the Cuddledown top sheet and pillowcases is nearly identical to that found on the Royal Velvet set.

The hem embroidery on the Cuddledown top sheet and pillowcases is nearly identical to that found on the Royal Velvet set. Photo: Michael Hession

We also like that these sheets are OEKO-TEX certified, so this set might be a better pick for someone with very sensitive skin. Yet, in terms of appearance, comfort, tone-on-tone satin embroidery hemstitch detail, and luxurious hand, these Cuddledown sheets are hard to distinguish from our top pick. What really sets them apart is their lightness and luxurious drape. They also fell slightly below the optimal range for tear strength during the tensile test in the lab. This means that they could wear out or tear sooner than our top pick over many years of use and laundry cycles.

Care and maintenance

Keep in mind that the finishes are what give sheets wrinkle resistance and shrinkage control, so you may not want to remove those.
How you wash your sheets will have the greatest impact on their lifespan. The best way to maintain good-looking sheets is to wash them in low-temperature cycles (warm or cold). If you want to bleach your sheets, we recommend color-safe bleach or oxygen bleach on a warmer setting for a whitening boost.

If you’re concerned about factory finishes on your sheets, you can remove some of these by adding ¼ cup of white vinegar to the wash cycle. Keep in mind that the finishes are what give sheets wrinkle resistance and shrinkage control, so you may not want to remove those.

Dry your sheets on the lowest setting possible, as this will prolong their life. It’s much better to dry your sheets for 45 minutes on low than it is to scorch them on high for 15.

For dust or mite allergies, doctors often recommend hot water or high heat. We recommend washing in hot water, which should be sufficient to kill allergens, but drying on a low setting to reduce wear.

Avoid using fabric softeners and dryer sheets, or at least don’t use them for every wash. The softeners leave residue that will decrease the fabric’s breathability and absorbency characteristics and you may end up feeling overheated in your sheets.

Eco-friendly cotton

Cotton, both organic and conventionally grown, can undergo a number of treatments as it goes from ball of fluff to smooth, woven sheet. If the use of synthetic pesticides is a concern for you, going with an eco-certified cotton makes sense. And know that you may be paying a price (either in money or in inferior fibers) for organic cotton. If you’re more concerned about finishes and treatments, washing your sheets before using them may suffice.

Frances Kozen, a staff member at Cornell’s Institute for Fashion and Fiber Innovation, said that cotton fiber treatments include being “routinely scoured (cleaned of dirt), bleached prior to dyeing, mercerized with sodium hydroxide to improve sheen, wear and dye absorption, dyed, and sized (basically a type of starch is put on warp yarns prior to weaving).” These treatments can be washed out.

However, labels such as “wrinkle-free,” “no-iron,” or “durable press” often mean the fabric is treated with some kind of formaldehyde or urea-based resin. (Our sateen pick’s WrinkleGuard feature is likely a resin treatment.) Fabrics identified as “wrinkle-free” can contain resins that remain after initial washes, and, in some cases, have caused skin rashes from trace amounts of formaldehyde.3

If you have sensitive skin—especially if you work with formaldehyde—and you’re worried about contact dermatitis, or if you wish to support organic growing methods for pesticide-intensive cotton, go with a certified eco-friendly cotton. The two most common certifications are the Global Organic Textile Standard certification (GOTS) and OEKO-TEX. GOTS is a third-party certifier that ensures cotton is not only grown organically, but that processing adheres to strict standards. These standards include prohibiting the use of treatments such as some potentially toxic metals, formaldehyde, and certain solvents, and monitoring energy use, water consumption, and waste. The OEKO-TEX logo certifies that fabric is free from some specific substances and processes that are potentially harmful to people and the environment. Some of the substances listed on its site include formaldehyde, plasticizers, pentachlorophenol, and heavy metals. (OEKO-TEX textiles aren’t strictly organically grown). OEKO-TEX employs an extensive testing process prior to certification.

