How to Buy Bed Sheets Without Losing Sleep Over the Price Tag

A mother snuggles in bed with her baby and toddler.
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The best bed sheets don’t come cheap. When we see those three-figure prices, the sticker shock keeps us from remembering how much time we spend on our sheets.

About one-third of our lives are spent in bed so it makes sense that we would want to sleep on the best sheet we can afford. But do sheets need to be super-expensive to provide a good night’s sleep?

Not necessarily but getting what you want from that set of sheets is important. And it’s also important to know that not all sheets are created equal. To that end, we’ve put together this guide to help you make the right decision when you’re shopping for sheets.

The Penny Hoarder Guide to Bed Sheets

Here’s our Penny Hoarder guide to buying bed sheets to help you get the most from your purchase, whether you’re spending $50 or, gulp, $500.

The Meaning of Thread and Weave

There are two main terms to focus on when you purchase sheets: thread and weave.

Thread Type

Thread is another word for the material that sheets are made from.

Egyptian cotton: This is widely regarded as the best of the best. This cotton variety is long-staple, which means it has long, supple fibers.

Pima or Peruvian cotton: This is another long-staple cotton variety. It comes from Peru.

Cotton: There’s also regular old cotton, which is typically grown in India and China. It costs considerably less than Pima or Egyptian cotton but isn’t quite as durable.

Silk, modal and bamboo: These threads, which are sometimes blended with cotton, became popular in the sheeting world more recently. They’re all-natural fibers — modal is made from beech tree pulp.

Polyester: It’s synthetic, and it’s the same material your dad’s powder-blue tux from the 1970s was made of. OK, polyester isn’t always that ugly. But while it’s one of the cheaper bedding options, it’s not right for everyone. More on that later.

Weave Method

The weave is the way the threads are stitched together to create the sheets. There are two main methods:

Percale: Percale sheets feel crisp. They’re made from a traditional over-under weaving method.

Sateen: These sheets feel smooth and soft. They’re made using a method that places more threads over the top of the weave, which creates that smoothness.

What about flannel and jersey sheets? These soft, cozy sheets can be made from wool, cotton or synthetic threads. Flannel sheets are woven and typically brushed to pull up the fibers for that softness. Jersey sheets are knit loosely to give them that T-shirt feel. These sheets aren’t as durable as cotton options but will last a while with proper care.

A woman explains bedsheet thread count to a reporter.
Maruchi Azorin, owner of Villa Rosa Linens in Tampa, Fla., explains thread count and sheeting fabrics to Penny Hoarder writer Lisa Rowan. Heather Comparetto/The Penny Hoarder

Explaining Thread Count

Thread count is the number of threads woven together in 1 square inch of fabric.

For many, it’s the one way to measure sheet quality. Higher thread count is always better, right?

It’s a little more complicated than that.

An advertised thread count between 200 and 400 is reasonable and probably accurate. Anything above 400 gets tricky, because manufacturers may use super-thin yarn or add extra thread in between to inflate that thread count.

“If you’re going to compare thread count, you have to do it for products made by the same company,” said Maruchi Azorin, owner of Villa Rosa Linens in Tampa, Florida.

If you’re not comparing apples to apples, you won’t be able to compare the same crops and manufacturing methods.

“You can really only weave together 350 to 400 threads,” Azorin said. That is, unless you start wrapping threads around others before you weave them. That’s how you get thread counts in the 400 to 1,000 range.

But thread count isn’t the only indicator of quality.

If you have French-made Egyptian cotton percale sheets with a 200 thread count, that’s a really nice set of sheets. It’s not just about the number of threads — it’s about the quality of the threads themselves.

What Thread Count Is Best for Bed Sheets?

“It’s a story we hear again and again: The search for softer bed sheets sending consumers down a path of buyer ever more expensive bed sheets, thinking the higher the thread-count, the softer the sheets,” says Torun Hannam, the founder of The Bamboo Shop, an Australian business providing eco-friendly bamboo sheets to local and international customers.

While thread count gives you a general idea of the fabric, it won’t tell you anything about the quality or softness of the textile. What’s far more important is the quality of the actual threads, and their material, Hannam says.

The Best Sheets for You

So now we know that thread count is not the sole determining factor in sheet quality. Much of your satisfaction is going to come from picking the right sheets for your budget and what type of sleeper you are. How much effort you want to put into their care is also a factor.

If you want sheets that don’t wrinkle, look for that information on the packaging.

