Sheets may seem like a utilitarian, uncomplicated purchase, until you consider that you spend one-third of your life, or more, in bed. To make the most of that time, you want sheets that are comfortable, soft and attractive. Sheets are an investment you may use for many years, so they need to be easy to care for and durable. Though cotton sheets make up a large part of the market, newer microfibers offer another choice in bed linens.
Microfibers are finely woven fibres. The measurement of the thickness of a fibre is known as a dernier. The higher the dernier, the thicker the fibre. In order to be considered a microfiber, a material must be less than 1 dernier in diameter. Fine silk measures 1.25 dernier. Some microfibers are as small as 0.5 dernier. Because microfibers are so fine, they can be packed densely in a small space. In order to achieve this small fibre size, microfibers are made in the lab, not formed in nature. The basis for the fibre may be man-made or organic. Lyocell is the brand name of one microfiber derived from wood pulp.
The finest cotton for sheets is long-staple cotton, usually either Egyptian cotton or Supima cotton. Longer cotton fibres, or staples, make a softer, smoother sheet. Cotton produces a soft, breathable fabric. Higher thread count sheets are smoother and softer. Thread count refers to the number of threads per square inch of fabric. Higher thread count sheets use finer fibres to produce thread counts from 200 up to 1000. A low thread count sheet is made with thicker yarns. It has a coarser texture and is more likely to pill.
Both microfiber and cotton sheets can be washed and dried with ordinary household washers and dryers. Cotton sheets may shrink with the first washing, unless they're designated as pre-shrunk. Manufacturers account for this in sizing the sheets. Microfiber sheets made from natural fibres, such as cellulose, may also shrink with the first washing. Both microfiber and cotton hold dyes well, but bright colours may fade with repeated washing, especially in hot water. And both fibres are subject to wrinkling and can be pressed with a warm iron, though cotton and microfiber will scorch if subjected to high heat.
The higher the thread count for cotton sheets, the better the sheet will wear. More threads produce a more durable fabric. Since microfibers by definition produce a tightly woven fabric, they, too, are durable, even more so than some cottons.
The fine threads of microfiber result in sheets that feel soft to the touch. Microfibers are flexible and not stiff, adding to the comfort of sheets made with them. Some cotton sheets are stiff, requiring serveral washings to become softer. Higher thread count cotton fabric produces a softer, smoother sheet that glides across the skin.