Coyuchi and Cuddledown have eco-friendly options. All Coyuchi sheets are GOTS certified, and Cuddledown offers a variety of both GOTS and OEKO-TEX certified products.

One flaw with organic cotton is the rarity of high-quality extra-long-staple cotton. It’s very difficult to successfully grow long-staple cottons without the use of certain pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers. Yet these can be harmful to the environment and can even contaminate water resources.

Without them, organic cotton crops have to fend off all kinds of pests on their own and also get less nutrients from the soil (that fertilizers provide).

Supima, the promotional organization of the American pima cotton growers, says, “Organic American Pima is available in very limited quantities on an annual basis … Typical production levels for this cotton are less than 1% of the entire American Pima crop.” Neither of the top-rated organic sheets we found and tested seem to be made of extra-long-staple cotton, which is probably why they felt rougher. These sets also shrank more, perhaps because they were not treated with any wrinkle-resisting finishes or shrinkage-control finishes.

What to look forward to

Sheets made from microfiber, rayon from bamboo, and lyocell (a rayon made from eucalyptus wood pulp) are relatively new options and show promise. They all have a very smooth and silky hand and luxurious drape. But these fibers also have drawbacks, such as microfiber’s heat retention and pilling. Some people like the silky feel of bamboo rayon and lyocell (which often show up on labels as viscose or Tencel, respectively). Generally, we still think cotton is better for most people, but we may consider sheet sets made of some of these newer materials in the future.

The competition

The sheets that we picked to test were generally the best rated and many were equally good in terms of quality. We allowed price and the technical lab testing results that distinguished the sheets by infinitesimal margins to determine which one was the winner. If one of our main picks doesn’t suit you, you might like one of the following.

Percale

Snowe’s Sheet Set was very close in feel to our upgrade pick from Casper. They have the crisp rustle and smooth feel of sheets one would find in a luxury hotel. Like the L.L.Bean sheets, these resist pilling and are perfectly cool on the skin at nighttime. But we didn’t find much, if any, difference between these and the sheets from Casper, which are more than $100 cheaper.

Restoration Hardware’s Ultra-Fine Lightweight Cotton Sheet Set was supersoft, very lightweight, cool, and almost transparent. It’s made from fine combed cotton. We really liked these sheets, and they would be great on a hot summer night. Their only real flaw is that they may be too light for wintertime. Also because of the material’s translucency, the mattress tends to show through the fitted sheet. In terms of durability, these may not stand up to much abrasion or wear and tear.

Brooklinen’s Classic Core Sheet Set was fantastic. Its sheets were supersmooth and crisp. We rated them equally with the L.L.Bean sheets in our initial round of blind testing this year. However, Sweethome and Wirecutter staffers didn’t like them as much as they liked the L.L.Bean sheets, and after seven rounds of laundering, the L.L.Bean sheets were softer than the Brooklinens. Like the Cuddledown sheets, Brooklinen’s bedding is Oeko-Tex certified.

Parachute’s Percale Sheet Set was also excellent. In our first round of tests this year we rated them a hair above the L.L.Bean, Brooklinen, and Crane & Canopy offerings. The Parachute sheets remained crisp, but the L.L.Bean sheets were softer after seven washes. Parachute is also OEKO-TEX certified.

Crate & Barrel’s Belo Sheet Set had good reviews on several websites, but the sheets were disappointing in terms of smoothness and softness of hand compared with our winners.

Target’s Threshold 300 Thread Count Ultra Soft sheets (flat, fitted, and cases) were a great price for good quality (around $53 for a queen set), but they were not as soft as our winners. They also got very wrinkled in the wash and had negligible wrinkle resistance. And they were warmer to sleep in.

Walmart’s Better Homes and Gardens 400 Thread Count Egyptian Cotton Sheet Set was a little rougher than our winners.

We also tested or considered these percale sets in past years:

Coyuchi’s 220 Percale sheets, a model we tested for the 2015 update, were a disappointment. Though the sheets themselves were incredibly soft and well-constructed, they shrank enough that there was only about 1 inch of flat sheet left to tuck in under the mattress.