Overall: The best overall linens are percale, says Nora Mitchell, editor-in-chief of Household Advice. “Percale is soft, reasonably priced and is a high quality cotton that will not trap heat, making it great for hot sleepers or those who live in warm climates,” Mitchell says. Since you can always add layers, percale is perfect for all seasons. It’s a breathable fabric that can wick moisture from the skin.

Value: The best affordable sheets are cotton sheets, says Alex Savy, a certified sleep science coach and the founder of Sleeping Ocean, a site that helps people improve their sleep. Cotton isn’t a luxurious fabric, so the price is reasonable but it’s a natural, breathable fabric which works well for sleeping. It allows the skin to breath, and it prevents heat accumulation. Plus, cotton is gentle on the skin, won’t cause irritation and feels soft to the touch, Savy says.

Softest: Silk sheets. What makes silk so smooth against the skin are the fabric fibers, which are naturally very fine. Silk is expensive, however, so if you’re looking for a less expensive option, try bamboo, which is also incredibly soft, Savy says. “Both tend to become softer after a couple of washes,” he says. “Additionally, natural silk and bamboo sheets are breathable.” Just note that silk and bamboo sheets require delicate care and can be finicky to clean.

Eco-friendly: Bamboo linen sheets. Made from the bamboo plant, which is adaptable and can grow almost anywhere, these are made in an eco-friendly process that’s biodegradable.

For warm sleepers/cooling: If you tend to be cold when you sleep, turn to flannel sheets, Savy says. “Flannel sheets go through a special manufacturing process that causes the fibers to break loose and rise, leading to a somewhat fluffy, soft feel,” he says. Most flannel sheets use either natural cotton or synthetic microfiber.

But the absolute best option for people who are always cold at night would be wool. Natural wool fibers do an amazing job of keeping sleepers warm. At the same time, such sheets are breathable, so they won’t be likely to cause night sweats, unlike synthetic microfiber, Savy says.

Warm sleepers have more options: The best sheets for those who get hot when they sleep are made from breathable fabrics, such as linen, bamboo and cotton.

Luxury/splurge: The most expensive is the Vicuna wool, which is made from Vicuna sheep of Peru. These sheep can only be sheared once every three years. The process of making the fabric is not only costly, but also time-consuming and strictly regulated.

Allergy sufferers: Look for sheets marked as hypoallergenic to keep mold and dust away. The best hypoallergenic linens are made from cotton, microfiber and wool. They have a tight-weave and prevent dust mite access.

All-season: Cotton is a winner again in this category. It’s breathable, making it great for hot weather. During the colder season, opt for thicker weaves. Plus, cotton is widely available, and it’s inexpensive.

A selection of bedsheets are on display at a store.
A selection of bedding options are displayed at Villa Rosa Linens. Heather Comparetto/The Penny Hoarder

Shopping for Sheets

Here are the details to keep in mind when shopping for sheets.

Cotton Sheets

There are a few types of cotton sheets (we specify some of the more particular cotton blends below in their own categories). Egyptian cotton is more luxurious, feeling even more silky and soft than regular cotton. Typically, if the sheets just say “cotton,” they are American Upland, and they have fibers that are shorter than Egyptian cotton, but they are still durable and soft. If you truly want Egyptian cotton, look for a verification symbol stating that it’s actually Egyptian cotton.

  • Price: $30 – $300 per set.
  • Look and feel: Soft, slightly glossy.
  • Durability: Long-lasting.
  • Breathability: Good.
  • Ease of care: Easy.

Sateen Sheets

This is a mix of cotton into a satin weave, which creates a silky material ideal for cold climates. They aren’t as crisp as regular or Egyptian cotton.

  • Price: $50 – $200 per set.
  • Look and feel: Glossy and shiny.
  • Durability: Long-lasting.
  • Breathability: Good.
  • Ease of care: Easy.

Percale Sheets

Cotton percale sheets feature cotton fibers, and they have a weave pattern that’s very tight. Typically, percale has a threat count of 180 or higher, so they’re durable and easy to wash and don’t wrinkle.

  • Price: $30 – $100 per set.
  • Look and feel: Glossless and extra smooth.
  • Durability: Long-lasting.
  • Breathability: Good.
  • Ease of care: Easy.

