The Best Sheets
We spend up to a third of our lives sleeping, so choosing great bed sheets that are comfortable and durable is one of the most important decisions you can make. After more than 100 hours of research and testing, we still think the L.L.Bean’s 280-Thread-Count Pima Cotton Percale Sheets can’t be beat. They combine the cool, crisp feel we often look for in sheets with superior sweat wicking, heat retention, and durability. They’re about $150 for a queen set, a price that has remained consistent since the first publication of this piece in 2013.
In reporting this guide, we were surprised to find that the best sheets don’t necessarily have the highest thread counts. While thread count can give you some indication of what a sheet will feel like, the quality of the cotton matters more. The L.L.Bean sheets have a 280 thread count but are made with superior extra long staple Pima cotton. They were both the softest and best-constructed of the models we tested. Our budget pick’s much higher 400 thread-count can’t make up for the lower-quality material.
If you prefer the silky smooth texture of sateen, we recommend the Royal Velvet 400-thread-count WrinkleGuard Sheet Set. They outperformed all the other sateen sheets in shrink tests and durability, including three new models we brought in for the most recent round of testing. Unlike our main pick, these even come in California King size. While it’s hard to truly be wrinkle-free, this set was pretty darn close. Many sateen sheets snag easily because of their weave, but these exhibited no wear over the course of two rounds of testing. Our other sateen models snagged and even showed fraying at the edges.
If you want something cheaper for the kids’ rooms, or if you’re on a budget, we recommend Overstock’s Hemstitch 400-Thread-Count Sateen Cotton Sheet Set. $45 gets you a queen-sized set of 100 percent cotton sateen sheets with a thread count of 400. Unlike even some of the more expensive sets, these held up in our wash tests. They won’t last nearly as long as the weave and high quality cotton in our top pick, but they’re a better-than-IKEA option if you can’t spend more than $50 on a set.
For this update, we spent an additional 40 hours researching and testing new sheet sets, with sleep tests, shrinkage comparisons, and multiple rounds of laundering to simulate 6 months of use. After rigorous testing of two additional percale and two sateen sets against our previous winners, the reigning picks still came out ahead.
- Why you should trust us
- Who should buy these
- How we picked
- How we tested
- Flaws but not dealbreakers
- Our pick for smooth sateen
- A less expensive pick for the kids and guest room
- The competition
- What about eco-friendly cotton?
- Wrapping it up
Why you should trust us
We conducted more than 100 total hours of research and testing and interviewed experts from Cornell’s Fiber Science and Apparel Design department. We read reviews from established experts, including Consumer Reports and Sleep Like The Dead. Finally, we pored over customer review sections on Amazon, JCPenney, Macy’s, and L.L.Bean’s websites as well as reader comments on this piece to determine what people really love and hate about sheet sets.
Who should buy these
If your sheets are showing signs of wear or if they don’t keep you cool at night, this set is a great replacement or upgrade. The $150 price point is relatively affordable for a set of percale sheets that are durable, well-constructed, and soft. They are great for year-round use; they stay cool and crisp, especially during the hot summer months, but are still soft and warm when used with a comforter in the winter. For most people, these sheets would be best suited for everyday use, given their quality and mid-range price point.
How we picked
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. In Consumer Reports’s testing (subscription required), the sheets made of 100 percent cotton tended to get higher ratings than rayon or rayon blends. Quality cotton breathes well, feels softer with continued laundering, and doesn’t pill over time the way its man-made counterparts, such as bamboo rayon1, polyester, and microfiber, do.
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 (1 ⅛-1 ¼ inches) or true extra long staple (1 ⅜ in. or longer). Loose naming conventions can make it difficult to identify true extra long staple cotton. Though the phrases “Egyptian cotton” and “Turkish cotton” once meant high-quality, extra long staple cotton, companies sometimes use these names to market lesser shorter-staple cottons grown in those countries. We talked to Mark Bagby, a representative for Calcot, a cotton marketing organization, 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.
