With the arrival of a new season, it’s a great time to refresh your bedding with some cooler options or just something new. But with so many different choices—many of which are white cotton, yet certainly not the same—the world of bed sheets can be hard to navigate. This handy guide can get you up to speed on the different types of sheets available and our favorites to buy.
Matte cotton broadcloth sheeting constructed as one thread (warp) over one thread (weft). It’s crisp, almost stiff, and sleeps cool—which might be why it’s so popular in southern states.
Sateen sheets are also woven from cotton, but in a more open weave, one thread over four. The cotton threads are mercerized (soaked in lye and then acid) so the finish emits a slight sheen. Sateen becomes softer with each wash, and carries a nice drape—though, beware, it can pill.
The of-the-minute choice for laidback luxe: Think rumpled bedhead in a sheet. Linen is also typically more sustainable than cotton, since flax isn’t sprayed with as many chemicals. And like a linen shirt, linen sheets are a smart choice in scorching climates.
Stretchy knit cotton that feels like sleeping in a t-shirt and works year-round. Comfortable and low-key, but skews a bit dorm room.
Not to be confused with its low-rent cousin satin, silk is a rarified taste: smooth, lustrous, and breathable. Two things to look for in silk: Momme refers to the weight (the lower the number, the thinner the sheets)—aim for 16 to 21mm. Also consider the type of silk.
You might see Charmeuse and Habotai (both produced from silk worms in captivity fed on a diet of mulberry leaves) or Tussah, produced from wild silk worms. The latter is slightly lower quality owing to knots and impurities in the fabric finish from broken silk fibers.
Cotton flannel is made with a raised weave that’s combed to create a heavy, warm, and durable fabric. “Nap” refers to brushing; double-napped flannel means it’s been brushed on both sides for extra softness. Your grandparents passed down these sheets for a reason—they last forever—but flannel isn’t terribly urbane, so save them for the mountain cabin.
One of the newer sustainable fabrics to be mass-produced in sheeting is viscose made from the renewable bamboo plant. It matches the softness of sateen, but skip them if you’re looking for sheets that maintain body heat. Hot sleepers, rejoice: The material wicks moisture and stays cool in the summer months. The next buzzword in green sheeting? Nettle.
Bonus: Printed Sheets
For those looking to punch things up in the bedroom, opt for cheeky prints in an unexpected color palette. Dusen Dusen bedding is our go-to for abstract shapes, but there are plenty of other stores that offer a range of sweet designs. Our best kept secret? Sheets from Crate Kids, formerly known as Land of Nod, some of which are decidedly great for both adults and kids alike.
A note on cotton
Egyptian, Sea Island, and Pima cotton are all the same variety of cotton (Gossypium barbadense) grown in different places. Though Sea Island has a more limited production capacity than Egyptian, and therefore commands a higher price, it’s ultimately a long staple length and tight construction that determines quality.
A version of this article was originally published in June 22, 2016.