Your bed. It’s where you rest your head at night and rise each morning, ready to face the day. It’s also where you’ll likely spend about a third of your life—and, if one Canadian survey is to be believed, where 14 per cent of us hog the covers each night.
Considering its importance in our lives, spending some money outfitting a twin, queen or king in quality shams, blankets and duvets makes a lot of sense. There’s an economic case to be made for better sleep. Research shows that more than a quarter of Canadians are getting by on less than the recommended seven hours of sleep per night—and that deficit results in 80,000 lost working days per year, costing the economy up to US $21.4 billion in decreased productivity.
Joanna Goodman, owner of Toronto’s Au Lit Fine Linens, who has grown up in the bedding industry, says back when her mom launched the store decades ago, clients would routinely drop serious dough on duvet covers and fancy cushions and then head to cut-rate stores for inexpensive sheets. After all, who was going to see them?
Today, customers are coming around and earmarking more of their cash for the nighttime fabric they actually cozy up right next to, she says. The good news? While it’s never a great idea to buy cheap sheets that are just going to rip, snag or pill after a few uses and washes, as long as you look for some key components when shopping for sheet sets, “whatever your price point is, you’ll be OK,” says Goodman.
Here’s what you’ll want to be on the hunt for:
The key? 100 percent long-staple cotton
While flannel sheets are popular when the cold weather hits, there’s nothing like a set of crisp cotton sheets for all-year comfort, softness and durability. Just make sure you look for these words on the packaging: “100 percent long-staple cotton.” Long-staple (or long-fibre) cotton is softer, more durable and won’t pill, unlike inferior short-staple varieties. Goodman says that Egyptian cotton and the “Pima” variety (from the U.S.) are two of the best in the world and make exceptional sheets, but just be sure you see the 100 percent mark. Without it, a manufacturer could theoretically use only one percent long-staple cotton and hoodwink customers into thinking they’re getting an unbelievable deal on a $50 set.
Casper’s Weightless Cotton set—a 100 percent long-staple cotton sheet set with a hybrid twill weave for extra airy softness—will set you back $120 for a Queen size (or $215 if you opt for the matching duvet cover, too). Or splurge on a $326-$438 starter pack (the price depends on the bed size) from Au Lit, another 100 percent long-staple cotton 220-thread count set that’s said to stay crisp and cool even after multiple washings.
Organic sets are woven from cotton grown with less water and without use of pesticides. Or choose “pure-finish” sheets, another option for those who like the idea of slipping into bed knowing all traces of manufacturing chemicals have been removed. West Elm’s 100 percent organic queen-sized sheet set is $174 and has been pre-washed for a soft and relaxed (read: it can wrinkle) look.
Consider the weave
Most sheet fabric is woven in Europe or Asia. While Italian-woven sheets are often top of the line (and have the price to match), consider sheets woven in Portugal for a good deal on higher-quality coverings.
“They are doing quality on par with Italy at incredible prices,” Goodman explains. “If you have a sheet that is 100 per cent long-staple cotton woven in Portugal, whether it’s $49.99 or $99.99, you can still feel confident.” For cold winter nights, a queen-sized velvet shaved-flannel set for $237 is woven in Portugal, offers softness and warmth, and resists pilling too.
What thread count really means
If you’re thinking you’ve got to shell out big money for a 1,000-thread count sheet, this will make you happy: thread count doesn’t actually count for much when it comes to choosing a sheet you’ll enjoy. Thread count refers to the number of vertical and horizontal threads per square inch, so the difference between a 200-thread count sheet and a 300 set is simply softness. Crisp sheets have a lower count than buttery ones, but they’re both nice.
As long as it’s above 200, thread count is a matter of personal preference. (Anything below 200 is considered muslin and is scratchy like a burlap sack, says Goodman.)
How many sets of sheets do you really need?
If you rotate at least two pairs of good quality cotton sheets, they’ll likely last you a few years—often longer if you wash them weekly. But that’s only if you treat them right.
Wash in warm water and never, ever throw them in a hot drier for a full cycle. Instead, dry them on the hot setting for 15 minutes so they’re no longer soaking wet and then hang them to dry outside (or over a chair or inexpensive rack). “That is what will guarantee extending their lifespan,” says Goodman. The environment—and your gas or electricity bill—will thank you, too.
When to cheap out
Need to cover a kid’s bed? It’s fine to buy inexpensive bedding from, say, Ikea—especially if there are going to be bed-wetting accidents. The guest room is another place where you can save money. A set of soft, microfibre everyday sheets from Bed, Bath and Beyond is only $44 (with plenty of great user reviews) and will do the trick if it’s only used from time to time.
Do you really need a top sheet?
Here’s one more surefire way to slash money on sheets, particularly if you yearn for quality on a budget: don’t use a top sheet. Goodman says no one in her family does, and she herself can’t stand getting tangled up in it either. In fact, a significant number of her customers buy only fitted sheets. Just be sure to gently wash your duvet cover or blanket each week to erase the “ick” factor.