As we’ve mentioned, higher thread count doesn’t always equal quality. Some manufacturers use this figure to mislead buyers. First, the cotton fibers in higher thread count sheets are woven more tightly than lower thread count sheets, and this generally results in a much heavier fabric. Not only that, but manufacturers often use ply to artificially inflate threadcount. Ply is the number of threads wound together in a single thread. Most sheets are single-ply, but in some cases, manufacturers use two-ply yarns to multiply thread counts and increase numbers upward of 1000. That means a 500 thread count sheet made with two-ply yarns might be advertised as 1000.
We looked at both crisp percale and silky sateen sheets. Percale refers to a plain weave (warp and weft threads cross over and under evenly, usually in a one-to-one ratio), resulting in a matte finish and a crisp hand. The fabric tends to be very strong and breathable, thus durable over time and cool during the hot summer months. Sateen, on the other hand, is made with a satin weave, where weft threads “float” or skip over multiple warp threads, usually in a three-to-one or four-to-one ratio. The exposed surface threads give sateen its classic sheen, but also create a fabric that is less porous (consequently warmer). And because of its overlaid weave—with the floating threads exposed—sateen is especially susceptible to snagging. Furthermore, sateens are more likely to shrink because their floating warp threads are stretched tightly to achieve a smooth finish and often shrink down in the wash. Despite the fact that percale sheets tend to last longer and breath better, some people just prefer the satiny smooth feel of high-quality sateen sheets.
We chose not to test higher-end sheets like linen or silk, because their high price points are too cost-prohibitive for most people. You’ll spend at least $200 for a set of not-so-great linen sheets, which is a lot of money for lower-quality material. We also skipped over flannel for this update because though the popular material is made of breathable cotton, it’s too heavy and warm for year-round use.
Unless you have a very tall mattress or a bulky mattress topper, fit should not be an issue with either our sateen or percale pick. But it is worth checking so you don’t have to go through the hassle of returning something that doesn’t fit. Sheets vary in size by manufacturer and one company’s “queen” could be upwards of 5 inches different from another. We tested all of our sheets on a 10-inch-thick mattress and photographed them on a 9-inch mattress, and all of the sheets fit well.
After narrowing the criteria of what we wanted to test, we turned to recommendations from reliable sources like Consumer Reports (subscription required) and Sleep Like The Dead. While short recommendation lists from sites like Real Simple, the Huffington Post, or 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 sheet sets rather than printed ones, as these are more widely appealing to the most people.
From there, we researched the top-selling and top-rated items on Amazon, Overstock, Bed Bath & Beyond, and top department stores. While user reviews are relatively useless individually, they can provide workable data on things like durability and feel when taken as a whole. We also researched extensively using Sleep Like The Dead, a site dedicated to identifying and testing the best sleep-related goods available.
In our first round, we tested 13 sheet sets and found that the L.L.Bean’s 280-Thread-Count Pima Cotton Percale sheets were the best percale while the popular Royal Velvet 400-thread-count WrinkleGuard Sheet Set from JCPenney topped the sateen list.
For the 2015 update, we researched articles and user reviews to try to find any new sheets that could unseat our previous top contenders. We tested last year’s winners against four additional competitors:
- Coyuchi 220 Percale Sheets: These organic sheets were also Consumer Reports-tested and had relatively good reviews.
- Martha Stewart Collection 300-Thread-Count Cotton Sateen Sheets: highly rated by Macy’s buyers.
- Martha Stewart Collection 360-Thread-Count Percale Sheet Set: earned 69 points out of 100 on Consumer Reports; highest rated sheets got a score of 71.
- Magnolia Organics Estate Collection Sheet Set: an average of 4.6 stars from more than 200 Amazon reviews.
How we tested
We held each sheet up to rigorous testing criteria to assess their quality in three stages: straight out of the bag, after a few nights’ sleep, and after five wash cycles. Our tests simulated what a few months of wear will do to your sheets.
