Good dorm bedding should be comfortable, but it isn’t a long-term investment. If your room has a twin extra-long bed you’ll probably use the sheets for only a few years, max, so you shouldn’t spend much. There aren’t a ton of good-quality yet affordable twin XL sheets, but after considering 11 sets and testing two, we think Target’s Threshold Performance 400 Thread Count Sheet Set is the best for most dorm beds.
Target’s Threshold Performance sheets were nearly as soft, durable, and wrinkle-resistant as the top-performing sets in our main sheet guide. They proved very durable in all of our tests at the Fashion Institute of Technology’s textile-testing lab. And because they’re made of 100 percent cotton, they’ll breathe better than the cotton-polyester sheets offered in a lot of college linen packages. Currently, the twin XL size is available only in four colors (white and dark gray solids and blue global and gray ring prints), but for about $30 a set (including shipping) we think they’re an exceptional value.
If you want a percale set that’s a little cooler against the skin than our main pick we also like Target’s Threshold 300 Thread Count Ultra Soft sheets (flat, fitted, and cases). At around $40 for a complete set (again with shipping) they aren’t as great a deal as our main pick, and they’re also not as soft feeling or wrinkle-resistant. But because they have a very dry hand (the opposite of silky/slippery) they will feel nicer than our main pick for warm weather. The sheets come in a wider range of colors, too, in case you or the student in your life want more options.
We spoke with a half dozen bedding experts for our main sheet guide, and those interviews informed how we chose lower-priced sets. We also pored over reviews from Consumer Reports (subscription required) and on Sleep Like The Dead. We looked to customer review sections on websites including Amazon, JCPenney, Target, Walmart, Costco, and many other small and large retailers, and looked at reader comments on our main sheets guide to determine what people really love and hate about sheet sets.
Preethi Gopinath, who tested all of our sheets, has worked for 20 years as a textile designer. Among other things, she has designed bed linens for Spring Industries and Designerie. She has also taught textile science courses in FIT’s Textile Development and Marketing department.
Many dorm rooms are furnished with twin extra-long beds, which are five inches longer than a traditional twin. Because of this, standard twin sheets won’t fit. Our sheet recommendations are for those looking for comfortable and inexpensive 100 percent cotton twin XL sheets.
Many universities and colleges offer bed linen programs through which you can purchase twin XL or full XL (another common size for dorm housing) sheets, as well as complete bedding sets. But the sheet sets are often made of a cotton-polyester blend, which can be very durable and wrinkle-resistant, but less breathable than 100 percent cotton.
Great sheets at any price should feel soft against the skin, wear well, and be durably constructed. We picked and tested the sheets we feature in this guide while we worked on our main sheets guide. We looked for high-quality sheet sets made from 100 percent cotton, which 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. Cotton’s also easy to clean and gets softer after multiple washes.
We looked at 90 sheet sets from places like Target, Walmart, Bed Bath & Beyond, Costco, IKEA, and other large retailers that offer a variety of inexpensive options. For this guide, we also considered an additional nine sets that came in twin XL. We compared budget sheets to the expensive sets in our feel and durability tests. All of the sheets tested were either cotton sateen or percale (you can read more about the difference here).
We held each sheet up to the same rigorous testing criteria used in our main sheets guide, which was 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. As with the other sets we tried for our main guide, we tested their durability at the Fashion Institute of Technology’s textile-testing lab.
Target’s Threshold Performance 400 Thread Count Sheet Set is the best inexpensive sheet set we’ve tried that comes in a twin XL size. (Note: This size is currently available only in dark gray, white, and two prints—blue global and gray ring.) Right now a complete set is only about $30, which also qualifies it for free standard shipping from Target. We found it softer than sets four to seven times its price when testing for our main sheet guide, and it was one of the best sets we tested for wrinkle resistance. It performed very well in our FIT durability tests, which leads us to believe this set will hold up better than other cheaper sets we’ve tried in the past. The fabric is on the warm side, so we think the sheets are best for using in cooler weather.
The Threshold Performance sheets weren’t as soft as our absolute favorite sateen set from Royal Velvet (the top pick in our main sheet guide), but they felt softer than the more modestly priced Better Homes and Gardens 400 Thread Count Egyptian Cotton Sheet Set we tried from from Walmart and the Gäspa set from IKEA (neither comes in twin XL size). They also beat much-more-expensive sateen sets from Macy’s.