Silk Sheets

More expensive than cotton sheets, silk sheets fall into the luxury sheet category. They need to be washed in a gentle cycle, and it’s best if you use a detergent specifically designed for silk. Don’t put your silk sheets in the dryer, or they can snag and pill (hang them to dry). You’ll be rewarded with super soft bedding which is temperature regulating and great for your skin.

  • Price: $150 – $1,500 per set.
  • Look and feel: Incredibly soft and shiny.
  • Durability If you care for silk sheets properly, they can last for a long time. If not, you won’t get much life out of them, as these are delicate.
  • Breathability: Silk is a breathable fabric that regulates temperature.
  • Ease of care: Relatively difficult. These need to be washed individually on a low heat, they need to be air dried and stored carefully.

Bamboo Sheets

Naturally resistant to bacteria, dust mites and pathogens, bamboo sheets are an eco-friendly alternative to cotton. These are sustainable, breathable and durable.

  • Price: $100 – $150 per set.
  • Look and feel: Silky and soft.
  • Durability: Very durable.
  • Breathability: These are even more breathable to cotton, and they stay away from skin even when you’re hot.
  • Ease of care: Relatively easy. Wash separately in colder water without bleach. If possible, line dry.

Wool Sheets

These may be the most expensive sheets (or at least comparable to silk sheets), but if you sleep cold, they could be worth the investment. They’re temperature-regulating, and have moisture-wicking properties — and studies have shown that they help people sleep deeper and longer (and no, they’re not itchy).

  • Price: $300 – $500 per set.
  • Look and feel: Soft, warm and sometimes slightly oily.
  • Durability: Long-lasting if cared for correctly.
  • Breathability: Good.
  • Ease of care: Difficult. Some wool linens are machine washable, but most are not. You may need to take your wool sheets to the dry cleaners, or use the wool setting. You need to line dry your wool sheets. The good news is that wool sheets don’t need to be washed often, as it’s naturally antibacterial.

The Best Bed Sheets You Can Afford

Let’s look again at this hypothetical set of French-made Egyptian-cotton 200-thread-count percale sheets.

For a queen-size bed, you can expect to pay $300 for that sheet set. Got a king? That’ll be about $400.

That’s your starting point for the highest-quality sheets.

The good news: If you spend that much on sheets, you can expect them to last a long time. We’re talking 10 years or more — the elastic may give out before the sheets themselves. Azorin says if you’re splurging on high-quality sheets, buy them in white or ecru (that creamy off-white) so they’ll go with whatever bedding and decor you pair them with for years to come.

Not ready for a full set of multi-hundred-dollar sheets? Save up for a set of nice pillowcases.

“They’re the closest to your face,” Azorin said. She found a price of $160 for a 300-thread count set of Egyptian cotton, sateen pillowcases.

Still not in your price range? No problem.

If you like to get cozy at night or live in a colder climate, you can buy Egyptian cotton-polyester blend sheets. Expect to pay about $120 for a set of 300-thread-count queen sheets.

But if you run hot — you always end up kicking the covers off around 4 a.m. — you should opt for 100% cotton (not Egyptian or Pima, just regular old cotton). It’ll stay cool to the touch all night long.

Expect to pay about $135 for a queen-sized set of 100% cotton sheets. We compared prices for Macy’s Charter Club-brand sheets to give you an idea of what you’d find at a department store, but you may be able to find a bargain at a discount store or online.

Caring for Bed Sheets

Azorin has owned her Tampa, Florida, linen shop for more than 30 years and has fielded so many customer inquiries about care that she created a line of linen washes.

The first thing to do to make sure your sheets last is to stop drying them on high heat.

“It breaks the fabric down, which causes pilling on cotton sheets that turn into holes,” Azorin said.

Plus, that high heat breaks down the elastic on fitted sheets.

Instead, dry your sheets on the normal or delicate setting. If you have time and space, hanging them to dry is even better.

Another way to preserve your bedding is to skip using dryer sheets on anything cotton. Dryer sheets are coated with fabric-softening chemicals, Azorin explains, but underneath they’re just pieces of polyester fabric. That polyester is scratchy and too rough for cotton sheets, causing them to pill after too many tumbles with a dryer sheet.

Using a topical medication like benzoyl peroxide for acne? Medication stains never come out. Skip the quality sheets for now, and go with a cheap set.

One final tip from Azorin: If you can’t help but let your pets sleep in bed with you, get a lower thread count in a percale. Your pet’s claws will create holes in other styles of sheets.

Danielle Braff and Lisa Rowan are Penny Hoarder contributors.