The tests were designed to evaluate the hand (feel) of the sheets, overall comfort when sleeping with them, and durability over time. All tests were conducted on a queen-sized bed with a spring mattress and a thick mattress pad, measuring about 10 inches thick in total. Fitted sheet pockets range from 7 to 12 inches deep on average. The six sheet sets we tested for this round clocked in with pockets averaging 15 inches deep—just above that range, but certainly large enough to fit on most beds while not being too saggy. Although people do sleep on thicker mattresses these days, any pocket more than 10 inches deep should fit on most beds.
Durability of the sheets was measured by accounting for edge damage, thread damage, shrinkage, weight loss, pilling, and snagging. Thread damage can occur when long threads aren’t cut at the time of manufacturing and they begin to come loose over time.
Weight loss was measured by weighing the sheets on a scale before washing and after drying. In the previous round of testing, weight loss was also measured by collecting and massing lint after drying, but this was an imprecise measure and eliminated from the testing process this time around. Most of our picks are made with long staple cottons like Pima and are therefore unlikely to shed mass in the dryer. However, the sheets that shed more mass were more likely to go threadbare faster.
To account for shrinkage, we measured each set of sheets to assess how closely they matched the manufacturer’s stated sizing. After five total washes, each sheet was measured to establish shrinkage rates. By comparing measurements and square inches total of each flat sheet and pillowcase, we were able to calculate shrinkage as a percentage of area lost for each sheet tested. While some shrinkage is expected in any textile, excessive shrinkage of more than a few percentage points indicates lower-quality cotton. We did not measure how much fitted sheets shrank because the elastic in each sheet leaves a wide margin for error and ultimately produces unreliable measurements.
Our pick for crisp percale
After two rounds of testing 17 of the best sheets on the market, we found that L.L.Bean’s 280-Thread-Count Pima Cotton Percale Sheets still sweep the charts. They’re comfortable and breathable, both soft and cool against the skin. They also technically outperformed every other sheet set in our tests. Thanks to their superior extra long staple cotton, L.L.Bean’s sheets lost the least amount of mass after washings, and, along with our sateen pick, shrank the least. Durable stitching means these sheets should last a long time, but if they do shrink, tear, or unravel, L.L.Bean’s lifetime guarantee means you can exchange them at any time.
After five wash cycles, the L.L.Bean sheets exhibited zero signs of pilling, snagging, or loose fibers. The sheets’ solid stitching held up beautifully through the wash tests. The other percale sets did not fare nearly as well—Coyuchi’s 220 Percale sheets shrank so much that the flat sheet barely tucked in under the mattress when making the bed, while the Martha Stewart percale sheets shrank about 6 percent.
Most of the sateen sheets were even worse, exhibiting at least minor snagging or other construction damage during testing. Entire rows of stitching on the Tribeca Living sheets from Overstock came undone, and the Martha Stewart sateen sheets also came out of their first washing with a large hole along the top edge of the flat sheet. Our pick for silky sateen from Royal Velvet was the only sateen set to survive these tests without any snagging or visible construction damage.
Overall the L.L.Bean sheets lost 3.9 percent of their surface area during the duration of testing for this update, an acceptable number on the lower end of the scale. Other models showed shrinkage of anywhere from 2.5 to 9 percent of their surface areas during the most recent round of testing. Having a percale weave may help the L.L.Bean sheets in this test because of the sateen weave’s predisposition for shrinkage.
To test for lost mass, we weighed sheets before and after five washes. The L.L.Bean sheets lost less than 0.5 percent of their mass; compare that to Coyuchi’s nearly 2 percent weight loss. Because of their long staple cotton and even weave, there’s little indication that the L.L.Bean sheets will lose much more mass in future washes. None of the six models tested in this year’s round lost more than 3.5 percent of their mass over five washes, but over time such losses can lead to weak, threadbare sheets. Although we did not weigh lint masses this time around, these sheets left very little lint behind in the trap after drying, a sign that they are high-quality cotton.
The L.L.Bean sheets are also a cinch to maintain. While some wrinkles are inevitable for any sheet, if folded or put on the bed promptly after drying, these sheets remained nearly wrinkle-free. They are soft out of the bag and only get softer over time. They are also breathable and remain crisp even if you are a warm sleeper.
