Buying decent sheets is confusing, and almost laughably so. What is sateen? Someone told me thread count doesn’t matter anymore — is that true? What in the world do plys mean, and why are there staples in cotton?
All fair questions, and all the result of a decades-long practice by brands bamboozling customers in hopes they’d just buy bedding without thought. Luckily, the reign of the thread-count scammers and quality skimpers is ending. In their place: a wave of direct-to-consumer brands that skip out on distribution and stocking costs in favor of materials and craftsmanship. And with them, mega brands, too, have become at least a bit more honest about their affordable offerings. We tested out 36 different sheet sets to find out which ones do their job the best.
- Best Overall Sheets: Riley Home Percale Sheet Set
- Best Splurge Sheets: Cultiver Linen Sheet Set
- Best Affordable Sheets: Target Threshold Organic Cotton Solid Sheets
- Best Percale Sheets: Boll & Branch Percale Solid Sheet Set
- Best Sateen Sheets: Cuddledown Hotel Sateen Sheet Set
- Best Tencel Sheets: West Elm Tencel Sheet Set
- Best Flannel Sheets: L.L. Bean Ultrasoft Comfort Flannel Sheet Set
- Best Affordable Linen Sheets: Brooklinen Linen Core Sheet Set
- Best Affordable Sateen Sheets: Target Threshold Organic Cotton Sateen Sheet Set
- Best Sheets for Hot Sleepers: Authenticity50 Percale Sheets
- Best Sheets on Amazon: Perú Pima Percale Sheet Set
- Best-Looking Sheets: Coyuchi Organic Crinkled Percale Sheet Set
- Best Eco-Friendly Sheets: Alterra Pure GOTS-Organic Cotton Percale Sheet Set
Bed Sheet FAQs
What’s the Best Thread Count?
“Pumped-up numbers with inferior, multi-ply yarn, the [thread count] numbers are often lies to begin with. A higher thread count doesn’t equate to better quality. Stay within the 200- to 300-range and you’ll be good,” said Jimmy McDonald, cofounder of Authenticity50.
Every sheet maker we spoke with echoed a similar sentiment. Thread count just isn’t a good measure of quality as a standalone figure, apart from exposing sellers who are (probably) trying to rip you off. If you see any sheets above with a thread count of 500 or above, regardless of material or weave, feel free to take that as a big red sign that says “bullshit.” There’s only so many threads you can squeeze into a square inch of fabric, so these higher thread counts are either adding plies to their sheet and counting those as double or artificially weaving in more threads, which is only going to make for a hotter, heavier sheet anyway.
What’s the Difference Between Percale and Sateen?
The vast majority of people sleep on percale — it’s crisp, cool and versatile. Its balanced weave allows air to flow through the sheet, and allows the sheet to stack in areas and “float” above the skin, creating more avenues for air to keep you cool.
Sateen isn’t without its own strengths, though. Its predominantly vertical, unbalanced weave gives it less rigidity than percale, allowing it to fall and drape on a bed more attractively than other weaves. It’s a better choice for people with significantly more sensitive skin, as it’s much smoother to the touch than other popular bedding weaves and materials.
Sateen’s downsides pertain to durability and its knack for insulating too much heat. The imbalanced weave of sateen makes it more likely for pilling, sheen loss and tears to occur, so it will typically show wear more quickly. The weave is also responsible for a detracted airflow, meaning you’ll be warmer than you would be under percale.
What Is “Egyptian Cotton,” and Why Does the Type of Cotton Matter?
Egyptian cotton is probably the most famous type of cotton, and rightfully so — real Egyptian cotton is extremely long-staple cotton that can be wound into a long, tight and soft yarn that makes for durable, cozy textiles. Unfortunately, odds are the sheets you bought, even if they say they’re made with Egyptian cotton, aren’t. Truth is, there aren’t many good ways to determine if a set of sheets is using all real Egyptian cotton, as brands often use a trace amount to claim it as a marketing tool.
Supima cotton is an American-grown variety of true Egyptian cotton, and fabric must be certified by the American Supima Association to call itself Supima (find an updated list of brands that use Supima here). Most premium brands will use one version or another of long or extra-long staple cotton, which is a good indicator the company is using quality materials. As noted above, the longer the staple, the greater the fabric’s durability. It’s also useful to check for a GOTS certification to make sure you’re getting sheets made without any toxic materials and in an ecologically-friendly way.
