Sheets 101: Knowing Your Percale From Your Pima

Not all sheets are created equal. So, before you take out a second mortgage and buy 400 thread count Egyptian cotton sheets at $500 a pop, check out this quick glossary of sheet terms:

Thread Count: Simply put, this is the number of threads per square inch. Hold the sheet up to the light, if you can see through the fabric and make out the actual weave, you’ve got a low thread count on your hands. The higher the thread count, the softer and more lustrous the fabric, and the more durable and less prone to shrinkage.

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Combed Cotton: A cleaning process that eliminates impurities and short, less desirable fibers.

Muslin: Considered to be low end of the cotton spectrum, you may want to steer clear of these, as they tend to be one rough and tough sheet. They are generally used in children’s character theme bedding. Thread counts here range from 128 to 140.

Percale: A smooth, flat, closely woven and combed fabric that comes in 100 percent cotton or 50/50 cotton/poly blends. Finer than muslin, expect thread counts here to range from 180 to 200.

Pima or Supima: A high-quality cotton whose long fiber staple is somewhat similar to that of Egyptian cotton. The differences are geographical only. Pima is grown in the southwestern part of the U.S. and Egyptian is grown along the Nile River. Supima is made from extra-long staple Pima. The soft feel of Pima and Supima make them very desirable in bedding. Expect to find thread counts here from 200 to 300.

Don't get fleeced. Know that a $1,500 designer sheet made out of Pima cotton with a thread count of 300 is no different than a non-designer 300 thread count Pima sheet for $150. So don’t be afraid to buy private label once you know the facts.

Save big bucks by buying American. Import duties and other fees can quadruple the price of imported white goods. Also, stretch your dollars by making your sheets last longer. According to Elizabeth Hough of Cotton, Inc., rotating your sheets once a week should keep your sheets looking and feeling great for a good 10 to 15 years.

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