How to Buy Bedding You’ll Actually Love Sleeping on Every Night
You've taken the time to track down the perfect mattress for you, but without good quality sheets, pillows, and blankets, you won't be able to enjoy it as much as you deserve to. This guide to buying bedding is here to help you rest easy and get a better night's sleep, so you don't have to hit snooze in the morning—even though you'll be so cozy, you'll certainly want to.
Jump right in, or click the menu below to skip ahead to the section you need. You can also skip straight to our top bedding picks!
- Shopping for Cotton Sheets
- Shopping for Linen Sheets
- Do You Need a New Pillow?
- The Right Pillow for Each Sleep Style
- Choosing the Right Pillow Fill
- Types of Bed Coverings
- What to Look for in a Comforter
- How to Make Your Bed, According to Designers
- Shop Top Sheets, Pillows, Comforters, and More
When you think about it, most of the fabric you're sleeping on at night is your sheets, especially if you use a top sheet (which designer Kelly Finley of Joy Street Design also recommends—it's cozier and you don't have to wash your blanket or comforter every week, so they can last longer). You're basically sandwiched in between your fitted sheet and your flat sheet, and everything else layers on top. That's why it's important that you're sleeping on sheets you love. "Generally, the sheet is the softest thing that you're going to put on you, so to have another layer of that before you get to the comforter or the blanket—it just makes more sense to me," Finley says.
Whether you're on the hunt for the perfect cotton sheets or you prefer to lounge in linen, here's what you need to know. And of course, there are tons of other materials on the market for sheets including Tencel, silk, satin, bamboo, microfiber, and so much more, so if linen or cotton just aren't for you, try looking into some of those alternatives to see if you can find a better fit!
Shopping for Cotton Sheets
Does Thread Count Actually Matter?
If you've ever been on the hunt for quality cotton sheets, you've probably been told that thread count is the most important thing to look for. But as it turns out, thread count is not the end-all, be-all of what makes your sheets all soft and cozy.
Thread count, if you're not familiar, refers to the number of horizontal (weft) and vertical (warp) yarns per each square inch of fabric. And as Katie Elks, director of design and product development at Brooklinen, tells House Beautiful, there are ways that some manufacturers inflate that number, making them seem like they have a higher thread count and thus, higher quality sheets.
"Some manufacturers use multi-ply yarns which are made from poor short-staple fiber cotton, which is then plied together to make a durable yarn," she says. "These manufacturers then inflate their thread count by saying the multi-ply yarn is actually two or three yarns, so the thread count is inflated two or three times, when in fact the yarn is a coarse multi-ply yarn that can make the fabric rough."
As a result, Parachute founder Ariel Kaye says thread count is "largely a marketing gimmick."
Check the Quality of the Fibers Instead
So, what should you look for instead? Rather than focus on thread count, you're better off looking at the quality of the cotton itself. Both Kaye and Elks recommend looking for long-staple cotton. Since those inflated thread count, multi-ply yarns are made with short-staple cotton, buying sheets made with long-staple cotton will ensure better durability and softness.
"Longer fibers result in a crisp, smooth finish," Elks explains. "Long-staple is also a better quality material that doesn't pill or tear in the weaving process."
It's also better to focus on the length of the cotton fibers versus the origin of the cotton (think Egyptian, Supima, and Pima cottons). The origin of these fibers, Elks says, isn't always traceable or reliable, but notes that those terms do generally refer to long-staple fibers anyway.
Don't Forget About the Weave, Either
The length of the fibers may indicate quality in cotton sheets, but weave is what will most impact how your cotton sheets feel to you. The most common weaves you find when shopping for cotton are sateen and percale. And if you're not sure what the differences are, this quick breakdown should help!
- Sateen: As you might guess just from the name, sateen sheets have a satin-like feel and a little bit of a sheen, too. Kaye explains that sateen sheets are made using a "four-under-over weave" to give them their signature luster, keep them wrinkle-resistant, and make them retain warmth better—great for winter months, or those who sleep cold.