Why Does Linen Feel Scratchy at First?
While all percale and sateen sheets are made from cotton, linen is made from flax, which is a different beast altogether. Where cotton is extracted in a fluffy ball called a boll, the fiber used to make linen is a bast fiber that more resembles what you’d expect from a plant product. Bast fibers are taken from the core of the flax plant, and, as such, are not fluffy or pleasant initially — but their tensile strength is naturally higher than cotton.
The roughness of linen sheets when they ship to your home isn’t indicative of their quality — you have to give linen time to break into its charm. Softer qualities are brought out over time through wash and wear. A good rule of thumb with linen (and all sheets, really) is to give it a good wash right when you get it to start that process.
The Best Bed Sheets of 2021
For sub-$100, the Riley Home Percale Sheets are a steal, especially with their premium features like long-staple combed cotton and an understated baratta stitch. On a humid summer night, these sheets stayed crisp and cool. The sheets are not made of supima, but you’d be forgiven if you thought they were. The range of colors, the smoothness of the sheets and the overall feel-goodness of them make these the best sheets for your money whether you’re a broke college student or a billionaire.
- Crisp and cool
- Available in a variety of colors and prints
- Comes out of the dryer wrinkly
- Fitted sheet can be too big for some short mattresses
After sleeping on a number of rough and scraggly linen sheets, we found Cultiver's sheets had a shorter break-in period, thanks to a pre-enzyme wash, compared to comparable linen sheets. Cultiver offers its linen sheets in a wide array of muted and understated colors, which is the result of a first-rate dye process. The weaving, sewing and dyeing are all exceptional, a given considering the price point. At $385 for a queen set, they’re certainly an investment, but they're still nowhere near as expensive as other linen sheets that are of a lesser quality.
- High-quality sheets better than options double the price
- Muted colors are brilliantly dyed
- Sheets bunch up around mattress
This one wasn’t even close. Target’s hyper-affordable Threshold-branded sheets easily outclassed the likes of Amazon’s best-selling Mellani sheets, the AmazonBasics line itself, two sets of sub-$50 Walmart sheets and two Ikea sets.
Cheap sheets make their cheapness known in a variety of ways — some show lousy stitching and begin to fray after one wash; some arrive with an off-putting chemical smell; others simply feel crappy to lie on. The Threshold sheets set themselves apart by retaining the basic reasons you’d buy a percale set in the first place — they’re crisp, cool, easy-to-clean and reasonably moisture-wicking. And at $46 for a queen and no weird chemical smells, there’s little to no competition at this price point.
- Soft, crisp and cool
- Super affordable
- Limited selection of colors
- Gets wrinkly
Though not the sheets that made it famous, Boll & Branch’s percale sheets are stellar. They launched in April of 2018, and out of the mountain of percale sheets I tested, this set stood out for a couple reasons: The sheets are a bit airier than the company’s signature sheets, which are made for a cooler (but still cozy) sleeping experience. The percale sheets are made using a plain weave (one-under, one-over) with the brand’s signature organic long-staple cotton, and utilize two very fine plys (layers) that give structure while maintaining maximum breeziness.
- Accommodates all kinds of sleepers
- Not as wrinkly as other percale sheets
- May be too thin for some
- Oversized fitted sheet bunches up
It seems everyone on the internet has crowned Cuddledown’s (try and ignore the name) 400-thread count sateen set the champion of sateen. We should note that sateen is not our favorite bedding material — far from it — but for those who take to the buttery softness, heavier, warmer feel and an admittedly gorgeous sheet drape, Cuddledown is pretty damn great. These sheets are made with length to spare (a feature to accommodate all mattress heights), and they proved themselves to be absurdly wrinkle-resistant. The long-staple cotton used makes for a sheet that won’t wear out as quickly as most sateen sets.
