Bed Linens 101

Sheets, comforters, pillows, and more – everything you need to create a romantic retreat for the two of you

bed linens 101



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Everything You Need To Know To Create The Perfect Sanctuary For The Two Of You


By Jenn Andrlik


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After the big day is over, you’re back from your honeymoon, and the gifts have all been opened, it’s time to make your home together as a married couple. And the most important room during the honeymoon stage—and ideally, long beyond—is the bedroom.

“We all want to continue our honeymoon,” says Taisha Yunez, manager of Nordstrom at Home in White Plains. “We all want our bedroom to be romantic and comfortable, and we all want to enjoy our time there and relax in it.”

Beautiful, comfortable linens can help you relax and feel the romance instantly. But with so many   to choose from—percale or sateen? 300 thread count or 800? duvet cover or bedspread?—it’s easy to become overwhelmed. That’s why we’ve done the research for you. Here we present the primer you need to make the perfect bed to share with your new spouse—and get a perfect night’s sleep.


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First things first: go for quality. “Never choose a fifty/fifty blend of cotton and polyester,” advises Anthony Maresca, owner of the Chatsworth Group, a linen-importing company in Mamaroneck. “Yes, the price may be lower and the sheets will not wrinkle as much, but they are not that comfortable. It’s not even a matter of treating yourself. I think everyone is entitled to nice sheets.“ And “nice” doesn’t necessarily mean inordinately expensive. All-cotton sheets, regardless of thread count, are usually superior to fifty/fifty cotton/poly blends when it comes to comfort. The reason is simple: Cotton breathes. While higher thread counts generally mean higher quality (up to a point, anyway), even lower thread count cottons feel better than synthetics.

“For me, a luxurious bed is made up of all-natural fabrics: one-hundred percent cotton, silk, or even cotton/linen blends,” says interior designer Chris Madden. “Natural fibers allow the skin to breathe, help wick moisture away from the skin, and are most resistant to staining.”

If you get hot at night—and yes, we know most newly marrieds do—buy 100-percent cotton or linen sheets; if you get cold, consider flannel for the winter and cotton knit (jersey) for spring, summer, and fall.

As with most goods, fine-quality linens aren’t inexpensive. But fortunately, you can get good quality in just about every price range. Generally speaking, there is a correlation between thread count, fabric type, and price.

The fabric you choose depends on personal preference as well as your budget. Obviously, silk will cost more than muslin, but there is an entire range in between. Sheet fabrics include cottons (percale, sateen, flannel, and jersey) as well as silk and linen. If you like a cool, crisp feel, go for percale, a plain-weave cotton that is tightly woven to ensure a smooth, flat fabric with no fewer than 180 threads per square inch; if you prefer soft and cozy, think about sateen, which has a silky-smooth texture and doesn’t “snap” when you shake it as you’re making the bed. Or you may want to mix it up, opting for the lightness and coolness of linen for the summer and the warmth of flannel for the winter. Of course, the best way to know what’s right for you is by feeling the fabrics yourself. Bedding retailers like Bed, Bath & Beyond often include fabric swatches in front of their displays, along with a brief description of a particular fabric.

Thread count refers to the number of fibers woven together in one square inch of fabric. There is a benefit to having a higher thread count because the threads are finer, which makes the fabric softer and more comfortable. Above 400 thread count, however, it’s not clear that the quality of your sheets will be all that much higher. Besides, thread count is not the be-all and end-all of what determines bed-linen quality. “The finish and yarn are really what matter,” Madden explains. Some buzzwords to look for on the packaging: “Egyptian,” “long-staple,” “pima,” and “supima,” all of which denote high-quality fibers.  


caring for your sheets Sheets and pillowcases should be
laundered once a week in warm water, not hot, to avoid shrinking the fibers. Do not use fabric softeners as they can actually weaken the threads. Before you place the sheets in the dryer, check to make sure there are no stains that haven’t been removed; the heat from the dryer will set the stain, making it almost impossible to get out. Also, remove sheets from the dryer when they are slightly damp. Drying them too much can also weaken the fibers, and if you plan to iron your sheets, it’s better to do it while they’re slightly damp.

To avoid wrinkling in linen sheets, take them out of the dryer promptly; don’t let them sit. You may also want to iron linen sheets when you take them out of the dryer. Also consider spraying Downy Wrinkle Releaser over sheets and smoothing the wrinkles out with your hands.




