Sleep is very much a personal thing. Some people sleep best in a dark room that is as quiet as possible. Others can’t get to sleep without a soft nightlight and some ambient noise. Some of us prefer a bedroom that’s almost cold, while others need a warm, cozy haven to sleep in.
And, when it comes to bedding, some people crave the cool luxury of crisp sheets while some prefer their sheets as soft as possible. So, which is better?
The ultimate answer is whichever you personally happen to prefer, as your bedding has a serious impact on sleep quality.
However, in general terms there are some basic things to know – and keep in mind – as you shop for the perfect sheets for you and make a decision between crisp sheets and soft sheets, and that is what we are going to take a closer look at here.
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Thread count is something that is mentioned often when discussing sheets, especially in product descriptions and marketing blurbs, but it’s something that a lot of consumers don’t really understand, which can lead to them making expensive mistakes when shopping for the best sheets for them.
Thread count isn’t a big mystery, though. The number of threads per square inch of material is what you’ll find if you Google “thread count definition.” Therefore, a textile with a stated thread count of 300 should have 150 threads woven per square inch in both the horizontal and vertical directions.
Thread count does matter, but not quite in the way that many marketers would have you believe. It is accepted wisdom in the textile industry that a higher thread count will create a softer, more durable bedsheet, but the thread counts needed to do so are not as high as you might think.
According to textile experts once you get past a 500 thread count fabric any difference in softness or durability ends, and that the ideal ‘sweet spot’ for a softer sheet is between 300 and 500, and that sheets with higher thread counts are no softer, more comfortable or more durable.
If you want a crisp sheet, a lower thread count will offer that, with 200-250 providing a still relatively durable, but crisper feeling sheet.
More important than thread count, most experts say, is the weave. When discussing cotton sheets – which are often the very best choice – there are two primary weaves used, and this usually extends to other sheet fabrics as well.
One yarn under, three or four yarns above, weaving gives sateen fabric its characteristic appearance and feel. The cloth drapes incredibly well, and the resulting fabric tends to have a light shine. Sateen sheets don’t need to be ironed because they are naturally wrinkle-resistant.
The resultant sheets are slightly heavier than percale thanks to this weave, which can give them a plush, opulent appearance. They might, however, also be more prone to trapping heat.
This additional warmth may be welcome for those who frequently become cold when sleeping, but it may not be the best option for those who sleep hot. The fabric is initially quite smooth and soft, and it typically gets softer with use and multiple washings.
Percale, on the other hand, employs a one-over-one-under weave to create the familiar crisp, clean feel of the textile and a resulting sheet. The thread count on most percale sheets is at least 200, indicating a tight weave. Percale is still very breathable, though. In fact, it’s frequently thought to be the ideal kind of bedding for those who tend to sleep hot.
Percale is a weave rather than a material, despite the fact that sheet variations are frequently identified by their materials. This means that a variety of fabrics, such as cotton, nylon, rayon, and/or lyocell, could be used to make percale sheets.
Although percale sheets typically start out crisp, they do soften up over several washings. The best percale sheets are usually long-lasting and simple to maintain, like our percale top pick, Linen Home Percale Sheet Set.
However, many sleepers decide to iron percale to improve their crispness because they are prone to wrinkling and softening in the wash.
Sheets – high quality sheets at least – are not usually a particularly inexpensive purchase, and you can find both soft and crisp sheets offered at a range of price levels.
However, as a higher thread count sheet tends to be priced higher than a softer sheet may often be a more expensive choice than a crisper alternative.
As we mentioned earlier, whether you choose a soft sheet or a crisp sheet will depend primarily on personal preference.
Softer sheets are often – but not always – warmer and cozier and may not be the best choice for hot sleepers. One notable exception is linen, a soft fabric that gets softer with age but is also light and very cooling.
A crisp percale weave sheet is, as we mentioned, often the best choice for someone who sleeps hot, and if you choose a cotton, or even bamboo percale weave sheet the fabric itself offers additional cooling properties as well.
Something else you might want to consider is how much effort you want to put into caring for your bedsheets. A higher thread count sateen cotton sheet – often the choice of hotels – is surprisingly easy to launder, as it can withstand hotter water and dryer temperatures, won’t wrinkle and can even, if needed, be bleached.
This means it’s a great choice for those who don’t want to spend too much time on laundry, so for busy families, college kids and those who just don’t like doing laundry. However, some soft sheet options, like linen or silk, do need extra care, so won’t offer the same advantages at wash time.
If you prefer a crisp sheet, though, a little extra effort may well be worth it. After all, the point of buying new sheets in the first place is to get a better night’s sleep!