- Percale: The best pick for hot sleepers, percale uses more of a plain weave construction as Elks describes it, or what Kaye calls a "one-over-one-under weave." Percale sheets are crisp, matte, and have a cool feel, like luxe hotel sheets. If you prefer them a little softer, opt for a brushed or combed option—these, Kaye says, are lightly brushed by a machine to give the fibers a softer, more textured finish. Think of it like sleeping in your favorite t-shirt, but more breathable.
Shopping for Linen Sheets
How Is Linen Different From Cotton?
If you've only ever slept on linen sheets your whole life, you might not know how the two materials compare. The main difference, of course, is that they're made with two different plants. Cotton is, obviously, made from the cotton plant, while linen is made from the flax plant. And being made from different materials means that they feel and behave differently. One of the main things that sets linen sheets apart is how they handle heat and moisture.
"Really good cotton is really nice, and really good linen is really nice," Jason Evege, the founder and creative director of Linoto tells House Beautiful. "But I think the fundamental difference between them is that cotton is very absorbent, but doesn't dry that quickly. Linen is very absorbent and also dries much more quickly. Flax fibers can absorb a lot of moisture without feeling wet, and they also release a lot of moisture quickly. Also, the ambient temperature of linen is lower, so it feels cooler against your skin," Evege adds.
Linen also isn't woven as tightly as cotton, making it ultra breathable since air can flow through it much easier. "The diameter of the yarn—the construction of a flax yarn, versus a cotton yarn, is just fundamentally different," Evege explains. "You can make super fine cotton because the filaments are actually smaller than the flax fibers, but it's not possible to weave a flax fiber that tight."
Another key difference, Evege says, is that linen sheets have what's called "greater vegetal mass," and that seems to be one of the qualities people who prefer linen sheets enjoy. "It's just heavier—it's the same reason it feels good to be submerged in water or use a weighted blanket," he says. "A yard of linen weighs more than a yard of cotton, it's just more dense and feels heavier."
What to Look for in Linen Sheets
"As much as people want to say the higher the thread count, the better, that's not entirely true, because you want it to also breathe and allow air to pass through," Evege says.
That said, thread count isn't so much of a factor for linen sheets. There's an equivalent called "picks" that you can look at instead, but the number is much lower because the yarns are larger and the weave isn't as tight. And much like cotton sheets, this number is less of a concern when it comes to quality.
"What's more important—and this is true of any high quality fabric—than the thread count is the actual quality of the raw material that went into making it in the first place," Evege says.
Just like how cotton sheets that use long-staple fibers are better quality, linen sheets that use longer, stronger fibers are what you want to look for when you're shopping. "Essentially, a flax plant or crop will yield a large range of usable fibers, and some of them are longer, stronger, single pieces, and some of them are shorter, weaker pieces," Evege explains." What makes the linen fabric better quality is the ratio of those longer, stronger fibers that goes into spinning the yarn that the fabric is then woven into."
Another thing to note is that high quality linen might not feel as soft as you might want it to right out of the package. "The better quality fabric, generally speaking, is a little bit stiff and crunchy when it's brand new, and it has to be broken in and washed," Evege says. "That action of washing it and drying it—without any chemicals or anything—will naturally cause that to happen."
Thinner linens, on the other hand, might feel softer upon first touch, but they'll wear out quicker, he notes.
Do Linen Sheets Really Last Forever?
You've probably heard that linen is more durable and gets softer and better over time, or even that linen sheets can last forever. But as Evege points out, that's not necessarily true.
"People do have this idea that linen will last forever," Evege says. "This is what I would say: Linen fitted sheets in regular use will wear out more quickly just because they see a lot more wear and tear. But most things actually do last quite a long time, and it just goes back to the quality of the raw materials."
The trick to caring for your linen sheets (which, by the way, also makes them softer and less wrinkly!) is to not dry them all the way. "Flax fibers are actually hollow, so they dry out more quickly. If you dry it until it's bone dry, it seizes up—it's not good for it," Evege says. Instead, take your linen sheets and clothing out of the dryer while they're still a little damp, and let them dry the rest of the way naturally.
The pillows you sleep on aren't just for looks. Consider them an extension of your mattress—you need your pillow to support your head and neck the way your mattress supports your entire body. After all, as John Merwin, founder and CEO of Brooklyn Bedding, tells House Beautiful, your pillow constitutes 20 percent of your sleep surface.