The finishing construction is the best of the 17 sets we tested. After five washings, the L.L.Bean sheets had no visible edge damage, no unraveled stitching, and no loose threads. Not only that, but the fitted sheet has a double-stitched hem to prevent wear and tear.
These sheets are also Consumer Reports’s top pick for percale sheets (membership required), with a score of 71/100, an “excellent” in 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 that the fitted sheet is too big (deep, actually), which depends on your mattress. The fitted sheet pocket is 15 inches deep, which is deeper than many mattresses. However, even on a 10-inch-thick mattress and our office’s 9-inch test mattress, these sheets fit snugly. This depth also allows for additional room if you put a memory foam or pillow top on your mattress.
Another popular complaint is about these sheets’ either being too soft or too rough. Frankly, this is a matter of personal preference. While these sheets come out of the bag feeling crisp, they do get softer with time and break in very nicely.
Recent customer reviews complain about tears and a rough texture. In order to eliminate questions about recent batches, we ordered a new set of sheets for this test. They performed as well as sheets we purchased over a year ago.
If you do receive a lemon or just don’t like the feel, L.L.Bean will honor their 100 percent satisfaction guarantee which 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.
Longterm test notes
I’ve been using a pair of these L.L.Bean sheets since 2013. They are the best all-around sheets I’ve owned, and they have maintained their comfort and quality in that time. We bought a brand new set of these sheets for this round of testing, and while my older set is softer (likely from more washings), both felt great and had the same quality construction.
Our pick for smooth sateen
These sheets performed similarly to our main pick in technical testing. They lost 1.7 and 1.5 percent of their masses respectively during our two rounds of testing, and shrunk 2.2 and 2.6 percent respectively. Since these numbers are so similar, we’re confident that the quality of these sheets is still just as high as it was when we first recommended them. They’re very comfortable to sleep in and regulated temperature very nicely in our sleep tests.
The other benefit of these sheets is their trademarked WrinkleGuard feature. While it’s hard to be 100 percent wrinkle-free, these sheets do come pretty close. Of course, WrinkleGuard features won’t be nearly as effective if you leave your sheets laying 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 they’re “unable to disclose this information, as this is a proprietary treatment process.” It’s likely a kind of resin 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, this is pretty rare, happening in only about 1 to 5 percent of the population. (For more, see What about eco-friendly cotton?)
In our previous round of testing, these sheets did show a noticeable-but-acceptable amount of edge wear after wash testing, but all sateens do. In the latest round of tests, they showed almost no signs of pilling, but sateens generally don’t hold up against percales over time. Just wash them alone in cool water to prolong their smooth weave.
A less expensive pick for the kids and guest room
Cheaper sheets are a good choice for guest rooms, vacation homes, rental properties and the like, where spending $100+ per bed may not be a viable option. If you’re really shopping on the cheap, Overstock’s 400-thread-count Hemstitch Sateen sheets are the way to go.
The main selling point of this sheet set is its affordability: $50 gets you a queen-sized set of 100 percent cotton sateen sheets with a thread count of 400. Admittedly, these sheets are not as smooth as any of the extra long staple cotton sheets we tested, but they are more breathable and sturdier than either of the other budget samples from Target or Ikea. They’ve also maintained an average rating of more than four stars with close to 5,500 reviews.
Despite boasting a higher thread count, they’re 9 percent lighter than our main pick, which goes to show that thread count alone doesn’t tell you much. But they performed admirably and provide decent overall value. While they shrunk considerably more, with 10 percent shrinkage, they’re still roomy enough to fit a standard mattress without slipping up in the night. We wouldn’t recommend them for extra thick TempurPedic mattresses.
What about 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 pesticides is a concern for you, going with an eco-certified cotton makes sense. If you’re more concerned about chemicals and finishes, washing your sheets before using them may suffice. And know that you may be paying a price (either in money or in inferior fibers) for organic cotton.
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 been known to cause skin rashes from trace amounts of formaldehyde.