It’s nice to have an extra blanket or two per room, especially for guests. To choose a blanket that fits your needs, look at fabric and textures. Fabric choices include cotton (best for warm weather), silk (as warm as cashmere), and wool (which includes lamb’s wool, virgin wool, merino wool, cashmere, mohair, and alpaca, which are all recommended for colder weather).

Textures are as varied as fabrics and include chenille, velour, fleece, flannel, and waffle-weave. Chenille is a thick, soft, fuzzy yarn made from piling layers of fabric on top of each other; chenille blankets can be made from silk, wool, rayon, cotton, or manufactured fiber filling. Velour has a similar feel to velvet, but it’s knit and therefore somewhat stretchy. Depending on the fabric used, the texture of velour can range from soft to sometimes itchy. Fleece is a thick, heavy, napped synthetic blend usually including polyester; it makes a great insulator and is wonderful for cold nights. Like flannel sheets, flannel blankets are warm but tend to pill more easily than some other fabrics. Waffle blankets are also known as “honeycomb weave,” which refers to a pattern of squares or diamonds. The pattern is raised, making the texture slightly bumpy but not uncomfortable.


caring for your blankets Always read the label before laundering and shake blankets outside to get rid of dust or loose dirt. Cotton and some wool blankets can be washed in a machine or by hand, in cool water with a mild detergent. Rinse and squeeze out excess water, and repeat until all soap suds are gone. When finished, roll the blanket between two clean towels to remove extra water (do not wring) and lay flat on dry towels to dry; hanging blankets can stretch or loosen the weave. Most other blankets need to be dry-cleaned, especially those made of silk. Store in a dry linen closet or cedar chest to protect from moths.


on top of the bed



Should you choose a comforter, duvet cover, or bedspread? Comforters contain fillings such as goose down, feathers, down and feather combinations, synthetic down alternatives,  wool, and cotton. They come in different weights, including light (the least amount of filling), medium (slightly more filling), extra warm (lots of filling), and sometimes “blanket” weight, which is an ultra-thin layer that gives you coverage but not heft. Down comforters come in different “fill power” weights, in various “lofts” (which refers to how much the comforter “fluffs”), and with a variety of baffling styles (referring to the chambers that separate the down). Duvets are similar to comforters but are usually lighter in weight, more like a “filled blanket.” Bedspreads are thinner than comforters and duvets; they are generally used in the warmer months in place of a comforter or duvet or in addition to a comforter, duvet, or blanket.

Whether you prefer a bedspread, comforter, or duvet—or a combination—you should always measure your mattress before making your selection. Although bedspreads and comforters come in sizes such as full, queen, or king, there are no official sizing guidelines, so if you have a very thick mattress or you’re concerned about having too little fabric hanging down from the top of your mattress, you may find it worthwhile to buy the next size up.


caring for your comforters and duvets Depending on what kind of comforter you purchase, consider buying a cover for it. This is a lightweight case that slips over your comforter to protect it from wear, tear, and stains. All duvets need a cover. The cover should be laundered once a week with your other linens, but the comforter or duvet itself only needs to be spot treated as needed and air-dried two to three times a year to keep it fresh. If the comforter somehow becomes saturated, you will have to take the comforter to the dry cleaner, but keep in mind that too much washing or dry cleaning of down or feathers can ruin the comforter or duvet. (Actually, down comforters should not be dry-cleaned, because the perchloride soaks the feathers, and perchloride is toxic!) Before washing blankets, read the label. Most can be machine-washed and machine-dried, but always check the label before doing so. Fluff your comforter or duvet daily when making the bed, and if you have more than one, keep the extra stored in a linen bag to keep dust off; do not store in plastic.


mattress pads and toppers


Every bed should have a mattress pad. Its primary function is to protect your mattress from spills and stains, but it can also keep sheets from slipping around on a silky mattress. During winter months, it can also add warmth if you choose a machine-washable electric mattress pad.

Like other bed linens, mattress pads come in a variety of fabrics and thicknesses. Cotton is best for comfort, and personal preference and budget should guide your choices. Mattress pads are available with water- and stain-resistant tops and in hypoallergenic fabrics and fills.