Do You Need a New Pillow?
Since your pillow is such an important part of your bed, it's key to know the signs of when your pillows need replacing. To help, Merwin shares what to look out for.
It's time to replace your pillow if...
- It no longer supports your head and neck adequately.
- It's lumpy and misshapen.
- It doesn't resume its original shape.
- You notice any stains or unpleasant smells.
- You feel aches and pains in your neck and shoulders.
- You feel fatigue after a full night's sleep.
- You're experiencing headaches, or even teeth grinding.
"Pro tip: If you're experiencing headaches or neck pain, replace your pillow first before going to the expense of replacing your mattress," Merwin says. "It may all come down to that one sleep accessory."
Another thing to keep in mind? Pillows don't last all that long, so if you've had yours for several years, it's probably time to make a swap. "Most sleep experts recommend replacing your pillow every two years," Merwin says. He adds that you can get more life out of your pillow by purchasing one with a removable, zippered, washable cover—and no, it's not the same thing as a pillowcase, but rather, an extra layer. "Similar to a full-coverage mattress encasement, washable covers represent an added layer of protection, creating a more durable surface and actually adding to the durability and longevity of what's inside your pillow."
Consider Your Sleep Style
The most important thing to think about when you're shopping for a pillow is what position you sleep in. How you sleep determines what will make you comfortable and what will work best to keep your spine properly aligned in bed. According to the National Sleep Foundation, these are the types of pillows one might prefer—and really, what you need for proper support—depending on how you sleep.
- For side sleepers... a pillow that's thicker with a higher loft will work best for you, keeping your head up and your spine properly aligned while you snooze.
- For stomach sleepers... a softer, flatter pillow is what you need—too thick and your head will be propped up too high, which can lead to neck pain.
- For back sleepers... a pillow that's somewhere in the middle—not too thin or too lofty—will likely hit the spot for you.
"The most important consideration in choosing a pillow, relative to your sleep position, is the loft," Merwin says. "The firmness level of the pillow and the type of material chosen tend to be a matter of preference."
For instance, you might be a back sleeper who prefers a firmer pillow. Or, maybe you're a side sleeper who prefers a softer feel. That means you need to look for a pillow that provides you with the higher loft you need as a side sleeper while also giving you the most comfortable feel, and it all comes down to the fill.
Choose the Right Fill
While there are a lot of different types of pillows on the market, there are a few main types of fill you'll see most commonly: Down, down-alternative, memory foam, and latex (which, you might not realize, is also a type of foam!) are all pretty standard options with different qualities that set them apart.
- Down: Down is a filling that's made with clusters from the undercoating of birds like geese and ducks, according to Kaye. Down is often mixed with feathers, too. If you're shopping for down pillows or other bedding, you'll want to check with the brand to see how the down was sourced to make sure it was responsibly obtained (aka keeping the welfare and humane treatment of ducks and geese in mind). You can read more about the Responsible Down Standard at responsibledown.org.
- Down Alternative: Down alternative fill, according to Elks, is made from a synthetic microfiber that's designed to give the same level of insulation and fluff as down, but without the use of animal products (so if you live a vegan lifestyle but like a fluffy pillow, this one's for you). Since some people are allergic to down and feathers, it's also hypoallergenic alternative, and is often more budget-friendly.
- Memory Foam: Considered a "slow response foam," Merwin says memory foam is best-in-class for motion isolation, and extremely adaptable to the curves of the body. As a result, he says, it's a great material for side sleepers. Memory foam does tend to trap more heat than some of the other options out there, so if you're a hot sleeper, make sure you look at cooling treatments or ventilation for better temperature moderation, Merwin suggests.
- Latex: Latex is another type of foam that can be synthetic, like memory foam, but you'll often find it on the market as a natural option (natural latex is derived from the sap of rubber trees!). Latex has a unique buoyancy and high-responsiveness to movement thanks to its elasticity. According to Merwin, it offers "tremendous pressure point relief, breathability, and resilience." Natural latex is also breathable and a good option for those looking for more environmentally-friendly materials, he adds. Latex also has a lot of versatility when it comes to firmness levels.