Chemical & Engineering News says, “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, clothes can be washed before being worn, so there’s no issue with off-gassing. “Today, almost no formaldehyde is released into the air from treated fabrics, and, Wakelyn says, very little is transferred from the fabric to the skin,” says Chemical & Engineering News. The primary concern is contact dermatitis, not inhalation.
Kozen told us that, “while [formaldehyde] used to be common in permanent press garments and bedding, it is not now.” In this 2013 booklet, Update on Formaldehyde, the Consumer Product Safety Commission says 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.”
If you have sensitive skin, especially if you work with formaldehyde, and are 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 include prohibiting the use of treatments such as toxic heavy metals, formaldehyde, and certain solvents, and monitoring energy use, water consumption, and waste. The Oeko-Tex logo certifies that fabric is free from specific chemicals and processes that are potentially harmful to people and the environment (though Oeko-Tex textiles aren’t strictly organically grown). Oeko-Tex employs an extensive testing process prior to certification.
Coyuchi and Cuddledown are examples of two companies who take their manufacturing very seriously. All Coyuchi sheets are GOTS certified, and Cuddledown offers up a variety of both GOTS and Oeko-Tex certified products.
One flaw with organics is the rarity of quality extra long staple cotton. This organic yarn supplier for Eileen Fisher says, “Ninety-seven percent of US extra long staple cotton is conventionally grown.” Supima, the brand name of the American Pima growers association, says, “Organic American Pima is available in very limited quantities on an annual basis … Typical production levels for this cotton are less than 1 percent 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 were rougher and shrank more than our picks.
Coyuchi’s 220 Percale Sheets ($200), a model we tested for the 2015 update, were a disappointment. While the sheets themselves were incredibly soft and well-constructed, they did not stand up to our wash testing. After only three washes, these sheets shrunk enough that there was only about 1 inch of flat sheet left to tuck in under the mattress. They rated 49/100 on Consumer Reports (subscription required).
The $135 Martha Stewart 360-Thread-Count Percale received 69/100 points from Consumer Reports (subscription required), only two points less than our pick from L.L.Bean, and an average of four stars across 96 reviews on the Macy’s website. While they felt really great to the touch straight out of the bag, they felt thin and cheap once on the bed. In addition to being generally disappointing to sleep on, these sheets shrank about 6 percent in area.
The Garnet Hill Fiesta Percale ($105 for a queen set) have an average of more than four out of five stars across nearly 300 reviews and similar specs to our L.L.Bean pick at two-thirds of the price. Unfortunately, they just weren’t anywhere near as soft as our pick. The main difference in hand and skin comfort here likely stems from the fact that these sheets are made with shorter staple cottons that are less smooth and more likely to pill. Despite the positive reviews, some users describe these sheets as “stiff and scratchy” while others remark that the fabric seems thinner than it was in the past.
In the search for a better percale pick, we also tested Garnet Hill’s Hemstitched Supima Percale ($160 for a queen set). These sheets are made of 100 percent Supima cotton, the brand name for for pima cotton grown in the U.S. We had high hopes for this sheet, as it possesses the same extra long fiber characteristics as the fabric in the L.L.Bean sheets and a similar thread count. Despite boasting an average four-star review across over a hundred users, we found this sheet 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 less breathable.
Pottery Barn’s Classic 400-Thread-Count Sheets were a disappointment. They were sweaty and 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 hems and loose overlocking. For $150, you can do a lot better.
Land’s End Solid Oxford Sheet Set was another contender but was nixed due to the heavy drape of oxford cloth, which is well suited to shirting but a little heavy for bedding.
Land’s End 400-Count Solid Percale Sheet Set came in second place in Consumer Reports’s tests but are sadly no longer available.
