Where it all started
I remember a few years ago walking down the streets of Manhattan and seeing a guy selling “1500 thread count sheets” for $15. Being clueless, I thought to myself, “If I just paid $50 for 400 count sheets, then this is a steal!!”. I forked over my money and proudly went home with my new sheets.
When I got home and opened the package the first thing I noticed was that the sheets were thick and rough, like a pair of jeans. Worse, the first time I put them in the wash they came out and felt like sandpaper. Needless to say, they went straight into the trash.
About thread count
“Thread count” simply means the number of threads that fit in a square inch of fabric. A bed sheet with 200 vertical threads and 200 horizontal threads will have a total thread count of 400.
A lot of clueless consumers (like me) have been brainwashed into thinking that “thread count” is the most important part of buying sheets. It’s true that a set of cotton sheets with an (honest) thread count of 400 is going to be softer than one of 200; it means that the individual cotton threads have been spun thinner. But there’s a physical limitation to how thin you can spin a cotton thread. Any set of “pure cotton sheets” that advertises itself as over 400 thread county is either lying, or it’s using a synthetic fabric that’s allowing them to squeeze more.
Over the years, people have been fooled into thinking that higher thread count = better sheets. The real thing that determines whether a sheet is comfortable and durable is the quality of the cotton.
So what do I look for in a bedsheet?
- Fiber: is it cotton, bamboo, polyester, linen, flannel? There’s no “best” fiber, it really comes down to your own preference.
- Staple: for natural fibers like cotton, the “staple” means the length of an individual fiber that goes into making the thread or yarn.
Think of the “puffy ball” on a cotton plant (also known as a “boll”). If you pull it apart, you get a “fiber” or “staple”. In a typical boll you can get around 250,000 staples of varying length. Some types of cotton yield short staples, which are spun into threads to make cotton that’s durable, such as denim jeans.
As the length of the staple becomes longer, you get cotton threads which are strong but also more luxurious and soft (within the thread itself there’s going to be more continuous strands and not as many rough edges). Most towels and sheets are made with long staple cotton. Specifically, long-staple cotton with individual fibers of 1 1/4″ produce much stronger and softer products.
And then there’s extra-long staple cotton. The most common kinds are Egyptian cotton (literally grown on the banks of the Nile river) and Pima cotton (mostly grown in Peru and the southwest United States). Of course, China has gotten into the act by growing long-staple cotton in Xinjiang. More on this below.
- Weaves: This refers to how the fabric is sewed together. Again, there’s no “best choice” here, it really comes down to your preference.
Percale weaves are a traditional “one thread over, one thread under” weave, while Sateen are “three threads over, one thread under”.
Even if you use the same thread, the results are vastly different. Think of an old photograph where you could have a “matte finish” or a “glossy finish”. Percale tends to be more “matte”, so if you like clean, crisp sheets you want those. Sateen is a more luxurious, silky feel, which others prefer.
- There are other considerations to buying sheets, but when I shop for sheets these are what I look for, with the most important being the staple.
What’s Wrong with China Cotton?
I’m amazed at how there are Muslim protestors all around the world who are demonstrating en masse over a tiny strip of land in the Middle East, when there is a 642,800 square mile region of the world that was occupied by a foreign power and is having its Muslim population systematically being wiped out.
I’m talking of course of Xinjiang, or what some still call East Turkestan. It’s a province to the westernmost part of China that was conquered by the Mongols and ruled over during the periods of the Qing dynasty and the Republic of China.
Once the People’s Republic of China took over, the population of the area went from 73% ethnic Uyghurs to 44% today. Any guesses how that happened?
There are widespread stories of how the Han Chinese are putting Uyghurs into reeducation camps and forcing them to work. That’s right, it’s 2023 and there are literally slaves in the world that are working in cotton fields—to the collective yawn of those of us in the United States who are buying this cotton and enriching slave owners in numbers that dwarf the American South of the 1800s.
Are American Companies REALLY Still Getting Cotton from China?
Sadly, yes. Wirecutter named L.L. Bean sheets as their top pick, but when I asked L.L. Bean where they were made, they told me China. Most of Wirecutter’s other picks, such as Target and Cultiver, also have at least some of their production done in China.
The good news is that unlike so many other product categories there are a TON of options for anyone shopping for bedding not made in China.
I’ll start off by saying that these sheets are NOT cheap. But when you think about it, over your lifetime you will spend about 26 years of your life in Bed, or 227,740 hours. If you think about it that way, why would you spend that time on cheap $50 bedsheets when you could sleep in luxury.
Years ago, I helped a linen store with her SEO, and as my payment I asked for a set of Matouk sheets. She set me up with a set of Milano Hemstitch Sheets. They were made in the USA, using fabric from Italy made from Egyptian cotton. There is no better sheet on Earth.
The old adage “you get what you pay for” is really true. These sheets are crisp, cool, and comfortable. I wake up with a smile on my face whenever I sleep in them. They seem to get better every time I wash them. And after dozens of washings, they still feel like new.
If you’ve ever slept in a 5 star hotel, chances are you’ve slept on Matouk or Sferra sheets.
Mind you, I’m not a rich person. But I would not hesitate to buy another set.
