With hundreds of options for literally every product out there, a bedding buying guide can be useful for understanding the basic differences between sheets, pillows and other bedding accessories. From thread count to types of fabrics, subtle differences in description can a big have an impact on comfort and value. This bedding buying guide will explain the key differences and trends for bed sheets, pillows, mattress toppers and more to help shoppers make smarter shopping decisions.
Bed Sheet Buying Guide
Sheets are an important component of overall sleep comfort, as they can complement or detract from a mattress. Learn the basics of bed sheets to see what you should check for when shopping.
- Cotton – Cotton is the most popular and ubiquitous bedding fabric because it feels nice against skin and is breathable. There are several different types of cotton sheets available, but here are the most common:
- Percale Cotton – smooth, tightly woven cotton fabric. Feel tends to be cool and crisp.
- Sateen Cotton – a specific weaving technique focused on smoothness and softness.
- Combed Cotton – fabric made from yarns that have been combed to reduce impurities and short strands, producing finer, more lustrous fabrics. Very high thread count sheets are often made with fine combed cotton yarns.
- Egyptian Cotton – a type of cotton with longer and stronger fibers than common varieties, often described as more durable and breathable.
- Pima/Supima Cotton – another type of long-staple cotton, with similar properties as Egyptian cotton, but grown in the US.
- Jersey – t-shirt type fabric with soft stretchy feel, often blended with polyester or rayon.
- Organic Cotton – cotton grown without chemical pesticides and not treated with harmful additives. Organic cotton is attractive people who follow natural or eco-friendly lifestyles as regular cotton is the most ecologically “dirty” crop currently grown.
- Blended Cotton – cotton interwoven with polyester or other materials. May be rougher or less breathable than pure cotton.
- Bamboo – Bamboo plants are eco-friendly and their pulp can be turned into fabric fibers by undergoing a chemical process. Bamboo is often blended with cotton, and can yield very silky and breathable fabrics.
- Artificial Fibers – Fibers with plant-origin, but created with artificial treatments. These tend be strong and can be soft, but may be prone to shrinking and may not be as breathable as cotton. Examples include rayon made of bamboo, Tencel and Modal.
- Polyester – Polyester is a synthetic fabric known for being cheap and relatively strong. However, it is also considerably less breathable than natural fibers like cotton, and tends to feel slightly rougher. Often it is blended with cotton or other fibers to improve the feel.
- Satin – Satin is made from polyester, and has silky feel and shiny luster. Good quality satin sheets feel soft against the skin and are cheaper than silk, but are not as smooth, durable or breathable.
- Silk – Silk remains one of the most expensive fabrics due to labor-intensive production method. It offers a smooth feel, durability, absorbency and breathability, but can be hard to care for and quite costly. Pure silk sheets are measured for quality in mommes as opposed to thread count.
Thread count is a measure of how many threads are present in a square inch of fabric, horizontally and vertically. This is used to measure cotton and cotton blend fabrics, and is one measure of quality. Sheets under 200 TC are typically considered low or average, while 200-300 is in the medium range and higher than 300 is high.
High thread counts typically have a smoother, softer feel and better durability than low thread count sheets. However, there is considerable debate of whether thread counts in 1000s actually provide significant benefits over 400-600 TC measures. This is because very high thread count sheets typically achieve their TCs by greater numbers of finer threads together before weaving.
When shopping for new sheets, always make sure to double check your mattress size by measuring the width and length in inches. US mattress sizes and bedding are typically standardized along the following parameters:
- Twin – 38-39” x 75”
- Twin XL/Long- 38-39” x 80”
- Twin XXL – 38” x 84”
- Single (waterbeds) – 48” x 84”
- Full/Double – 54-55” x 75”
- Full XL – 54-55” x 80”
- Queen – 60” x 80”
- Split Queen – 30” x 80” per side
- Cal Queen (waterbeds) – 60” x 84”
- King – 76” x 80”
- Split King – 38” x 80” per side
- Cal King – 72” x 84”
- Split Cal King – 36” x 84” per side
The fitted sheet is the one that covers the mattress itself and usually has elastic around part or all of the edges.The flat sheet is the one that goes above the fitted sheet and under the comforter. A sheet set typically includes the flat sheet, fitted sheet, and pillowcases (expect 1 for twin and full size, 2 for queen and king size).