Finally, we tested two other budget picks: Target’s Threshold 300-Thread-Count Ultra Soft Sheets, which will set you back $50 a set, and Ikea’s Gäspa sheets, which are the most affordable set we tested at $35. Compared to our Overstock pick’s construction and great hand (feel), Ikea’s sheets just don’t compare. They’re noticeably thinner, 8.6 percent lighter than our budget pick, and they cling like Saran wrap, leaving us alternately hot and sweaty or cold and damp. The Target sheets were alright and would have been our budget pick if not for Overstock’s impressive price on their higher-quality sheets. These sheets performed solidly and held up in the wash, but they just weren’t as soft or breathable as our Overstock budget pick and possess weirdly deep pockets with auxiliary fitted sheet elastic that’s kind of bunchy and excessive. Unless you have an unreasonably deep mattress, there’s no reason to get these sheets over the Hemstitch.
For the 2015 update, we tested the $180 Martha Stewart 300-Thread-Count Cotton Sateen Sheets. We’re surprised that it’s received an average of nearly five stars out of more than 200 reviews because the sateen was even more disappointing than the Martha Stewart percale. After only one run through the washer and dryer, we discovered a hole along the top edge of the flat sheet.
The relatively new and well-rated $120 Magnolia Organics Estate Collection Sheet Set looked promising given its 4.6-star average rating across 198 reviews, so we included it in the latest round of tests. These sheets only lost about 1 percent of their mass across all five washes and are third-party organic certified (Global Organic Textile Standard). Sleeping on these sheets felt a bit like wearing khaki pants to bed. To make up for the disappointment, however, they were considerably softer after five washes, and it’s possible that these do just need some time to break in. Unfortunately that does not make up for about 8 percent of total area shrinkage.
We also wanted to test a sateen from Garnet Hill, so we chose their Signature Wrinkle-Resistant Solid Sateen. With an average of 4.5 out of five stars over a hundred reviews, this sheet shares similar qualities with our Royal Velvet sateen pick: a thread count of 400 and claims of wrinkle resistance. Made of 100 percent Egyptian cotton, the Garnet Hill sateen costs $175 compared to Royal Velvet’s $140 for a queen set. In testing, these sheets outperformed the other Garnet Hill sets we tested but just slightly underperformed their Royal Velvet counterparts in stitch quality and wicking. Combined with their cost, these sateen sheets just don’t cut it.
We tested Cuddledown’s 400-Thread-Count Sateen Sheet Set because of its excellent reviews and high Good Housekeeping Research Institute rating (A-). These sheets were incredibly soft but absolutely huge. Like, more than 1 foot longer than almost every other flat sheet with pillowcases 20 percent longer than average standard cases. Unfortunately, sheeting is not an arena where bigger is better, and these left us constantly tangled in a sea of sweaty sheets.
Amazon’s Pinzon Hemstitch 400-Thread-Count Egyptian Cotton Sateen were tested because of their popularity; at $60 with an average of nearly four stars across 2,100 reviews, these 100 percent Egyptian cotton sheets seemed like a steal. Pinzon’s home linens are generally well-reviewed for their quality cottons, so it seemed logical that these sheets should perform decently. With good reviews and a marginally higher thread count, these seemed like the “affordable luxury” pick of the lot. But they were a little disappointing. They lost 3 percent of their weight in the wash, the second-highest of any sheet tested, and they were surprisingly clingy and heavy to sleep on. They also shrunk 8 percent, which is as much as the $35 Ikea sheets. Overall these were a nonstarter, which just goes to show that Egyptian cotton can only get you so far without the right construction.
We also tried the Overstock’s Tribeca Living Egyptian Cotton 500-Thread-Count Extra Deep Pocket Solid Sheet Set because of its material and user reviews: These sheets are slightly more expensive than the Pinzon sateen at $80 a set, but they’re also slightly fancier, boasting a 500-thread-count construction. Compared to traditional department store and luxury brand buys, $80 is a great deal for 100 percent Egyptian cotton sateen of this weight, but it was too good to be true. Even though they boasted a higher thread count than the Pinzon sheets (500 compared to 400), they were actually 14 percent lighter overall (probably because of two-ply thread count). Admirably, they lost only 1 percent of their mass in the wash, the second smallest amount of mass lost, and shrunk about 6.5 percent in surface area, which is in the middle of the pack. They were actually fairly comfortable to sleep on, so it’s clear to see why they’ve earned an average 4.4 out of five stars online. Unfortunately, their loose stitching disintegrated in the wash test.
