A sheet is a sheet, right? No, as the store clerk will tell you,
a sheet varies from 117 to 600 threads per woven square inch, and
comes in linen, muslin, or various kinds of cotton, all of which
have different properties and costs. Just as beds range from
twin size to king, choosing bedding materials is not a one-size-
fits-all proposition, either, according to Better Homes and
Gardens Magazine. You've got some choices to make.
Thread count, or number of threads per square inch,
determines quality--the higher the number, the tighter the weave.
Prices climb proportionately to the thread count. For example,
if you want a thread count of 340 to 590 for the softest, most
durable sheet on the shelf, expect to pay in the hundreds for a
set. If shelling out for sheets is not on your priority list,
more affordable percales in the 180-200 range can fit the bill
and your bed--typically about $25 for poly-cotton blends or
around $60 for all-cotton, per sheet. Fiber content is your
second quality indicator. Cotton fiber comes in several
varieties, including the more sophisticated and luxurious sea
island and egyptian cottons. Pima is the more common
alternative. Like egyptian, it has extra-long fibers. Although
cotton is the more affordable choice, it's hard to beat linen
sheets for quality and durability. You have a variety of weights
to choose from. In warm climates, linen sheets keep you cooler.
They don't hold dirt or moisture as easily, either, and each
washing actually softens their feel.
The same parameters apply to blankets: weave and
fiber. As with sheets, the tighter the weave, the better.
Prices range from $50 for a good cotton blanket, to $100-150 for
wool. Standard wool must be dry-cleaned. For middle of the road
prices and greater convenience, washable wool blankets are
lightweight, warm, and priced around $60 to $80. At around $35
per blanket, fleece is the cheapest material yet won't pile or
shed like other synthetics. It's washable and light, too.
Down comforters offer unsurpassed warmth and
insulation with little to weigh you down. Quality of insulation
is measured in "fill power," the number of cubic inches per ounce
of down. Once again, higher is better. Fill power ranges from
300 to 700. Prices range from $100 up to $600. As with sheets,
thread count will determine the quality of the cover fabric.
Manufacturers also use different stitching methods. Baffling
creates separate sections to distribute the down evenly for
maximum loft and warmth, while karo or ring stitching allows you
to shift the fill yourself. Box stitching tacks everything down
in squares. Synthetic, wool, or cotton comforters are cheaper
but are not as warm or lightweight as down.
Remember, soft for stomach sleepers, medium
for back sleepers, and firm for side sleepers. Soft pillows are
typically all down. Medium will be half down and half feathers,
while firm will be about 90 percent feathers. Down pillows vary
greatly in price from $25 to over $200. If you choose polyester,
go with hollow-core fibers coated with silicone. Stay away from