Choosing the Best Sheets
How Deep is Your Mattress?
When sheet shopping, you will want to make note of the depth of your mattress (how tall it is) to compare against the pocket depth for the fitted sheet. For memory foam, air and latex mattresses, make sure there is a little extra space in the pocket depth to allow the surface to contour.
Do You Sleep Hot or Cold?
If you tend to sleep hot, you want to make sure you choose a more breathable and absorbent fabric. Natural fibers like 100% cotton, silk or bamboo rayon are probably the best options. If you tend to feel too cold in bed, you may find the insulating effects of synthetic fabrics, jersey, and flannel more preferable.
Do You Prefer Crispness or Softness?
If you like crisp sheets that feel cool to the touch, percale weave is likely to be most comfortable to you. If you are more partial to soft, silky or smooth sheets, sateen weave fabrics will probably more pleasing.
Do have allergies or sensitive skin?
Organic cotton sheets are perhaps one of the mildest options available. Many other fabrics are chemically treated with softeners, pesticides or dyes that can irritate sensitive skin. Look for certifications like GOTS or OEKO-Tex to insure you are getting a quality, safe product.
Pillow Buying Guide
Bed pillows come in many varieties with each type and shape offering pros and cons depending on sleep preferences.
- Down Pillows – Down and feather pillows are stuffed with natural feathers, and are one of the oldest types of pillows. These are usually quite durable, but may be expensive, lack support and may aggravate dander or dust allergies (though treated varieties are available).
- Polyester Fiber/Down Alternative Pillows – These are perhaps the most common type pillow, stuffed with synthetic polyester fibers. These are often marketed as down-alternative or hypoallergenic pillows. These tend to compress quickest and offer little support, but are usually cheap.
- Memory Foam Pillows – Visco-elastic memory foam pillows provide soft support and prove fairly durable. They can come in shredded/stuffed varieties or as a solid piece of straight or contoured memory foam. Memory foam is more resistant to dust mites than fiber pillows, and some varieties can be made with more eco-friendly ingredients than traditional memory foam.
- Latex Pillows – Latex foam can be either synthetic, all-natural or blended, and can come in shredded or contoured pillow shapes. Natural latex pillows are more expensive than many other types, but are quite durable, hypoallergenic, and dust might/microbe resistant.
- Natural Fiber Pillows – Other pillows available include cotton, flax, silk, buckwheat and wool-stuffed varieties. Flax and buckwheat can be a little stiff and the texture may not be enjoyable for all people. Silk stuffed pillows are often expensive, but soft and breathable. Cotton and wool are also good at regulating temperatures but may difficult to wash and prone to compression.
Pillow & Sleep Position
- Side Sleepers – Side sleepers need pillows that can provide neck support without placing their head at an awkward angle. Memory foam, latex, and firmer, high-loft fiber/down pillows would be the best options. Pillows with built-in neck contours may be more comfortable than flat pillows for some.
- Back Sleepers – Back sleepers should choose pillows that keep their head slightly elevated, but not so high that their neck is curved upward. Medium firmness pillows that maintain their support throughout the night usually prove ideal.
- Stomach Sleepers – Stomach sleepers should choose fairly flat and soft pillows so as not distort the natural alignment of neck. Fiber and down filled pillows are usually your best best.
Mattress Topper Buying Guide
A mattress topper can provide added comfort to a too-firm bed or extend the life a mattress. Made from a variety of materials, toppers usually help soften a surface or provide extra cushioning, but may also help with temperature control as well. Mattress toppers are best utilized on beds that are still structurally sound, that is without extensive sagging or loss of support. Toppers come in the same sizes as conventional mattresses, and can range from one inch to over four or more inches in thickness
Memory Foam Toppers
Memory foam toppers are excellent for pressure point relief and can be used with all types of mattresses. Back sleepers and petite people should look for memory foam toppers of at least 2 inches, while side sleepers and larger-framed people should look for toppers of 3-4”. Toppers made with medium density (4-5lb), open-celled foam are most likely to sleep cool, and those with OEKO-Tex or CertiPur certification are ideal for people looking to avoid chemicals. However, if your bed is already too soft or has noticeable sagging, a memory foam topper may not be the optimal solution.