The Macy’s Martha Stewart Collection 360 Thread Count Cotton Percale Sheet Set felt really great to the touch straight out of the bag, but the sheets felt thin and cheap once on the bed. These received 69 out of 100 points from Consumer Reports (subscription required), only two points lower than our pick from L.L.Bean. They also have an average of four stars (out of five) across 96 reviews on the Macy’s website.

The Garnet Hill’s Fiesta Percale Bedding wasn’t anywhere near as soft as our pick. Despite the sheets’ positive reviews, some users describe them as “stiff and scratchy,” and others remark that the fabric seems thinner than it was in the past.

We had high hopes for Garnet Hill’s Hemstitched Supima Percale Bedding because they’re made from 100 percent long-staple Supima cotton. But we found them impossibly stiff and stuffy. The weave of this cotton is so tight that it becomes stiff when wet and doesn’t breathe well at all when dry. It also shrunk an astounding 13.9 percent—more than any other sheet tested—making the percale even tighter and even less breathable.

Pottery Barn’s PB Classic 400-Thread-Count Sheet Set was a disappointment. These sheets made us sweaty. They also felt a little rough, not to mention shoddily put together. Maybe our set slipped by quality control, but these sheets had stitches of uneven length and tension meandering down the flat sheet’s hems and loose overlocking.

Lands’ End’s Oxford Sheeting was another contender but we skipped testing it due to the heavy drape of oxford cloth, which is well suited to shirting but a little heavy for bedding.

Sateen

Initially we mistook Boll & Branch’s Hemmed Sheet Set for percale, and the sheets scored really high—as percale sheets. But on closer examination we discovered that they were in fact sateen. They are fabulous sheets, but not as luxuriously smooth and soft and drapeable as our top sateen picks. They also scored lower than most in our tensile-strength lab test. They are the only organic cotton sheets we tried this year, and they held up better to multiple washes than the organic Coyuchi sheets we tried in 2015. (For example, we didn’t notice a large amount of shrinkage, as we did with the Coyuchis.) These sheets are expensive, but do come beautifully packaged in cloth bags that can be used for long-term storage.

Target’s Fieldcrest Luxury Egyptian Cotton 600 Thread Count Sheet Set felt like great-quality sheets to sleep in. At around $90 for a set they offer excellent value. They were very smooth and had a good, heavy drape, but were slightly warmer to sleep in. Overall, they just weren’t as smooth and silky-soft, nor as wrinkle-resistant, as our top picks.

The Hotel Collection European Collection 600 Thread Count Egyptian Cotton Sheets from Macy’s had beautiful detailing in terms of a lovely hemstitch hem and mitered corners. They were not as smooth, soft, or wrinkle-resistant as our top picks. They were also relatively expensive compared with other sets.

Crane & Canopy’s 400 Thread Count Sheets weren’t as soft as the Royal Velvet set. We initially mistook these for a percale set, and we didn’t find them as soft as the percale L.L. Bean sheets.

The Charter Club Damask Solid Wrinkle Resistant 500 Thread Count Pima Cotton Sheet Set (also from Macy’s) was not as smooth and silky as our winning sheets. That said, they were gorgeous sheets with an elegant hemstitch detailing on the pillowcases and flat sheets. They are of very high quality and have an extremely soft and smooth hand, good wrinkle resistance, and a relatively heavier drape—making them ideal for cooler winter nights, but perhaps a little warm for summer weather.

Walmart’s Better Homes and Gardens 400 Thread Count Egyptian Cotton Sheet Set performed well, but after several rounds of laundering they didn’t feel as smooth and soft as our top picks. These were excellent sheets and a fantastic value (around $50 per set). Although minutely lighter in weight compared with our winning sheets, these were very close to the more-expensive Macy’s Charter Club Damask sheets in terms of quality, hand, and wrinkle resistance.