The number of choices on the Matouk site are dizzying, so I’d suggest visiting a bedding store to try them out in person (if those still exist). Higher end department stores like Bloomingdales might have them as well; if you trust Consumer Reports, they recommend the Matouk Sierra as one of their top rated sheets. You’ll want to avoid Amazon for these.
Sferra is the other company I mentioned. Their sheets are also on the high end, and also worth every penny. You can find them at high end department stores like Bloomingdales and Horchow. Unlike Matouk, which tends to sell bedding individually, Sferra sell sheet sets that include flat and fitted sheets, plus pillowcases. Here’s one their top-rated sets.
You learned above what a “boll” is and you know what a “branch” is, so now you know where Boll and Branch gets its name. It’s a brand that’s taken the industry by storm because of their prowess with online marketing.
They’re not quite as life-altering as Matouk sheets, but that’s like saying your high-end Lexus is not as good as a Bugatti. Online reviewers have praised Boll and Branch for coming out of the dryer without wrinkles, for their deep pockets, and for a similar “cool” and “comfortable” feeling as the highest end sheets.
Their sheets are made in India, Portugal, Belgium, and the USA.
The Signature Hemmed Sheet set is one of their all-time best sellers. At under $300 for a full bedding set, it’s affordable, made of long-staple cotton, and will fit the deepest mattress.
Along with their plethora of China-made choices, Wirecutter did include this Classic Percale Core Sheet Set from Brooklinen in its Best of 2023 list. And Good Housekeeping named this Luxe Sateen Core Sheet Set as their top overall pick.
I’ll never understand why brands think it’s a better idea to NOT disclose country of origin on their products—they’ll omit that information altogether or say “Imported” (duh).
We all know that if it doesn’t say “Made in USA” it’s not going to be made in the USA. If that’s the case, why not just say where it IS made? Because if you DON’T say where it’s made, our automatic assumption is that it’s going to be China.
In the case of Brooklinen I reached out to them via chat and they told me—almost apologetically—that the sheets were made in Israel and India. Supporting two free democracies instead of a regressive communist state? Where do I sign up?
Reviews of Brooklinen sheets rave at their crispness, their coolness, and their comfort. Boll and Branch and Brooklinen both seem to have done an excellent job at replicating the high quality of high end sheets and made them accessible to the Internet. Consumer Reports also names it as one of their top rated sheets.
If you’re an American and just want sheets that are Made in the USA, US factories making bedding with US workers using American-grown cotton, the good news is that you have a lot of options. One of the best is Authenticity50.
I love the transparency of the Authenticity50 folks. They clearly and proudly describe how their sheets are made.
- They grow cotton on farms in the United States
- The cotton is sent to Georgia, where it’s spun into yarn and fabric
- The fabric is finished in Tennessee
- The sheets are cut and sewn by hand in New Jersey
From “seed to stitch”, the cotton never leaves the United States. Every dollar you spend goes to an American worker, community, and state.
I chose Authenticity50 because I love the transparency on their Web site, but there are many other 100% Made in the USA options. Here are some of them:
- Red Land Cotton – Red Land Cotton is grown in Alabama and weaved and spun in South Carolina.
- USA Bedding Sheet Sets – 100% grown, woven, and sewn in the USA by Thomaston Mills.
- Wright Bedding – Wright Bedding is made from extra-long fiber Supima cotton grown in California.
- American Blossom Linens – Made of 100% USA components and 100% USA cotton. Even the shipping boxes are made in the USA.
- American Blanket Company – Made in the USA with 100% USA cotton.
- American Cotton – 100% American made
If you’re on a budget (like me) you’ll want to consider MyPillow.
I’ll preface by saying that I know this may be a controversial pick to some because the founder of MyPillow, Mike Lindell, has been outspoken on political issues. But I’m putting it in anyway for two reasons.
First, MyPillow products are genuinely among the most comfortable products I’ve slept on, and I’ve slept on the best bedding in the world, including some of the brands above.
Second, I genuinely don’t understand why a company like MyPillow would be “cancelled” for a founder’s political views (protected by the First Amendment), while a company like Ben and Jerry’s is celebrated for its founders’ views. One reason China is so powerful is that it is united (granted it became united by destroying all dissent). I find the recent trend of “cancelling” American companies because they don’t share one’s political views troubling. It’s dividing us and only making China stronger. As long as a brand itself isn’t trying to force you to believe something you don’t want to believe, we really need to celebrate American success stories wherever they happen.
Okay, enough about politics. Let’s talk bedding.
After trying MyPillow’s Giza Dream Sheets, I was blown away. The cotton is sourced from Giza, the city in Egypt that is world renowned for being the finest on earth, grown in the fertile valley of the Nile River.
The sheets have a 400 thread count which is as good as it gets with 100% cotton. Many of the so-called “1000” and “1500” thread count sheets, like the ones I described in my intro, are either lying, or they’re made with substandard cotton.
MyPillow has sheets in every size, including Twin, Twin XL, Full, Queen, RV Queen, King, Split King, and California King. It also comes in a large number of colors.
Perhaps the most shocking thing about MyPillow is the price. A set of Queen Size sheets that includes a flat sheet, a fitted sheet, and two pillowcases goes for under $60–sometimes much less if you catch the right sale or sign up for emails.
These sheets are made in India using cotton from Egypt.
Do you know of other bedding brands worthy of mention here? Let us know in the comments!