Once you've got your base of sheets and pillows—on a mattress you love, of course!—it's time to top it all off. What you sleep under and how or if you layer your bedding is totally up to you, and you've got no shortage of options in the bed coverings department. You can use a quilt, a coverlet, a duvet or comforter, or some combination of these options to create your perfect cozy space. If you're not sure what will work best for your bed, here's what you need to know.
Types of Bed Coverings
Duvets and Comforters
First thing's first: If you think a duvet insert and a comforter are the same thing, you're not wrong. Duvet inserts are also commonly referred to as comforters, and that's how we'll be defining comforters in this section, too. But it's worth noting that's not the only definition of a comforter. If you've ever bought a "bed in a bag" from a retailer like Bed Bath & Beyond or Target, you'll be familiar with the other type of comforter, which is essentially a decorative outer shell filled with synthetic fibers. With a duvet insert, the shell is plain and meant to be covered by a more decorative removable duvet cover, which you can swap out and wash much more easily.
Duvet inserts and comforters (with the exception of those aforementioned decorative, all-in-one comforters, which have a synthetic fill) come in down and down alternative fill options, just like pillows. (If you skipped ahead, click here to read more about the difference!). Duvets and comforters tend to be big and fluffy, and they're great for winter thanks to their insulation.
Quilts and Coverlets
Unlike duvets and comforters, quilts aren't big and fluffy, but they are made with three layers. They're filled with a thinner middle layer of batting, with a layer of fabric on either side that is typically decorative (be it in bold prints or just a simple, solid color). Quilts are a lighter, cooler alternative to comforters and duvets, but can still feel warm and cozy, especially when layered with other bedding. Coverlets, on the other hand, are made from a single piece of fabric without a filling inside, so they're the lightest, coolest option on this list. They also make great layering pieces, especially for summer or just as a decorative addition to your bed.
How to Shop for a Comforter
When shopping for quilts, coverlets, and blankets in general, it's really a matter of preference—the design you like and the overall feel of it: whether you want something a little heavier or more lightweight, and how soft you want it to be. The same is true of comforters and duvet inserts, but there are some things you should consider and look for to make sure your new comforter is good quality and will suit your needs.
First, some questions to ask yourself:
- Do you want a down or down alternative duvet insert? Figuring this out before you start shopping will make the process of narrowing down your options a lot easier from the start. And if you're looking for a designer's input, Finley says that she prefers down alternative comforters and typically uses those for her clients unless down is specifically requested, especially since people can be allergic to down.
- Are you a hot sleeper? An important thing to consider, Kaye says, is whether you sleep hot or cold. That will indicate whether or not you'll want a lighter weight, all-season comforter, or a heavier weight one that would typically be reserved for winter.
As far as buying a quality comforter goes, whether you go for a down or down alternative comforter, both Kaye and Elks agree that you should look for what's called a baffle box construction. "It keeps the feathers and fibers evenly distributed throughout the insert," Kaye explains.
If you've decided on a down comforter, here are a few important things to look into:
- Responsible Down Standard certification. Kaye reiterates that buying from a brand that has RDS certified down products is key to ensure the fill comes from humanely treated ducks and geese.
- The fill power. "This measures fluffiness and indicates the amount of air an ounce of the down can trap, and thus its ability to insulate," Kaye says. Elks adds that you'll want to look for a minimum of 600 fill power for a lightweight duvet insert. "You can add fill power from there for a warmer, fluffier comforter," she says.
- The ratio of down clusters to feathers. Elks advises those shopping for a down comforter to look for a minimum of 75 percent down clusters. "This is the industry standard, and down clusters are more soft, effective, and long-lasting than down feathers," she explains."
And no matter what type of bed covering you buy, designer Kati Curtis says to look for high quality and durable fabrics, especially if you have pets—and of course, to just have fun with it! "Feel free to express your personality and splurge on decorative pieces for your bed as well—you use this piece every night, so why not make it beautiful?"
Curtis also notes that, if you're looking to save money on something like window treatments in the bedroom, a bolder duvet cover is a great way to do just that, since your bed takes up just as much, if not more, visual real estate. "Your bed takes up so much of a bedroom, with a duvet you can really incorporate pattern and color in a way that's going to make a huge impact in your room!"
Go ahead, hit snooze.