IKEA’s Gäspa sheets were no match for any of the other sateen sheets we tested, in terms of smoothness and softness of hand. We found them to be average to good-quality sheets, but not remarkable in terms of the luxurious hand you would expect of high-quality sateen sheets.

We also tested or considered the following sets in years past:

For the 2015 update, we tested the Martha Stewart 300-Thread Count Cotton Sateen Sheets from Macy’s. We’re surprised that they’ve received an average of nearly five stars across more than 350 reviews because these sheets were even more disappointing than the Martha Stewart percale version. After only one run through the washer and dryer, we discovered a hole along the top edge of the flat sheet.

The Magnolia Organics Estate Collection Sheet Set looked promising, but sleeping on these sheets felt a bit like wearing khaki pants to bed. They were considerably softer after five washes, so it’s possible that these just need some time to break in.

Garnet Hill’s 400-thread-count Signature Wrinkle-Resistant Solid Sateen Bedding performed slightly below the Royal Velvet sheets in stitch quality and wicking. Combined with their higher cost, these sateen sheets just don’t cut it.

Amazon’s Pinzon 400-Thread-Count Hemstitch Egyptian Cotton Sheet Set was surprisingly clingy and heavy. Overall these sheets were a nonstarter.

Overstock’s Tribeca Living Egyptian Cotton 500 Thread Count Extra Deep Pocket Sheet Set was fairly comfortable. Unfortunately, its loose stitching disintegrated in the wash test.

The Wamsutta Dream Zone 750 Thread Count Deep Pocket Sheet Set and Wamsutta 1000 Sateen Sheet Set were an unfortunate story—it appears that they were once raved about and were even named Consumer Reports top picks in the sateen category, but many dissatisfied customer reviews indicate disappointing manufacturing changes. We decided not to test these.

We took a look at Lands’ End’s No Iron Sheet Set, made from American extra-long-staple cotton, but were dissuaded from testing it by unenthusiastic customer reviews.

Footnotes:

1. Bedsheet sellers and retailer websites we looked at when researching sheets to test: Costco, Pottery Barn, West Elm, Crate and Barrel, Bed Bath & Beyond, Target, Walmart, Macy’s, JCPenney, IKEA, L.L.Bean, Amazon, Kohl’s, Restoration Hardware, Garnet Hill, Tricia Rose, Brooklinen, Cuddledown, Parachute, Casper, Crane & Canopy, Boll & Branch, Snowe, Rough Linen. Jump back.

2. Some people call the wicking ability of fabric “breathability,” and by Merriam-Webster’s definition, this is correct. But fiber doesn’t inhale and exhale. What you’re really experiencing is the quick removal of moisture from the skin. The fabric absorbs the moisture and allows it to evaporate, causing cooling. And cotton is particularly good at this. In the bedding industry, this is referred to as “comfort cooling.” Jump back.

3. According to Chemical & Engineering News, “Today, dimethylol dihydroxy ethylene urea and its derivatives are the most commonly used resins, and these release very low levels of formaldehyde.” Unlike flooring and formaldehyde-treated building materials, you can wash clothes before using them, so there’s no issue with off-gassing. “Today, almost no formaldehyde is released into the air from treated fabrics, and, [fabric consultant Phillip] Wakelyn says, very little is transferred from the fabric to the skin,” says Chemical & Engineering News. The primary concern is contact dermatitis, not inhalation.

Frances Kozen of Cornell’s Institute for Fashion and Fiber Innovation told us that “while [formaldehyde] used to be common in permanent press garments and bedding, it is not now.” In the 2013 booklet Update on Formaldehyde, the Consumer Product Safety Commission says pretty much the same thing: “In the early 1960s, several allergic reactions to formaldehyde were reported from the use of durable-press fabrics and coated 4 paper products. Such reports have declined in recent years as industry has taken steps to reduce formaldehyde levels, and a recent investigation by the Government Accountability Office (2010) demonstrated only a small number of clothing items with low formaldehyde levels.” Jump back.

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Sources

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Originally published: June 1, 2016

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