Latex mattress toppers offer a more springy, resilient feel than memory foam, while still providing pressure relief. Latex made in the Talalay process proves ideal for mattress toppers, as it can be made in a wide range of firmnesses from firm to plush. Latex toppers can provide a firmer surface than most other types of mattress toppers, and those with ventilated designs help with breathability. All-natural latex toppers offer hypoallergenic sleep surfaces free of synthetic chemicals for those looking to avoid toxins or allergens.
Down Feather Toppers
Down feather toppers or feather beds are quilted toppers stuffed with down and feathers. These provide a very fluffy and lofty feel, but may be more prone to trigger allergies and more difficult to care for than other types of toppers. Feather toppers that have boxed or quilted designs help prevent the filling from bunching up or spreading out.
Other Topper Types
- Wool Toppers – Natural wool is an excellent material for wicking moisture and regulating temperatures in both winter and summer and is hypoallergenic and dust mite resistant. Toppers stuffed with wool can provide good comfort and durability, but may be pricey and difficult to care for.
- Egg-crate foams – These foam toppers have a rippled appearance, and are typically made of standard-grade polyurethane foam. While they can provide a cheap fix, they may wear fairly quickly and provide limited pressure point relief.
- Temperature Control Toppers – These newer types of toppers allow sleepers to adjust the temperature of the mattress surface to be either cooler or warmer, and some have dual controls for each side of the bed. If you sleep too cool or warm or have a partner with different preferences, this can be a useful item.
- Mattress Pads – mattress pads fit over the bed like a fitted sheet as opposed to a topper, which lays above the mattress. Mattress pads are typically made of cotton, fiber blends or wool but may also come with memory foam and latex (but often in thinner layers than toppers).
Mattress Protector Buying Guide
Mattress protectors are designed to prevent spills or allergens from reaching the mattress. There are several different types of mattress protectors to consider based on your protection needs. Most will have cotton or cotton blend surfaces above the protection layer for added comfort, but usually do not have much padding. They can be a valuable investment, as preventing stains and allergens keeps your bed healthy and extends its lifespan. Many new mattress warranties and in-home trial offers actually require the use of mattress protectors and may deny claims on stained beds.
Types of Mattress Protectors
- Elastic Strap Protectors – These type of protectors only cover the top surface of the mattress and have elastic straps that attach to the corners of the bed. They tend to be most affordable, but offer the least protection and may shift around more than fitted and zippered toppers.
- Slip-On Protectors – These mattress protectors go over your bed like an elasticized fitted sheet, and are primarily designed to protect the top of the mattress. These types of toppers are ideal if your goal is to prevent surface stains and spills, and are typically the most affordable type.
- Zippered Protectors – Zip on protectors cover the entire mattress, with a zipper around the bottom perimeter for taking the topper on and off. These types of protectors may offer coverage for all sides of the mattress (excluding the bottom), can help with both stains and allergens.
- Mattress Encasements – Encasements are zippered toppers with more advanced designs that completely seal in the underlying mattress from top to bottom. These protectors can be used to eliminate bed bugs and dust mites as well as spills, and are most optimal for people with environmental allergies.
Waterproof versus Water-Resistant
Waterproof covers are designed to be virtually impermeable to liquids. These types of mattress protectors are ideal for children, people with incontinence, or people whose pets sleep in their beds. Though waterproof covers will eliminate costly accidents and odors, they are often less breathable than other types of covers. Newer polyurethane-backed protectors do offer less noise and more breathability than older rubber and plastic designs however.
Water-resistant covers are good for preventing sweat and small spills like drinks from seeping through, though spills will need to cleaned up quickly as water-resistant covers are still permeable. The upside of water-resistant covers is that they are more breathable for every-night use while still offering an additional layer of protection for your mattress.
With this bedding buying guide, you should now be well equipped to understand the basics of mattress accessories, from sheets to protectors to pillows. There are many more products than we have space to cover here, but being informed on the basics is a good way to begin your research and comparisons. Let us know in the comments below if you have any questions or additional features you think would be helpful to include in the bedding buying guide!