- Buttery soft and cozy
- Doesn't get wrinkly
- Fitted sheet slips off
West Elm's Tencel sheets are famous on TikTok after one social media user praised its silky smooth texture. Tencel as a fabric is one of the best bedding materials for hot sleepers for its ability to wick away moisture and stay cool to the touch, even in severe heat situations. West Elm's sheets are good for those with sensitive skin, and it lacks the scratchiness of cotton or linen sheets, while also lacking any of the crinkly noises that may arise when you move around in bed.
- Breathable, and wicks away moisture
- Richly colored
- Super soft
- Oddly shiny
Cool weather calls for flannel sheets. L.L. Bean makes the best ones you can buy. They're soft, and they'll only get softer with wash and wear. Available in eight colors, the sheets are the perfect way to bring some flair to the bedroom, while keeping you warm when the chill is just unbearable.
- Incredibly soft, and will soften more with subsequent washings
- Not too light or heavy
- Shrink resistant
- May start pilling
Linen sheets are notoriously expensive, so “affordable” is relative here. Starting at $269, Brooklinen’s set is as airy as you’d want it to be, but the weave isn’t too loose either, as was common in testing cheaper linens. When compared with the other linen sheets we tested, the Brooklinen set was significantly softer from the get-go (other than Parachute’s garment-dyed set). The low cost, less aggressively-textured feel and a great variety of colors make Brooklinen’s set a rock-solid linen starter set.
- Softer from the get-go
- Cool for hot sleepers
- Slightly thin
Similar to the budget percale category, there isn’t much competition here. Target’s sateen offering blew other similarly-price sateen sheets out of the water in softness and looks. In fact, apart from a bit less natural wrinkle resistance, they were on par with the Cuddledown sheets. The biggest marks against them pertains to breathability, where they’re easily eclipsed by more premium options. But for less than $50 for a set, not everything can be perfect.
- Excellent value
- Soft against the skin
- Not particularly breathable
Extra-long staple Supima cotton is the crème de la crème in the cotton world, but you typically have to spend half a month’s rent to the real-deal stuff. Not so with Authenticity50’s absurdly well-reviewed Supima percale weave sheets. Made completely in the U.S. (“seed-to-stitch,” the website notes), these sheets were our runner-up for best overall percale sheets due to a body that’s light enough to stay cool in the summer, but not so light you’d need to change them in the winter. You’ll be hard-pressed to find the same mixture of craftsmanship, materials and company-wide transparency for less than $200 — and these start at $139.
- Perfect year-round sheets
- Made in the US
- Inventory issues
Frankly, buying sheets on Amazon is annoyingly tedious. The all-caps descriptions are fluffy, figuratively speaking, and there’s virtually no way to reprimand brands that try to bullshit you. The “Pima” cotton these sheets are made from is not Supima-certified, but it is extra-long-staple cotton nonetheless — and for a really, really solid price at that. Peru Pima has been making these sheets for quite some time, too, and has its own website that’s manned by people who respond to customer service requests. These sound like low bars to hop, but Amazon may very well be the biggest remaining offender in the old bedding-misinformation scheme.
- Good value
- Durable and soft
- Not Supima
Like a well-plated dish can make food taste better, a bed that calls us to it makes sleep better. Coyuchi’s crinkled percale product uses a proprietary low-thread-count weave to create these lightweight, “worn in” sheets. The lower thread count makes them exceptionally airy, yet still heavier on the body — almost like a linen sheet might feel. Pair the sheets and pillowcases with Coyuchi’s traditional percale duvet cover for the coziest, most-photogenic bed imaginable.
- Perfectly broken in
- Available in beautiful colors
- A little thin
Yes, they’re comfortable, too. Alterra Pure’s percale was the runner-up to Authenticity50’s percale in “Best Sheets for Hot Sleepers.” The sheets are wonderfully light, but they’re also the most responsibly raised of any I tested. Alterra uses only recycled and reused water during production and emits a whopping zero gallons of wastewater during production. These 100 percent organic cotton percale-weave sheets are made from Fair Trade-cotton bought from farm co-ops that Alterra Pure works with on various sustainability projects. The materials are GOTS-certified and even produced in an eco-friendly, LEED-certified factory.
- Sustainably made and ethically sourced
- Comfortable and soft
- Limited selection of colors
- Inventory issues
You snooze, you win.