Mattress toppers have been gaining popularity in recent years. A topper is not always needed but can improve your bed’s comfort, adding softness or firmness as desired. Topper types include memory foam toppers for body contouring; pillow toppers, which can add softness and increase comfort as well as giving extra support to joints; wool or fleece toppers, which will keep you warm in the winter and cool during the summer; egg crates, which are the least expensive option and can firm up a bed or soften it; and finally the feather topper, which can be expensive but worth the cost if you want to have the ultimate in soft beds. To choose a topper, visit a mattress store or a bedding store that sells mattresses and test the toppers personally. Feel them with your hands, but more important, lie on them (together!) to see which one you like best.


caring for your mattress pads and toppers Some mattress toppers are machine washable, some must be hand washed or spot treated, some have to be dry cleaned, and some cannot be washed at all. Read the label before making your final purchase to be sure you’re comfortable with the care requirements.

Mattress pads, whatever kind you have, should be cleaned once a month, and most are machine washable. Again, though, read the label before washing.


Jenn Andrlik is a writer who lives in New York City.


how to make a perfect bed


1. Place the mattress pad on top of your mattress or
mattress topper. Secure the pad’s elastic around the
corners of the mattress.

2. Do the same with the fitted sheet. It should fit snugly over the mattress pad, topper, and mattress.

3. Place the top sheet face down on the fitted sheet so that when you fold the top edge of the sheet back, the correct side will be visible. Make sure the top edge of the sheet is even with the top edge of the mattress. Pull and straighten to eliminate wrinkles.

4. If desired, place a blanket on top of the sheet about six inches from the top of the mattress. Pull and straighten the blanket so there are no wrinkles and the edges are even around the bed. Then, at the foot of the bed, fold both corners so they are underneath the mattress itself while making hospital corners. Fold the top of the sheet over the blanket, leaving the sides hanging on the side or by tucking them in (whichever you prefer).

5. Place a comforter with cover, duvet with cover, or
bedspread on top, straightening so there are no
wrinkles and the edges are even around the bed.

6. To complete, place pillows with cases and shams plus decorative pillows (if using) at the head of the bed.


WHAT’s all the fluff about pillows


Perhaps the most important thing on your bed is what you Lay your head on—but pillows can also be the most baffling. They can be filled with down, feathers, foam, or synthetic fills. A pillow’s firmess and filling will be marked on the package. Although down pillows (especially goose down) cost more, they will last longer than synthetic pillows.

When choosing which pillow or pillows are right for you, determine what type of sleeper you are. Do you sleep on your stomach, back, or side predominantly? If you are a stomach sleeper, consider finding a pillow that has a softer feel. Back sleepers should look at pillows with a medium firmness, which offer better support for your neck and head. If you’re a side sleeper, consider the firmest of pillows, which will give you proper spine alignment. And finally, if you tend to toss and turn throughout the night, choose a down or down-alternative pillow that will adjust to your sleeping position.

There are also different types to choose from including bed, orthopedic, decorative, and several kinds of body pillows. The most common, sleeping pillows, are usually rectangular in shape and come in three different sizes: standard (20 x 26 inches), queen (20 x 30 inches), and king (20 x 36 inches). Specialty pillows include bolster pillows (round, tube-shaped pillows with flat ends), boudoir pillows (small rectangular pillows for resting your head), Euro squares (which provide support behind sleeping pillows while you’re lying in bed), and neck rolls (smaller than bolster pillows but also tube-shaped). How many you have is entirely up to you and depends on the atmosphere you want to create. Typically a standard bed will have four pillows: two to sleep on and two with shams for decoration. But specialty pillows are increasingly popular.




Cover each pillow in a machine-washable, zippered pillow protector—which slips over the pillow and under the pillowcase to protect the pillow from stains, dust, and dust mites. Wash the protectors with your regular bedding once a week. Fluff pillows daily when you’re making the bed, and place extra pillows on a chair at night instead of on the floor to protect them from stains.

Pillows should be washed every three to six months whether you use a protector or not. This will get rid of dust, bacteria, and dust mites. Although most pillows made of natural fibers or synthetic materials can be machine-washed, you should always read the label for care instructions before laundering.  Pillows that can’t be washed in the machine (such as those made of wool and silk and some down pillows) should be gently spot cleaned with a mild dishwashing liquid—being careful not to get the filling too wet—and aired in the sunshine two to three times per year.






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