Cheapism: Buying bed sheets on a budget

Oct. 25, 2012 at 12:19 PM ET

Royal Velvet Pure Perfection sheets have deep pockets and elastic all around, so they stay put on pillow-top mattresses.

By Kara Reinhardt,

During the winter months, when your workdays stretch longer than the sun’s, a cozy bed beckons. But pilling, shrunken sheets? Not so much. Consumers who opt for inexpensive sheets must take care to choose the right ones. No sheet set that costs $50 or less will feel the same as luxury sheets with prices as high as their thread counts. But that doesn’t mean you or your guests should sleep on scratchy sheets that slither off the corners of the bed.

Below are Cheapism’s top picks for affordable bed sheets.

  • Royal Velvet Pure Perfection sheets (starting at $50 for a queen set) are made with Egyptian cotton and merit comparisons to pricier sheets in online reviews. Consumers point to the weight, softness, and smart double pleat at the hem. This 325-thread-count set is available in a variety of colors. The fitted sheet has elastic all the way around, so it stays in place. (Where to buy)
  • Elite Home cotton print sheets (starting at $40 for a queen set) come in coordinating patterns, as well as solids. Consumers who have posted reviews online appreciate that these seem to wrinkle less than other cotton sheets. Reviewers deem the 300-thread-count set comfortable and report that it softens considerably in the wash. (Where to buy)

Thread count commands a lot of attention, but don’t make the mistake of equating it with quality. Even a 1,500-thread-count sheet at this price point pales in comparison with a 200-thread-count sheet made with a long-staple cotton such as Egyptian or Pima, whose long fibers produce stronger, finer yarns than lesser cottons. (The Federal Trade Commission has set out specific guidelines for labeling.) That said, more threads per square inch generally make for a denser, smoother, and more durable sheet.

One drawback of 100% cotton sheets is their proclivity for wrinkling. Blends tend to be smoother out of the dryer. Provided you don’t mind ironing or having somewhat rumpled sheets, experts recommend cotton because it’s a comfortable, breathable fabric that will serve you well year-round.

Cotton comes in different weaves with characteristics that appeal to different people. The sheets highlighted above are sateen, which many favor for its softness. Percale has a crisp feel that softens with repeated washing. Flannel sheets will keep you cozy on cold nights and jersey sheets imitate a well-worn T-shirt. Keep in mind that a low-cost sheet probably won’t feel the same as it does in a store after it goes through the wash.

Before you begin shopping, be sure to measure the height of your mattress -- as well as any mattress pad or topper you might use. Popular pillow-top mattresses call for fitted sheets with deep pockets. The sheets cited above measure 17 inches.

One final tip: Don’t wash your sheets in hot water or dry them on high. That can weaken the fibers and fade the colors, sending you back to buy another set.

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