Out of 20 sets we tried, the Threshold Performance set was in the top four for wrinkle resistance in our tests at FIT’s textile-testing labs. These sheets come out of the dryer relatively wrinkle-free and look smooth on the bed. By comparison, our other pick, the Threshold Ultra Soft sheets, wrinkle quite a bit, even out of the dryer, and wrinkle even more with use.
In our durability tests at FIT, the Threshold Performance sheets resisted pilling (ranking between a four and a five on a scale where five means no pilling), they were within an acceptable range for tensile strength, and they weighed about 3.5 ounces per square yard—lighter than our favorite sateen sheets from Royal Velvet, but similar to most of the percale and sateen sheets we tried. In years past, we’ve found that cheaper sateen sets are prone to snagging, but we haven’t experienced any issues like this with this set.
Because these are sateen sheets, the fabric is very smooth with a silky quality and it drapes very nicely. It holds more heat than our percale pick, below, so it’s better for sleeping in cooler temperatures.
We like that this set has a three-layered edging detail on the hem of the flat sheet and pillowcases and that the fitted sheet has an excellent, wide band of elastic that made it easy to put on the mattress. In using this set we’ve noticed that the fabric does tend to grab onto pet hair. You might find a similar issue with lint or other fibers from pajamas or other bedding. But the fabric cleans up nicely once washed and dried.
Although we like Target’s Threshold Performance set better, its Threshold 300 Thread Count Ultra Soft sheets (flat, fitted, and pillowcases) are also good quality and come at a decent price of around $40 for a set. They’re not as soft as the Threshold Performance sheets, and they don’t feel quite as smooth as higher-priced percale (like our favorite L.L.Bean set), but they’re cooler against the skin than our main pick, which makes them a good choice for sleeping in warmer weather (or when the heat’s cranked). They also come in a wider variety of colors (aqua, elephant, ivory, red, and white in fitted sheets), in case you or the student in your life want more decorating options.
Like other percale sheets, these have what’s considered a “dry hand” (the opposite of slippery/silky). Laying on them you’ll stay put rather than feel like you’re slipping around. The sheets are not as crisp as more-expensive percale (they don’t have that crinkly sound of fine hotel bedding), but the fabric does feel better than the sets we tried from Walmart and IKEA. They feel lighter in weight than the sateen Threshold Performance sheets (although both sets came in around 3.5 ounces per square yard in our FIT tests). In our other FIT lab tests, these sheets were within an acceptable range for tensile strength and they showed good resistance to pilling (again a four to five rating).
These sheets do wrinkle a lot. We didn’t notice a huge amount of wrinkling in our FIT tests, but in home use all of our testers noted that this fabric wrinkles more than other sets.
You can see all the sheet sets we tried in our guide to the best sheets. Many of the cheaper sets we tried didn’t come in a twin XL size (many of the sets that did were $100 or more, which seems too expensive for dorm sheets that will be used for only one to four years). Beyond those, we also considered the following inexpensive sets that come in twin XL, specifically for this guide:
Bed Bath & Beyond’s 220-Thread-Count 100% Cotton Sheet Set received middling user reviews and didn’t look like they’d compete with our main picks.
Bed Bath & Beyond’s 330-Thread-Count 100% Cotton Sateen Sheet Set gets good reviews from users, but our main pick comes at a better price.
Bed Bath & Beyond’s The Seasons Collection Heavyweight Flannel Sheet Set doesn’t have any user reviews. They might be an okay budget set if you want flannel.
Brooklyn & Bond’s Diamond Sheet Set gets good user reviews. But it’s more expensive than our main pick and we think the prints, although nice, may not appeal to everyone.
Overstock’s 300 Thread Count Egyptian Cotton Sheet Set comes in some nice, vibrant colors but user reviews are mixed.
Overstock’s 100-percent Cotton Luxury Jersey Sheet Set could be a good, inexpensive pick if you or the student in your life prefer jersey sheets. But we think non-stretch percale or sateen sheets are more appealing to most people.
Overstock’s Solid Wrinkle Resistant 300 Thread Count Cotton Sheet Set also looks like a decent set with pretty strong user reviews. But it’s a little more expensive than our main pick.
Overstock’s Pima Cotton Extra Deep Pocket 400 Thread Count Sheet Set is also more expensive than both of our picks. It does come in some nice colors though.
Overstock’s Camden Hemstitch Solid 350 Thread Count Egyptian Cotton 6-piece Sheet Set receives okay user reviews, but it only comes in some odd colors (e.g., chocolate and gold for the twin XL size).
(Photos by Michael Hession.)
Originally published: July 8, 2016