The $170 Wamsutta Dream Zone and 1000 sheets were an unfortunate story—it appears that they were once raved about and even earned Consumer Reports’s top picks in the sateen weave category, but many dissatisfied customer reviews indicate disappointing manufacturing changes. We decided not to test these.
We took a look at $180 Land’s End’s No Iron Solid Supima Sateen Sheet Set, made from American extra long staple cotton, but were dissuaded by unenthusiastic customer reviews. Only 57 percent of buyers would recommend purchasing this set.
Amazon’s Pinzon Lightweight Cotton Flannel Sheet Set was tested despite its different material because of overall popularity and user reviews. Surprisingly enough, these flannel sheets outweigh Pinzon’s Egyptian cotton sateen sheets in customer review popularity with a 4.4-star average and about 1,000 reviews. The Pinzon flannel sheets were remarkably soft out of the bag, but they began to pill within a few washes, as is the nature of napped fabrics like flannel. They also shrunk a considerable 10.5 percent in surface area, although they lost only 2.5 percent of their weight, which is surprising given how much lint they shed in the dryer. They’re popular, but not the right level of warmth for most people during most of the year.
How you wash your sheets will have the greatest effect on their lifespan. The best way to maintain good-looking sheets is to wash on the lowest possible 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.
To break down the factory finishes that most linens are sold with, add ¼ cup of white vinegar to the wash cycle. Not only does it soften fabric without leaving residue, it’ll help kill mildew that can grow in damp washers.
If there’s one thing you can do to preserve your clothing, towels, and sheets, it is to dry them on the lowest setting possible. 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.
As discussed in the towel guide, fabric softener is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it can make certain fabrics softer and more fragrant, but on the other hand, it does so by leaving a slick residue on the surface that repels water. Using liquid fabric softener or dryer sheets is likely to give your sheets a slippery coating that will decrease their breathability and wicking characteristics.
Pilling is one of the most common complaints for sheets, occurring when, “loosely woven yarn allows fiber ends to pull out,” said Fran Kozen of Cornell’s Fiber Sciences Department. These ends form a small ball, the “pill” that we see gathering on the surfaces of our sheets. Kozen says that polyester-cotton blends and cheaper sheets made with shorter fibers are far more susceptible to pilling, which is why we recommend ELS cotton sheets.
What to look forward to
Brooklinen, a Kickstarter-funded company, has gotten some press for being a kind of Everlane for sheets. And their sheets are pretty affordable, with percale sheets offered at about $110 per set. Their sheets are made of Oeko-Tex certified long-staple cotton. Brooklinen CEO Rich Fulop told us, “Usually strains like Giza are considered ‘extra long’ however those would be impossible at our price point. Our cotton is super fine, 80 count yarns and sourced from both Egypt and India.” Returns of unwashed, unused sheets must be made within 30 days, though returns can happen after that if they’re the result of “manufacturer defect.”
We think their sateen sheets could be worth looking at, as they’re a reasonable $150 per set and made of Oeko-Tex certified cotton.
Wrapping it up
L.L.Bean’s 280-Thread-Count Pima Cotton Percale Sheets are the most comfortable and durable sheets we’ve tested. With proper washing and care, these sheets have the potential to last for many years. Sleep well!
Photos by Amadou Diallo.
Rough Linen, Interview,
L.L. Bean Pima Cotton Percale, Consumer Reports (Subscription Required)
Before You Buy Bed Sheets, About.com,
Sheet Buying Guide, Consumer Reports (Subscription Required), June 2013
Top-Rated Bed Sheet Sets, Sleep Like The Dead, December 27, 2013
How to Choose the Best Bed Sheets, Real Simple,
Finding The Best Sheets For Your Budget: A Buying Guide, Huffington Post, November 11, 2012,
Originally published: June 28, 2015