Your Ultimate Guide to Making a Better Bed

Wondering which type of sheets to buy? If thread count really matters? Which to choose, duvet or comforter? For answers to these bedding questions and more, we turned to Liz Bailey, the vice president of domestic merchandise for Bloomingdale’s, who curates the company’s massive selection of sheets, pillows, comforters, and duvets.

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Photo by David Meredith

“I’ve worked as a buyer for more than 30 years, and early on, my jobs were in women’s and children’s fashion—but I’ve always loved home design, so when the chance to oversee bedding came up, I grabbed it,” Bailey says. “Linens have a long life cycle, whereas fashion is constantly changing. There’s something really satisfying to me about working with well-loved sheet styles that can stay around for years and years.” Here, she gives the lowdown on linens to help you make a better bed.

Secrets to Sheet Shopping

Real Simple: There’s a bit of controversy surrounding thread count. Why is that?
Liz Bailey: Thread count—the number of threads per square inch in a weave—used to be the best measure of a product’s quality. But then some companies began twisting the fibers, which resulted in a higher thread count. These days thread count alone isn’t a reliable barometer.

RS: What’s the best gauge?
LB: The type of cotton. Egyptian and Supima [the trademarked name for American pima] make for the highest-quality sheets because they’re what’s known as long-staple cottons. The cotton comes off the boll in long lengths, not short, stubby ones. This yields a smoother thread and a much softer sheet.

RS: Anything else to consider?
LB: We tell shoppers to think about whether they want to feel cool or warm while they sleep. If you like that feeling of slipping into cool sheets, choose a percale weave, which has a matte finish. If you want a warm, insular feel, then sateen is better for you. A bonus of sateen is that it doesn’t wrinkle easily, like percale does.

Related: 3 Easy Ways to Style the Most Comfortable Bed

How to Make a No-Regret Choice

RS: What’s a common mistake that people make when buying sheets?
LB: Not actually touching the linens before deciding. In the stores, we leave pillowcases out for just that purpose. Sheets do get a little softer as you wash them, but you should like the way they feel right out of the package.

Also, some shoppers don’t measure the thickness of their mattress or check its dimensions against the packaging to make sure that the fit will be right. Newer mattresses are often thicker or have a lofty pillow top. You need sheets that can cover that depth.

RS: Even when a sheet fits, sometimes it won’t stay put.
LB: If you choose one that’s labeled "bonnet construction," that means that it has elastic all the way around instead of just on the corners. You’ll get a much snugger fit.

Washing Wisdom

RS: Any secrets to making sheets last longer?
LB: Always wash them on a cold cycle, because water that’s too hot will break down the fibers. And use liquid detergent instead of powder; sometimes powder doesn’t liquefy equally. When it stays more concentrated in parts, that can also hurt the fibers.

RS: What about drying?
LB: If possible, you should take sheets out of the dryer when they’re still a little damp and hang them to finish drying. Overdrying really wears on sheets. It’s always great to hang them outside to dry if you can. The sun is a natural disinfectant, and your sheets will get a fresh scent.

RS: Wash them once a week?
LB: Yes, except for pillowcases. They get soiled more easily, so I suggest twice a week for those. If you live in a very warm climate, where you probably perspire more, it’s not a bad idea to wash your sheets twice a week, too.

Related: The Best Mattresses for a Good Night's Sleep

The Keys to a Beautiful Bed

RS: What’s your pillow formula for a showstopping bed?
LB: For a king-size bed, I use nine. Instead of starting with the usual two king-size pillows, I do three queen-size across. It’s a trick to make the bed look fuller. Then I add three Euros [typically 26-inch squares] and three decorative pillows [say, a rectangle, a square, and a short bolster]. For a queen-size bed, I’ll go down to two Euros but keep everything else the same.

RS: Comforter or duvet?
LB: I’m a duvet person, simply because the cover is a lot easier to launder than a bulky comforter. If you don’t like duvets because the insert shifts around, try one with ties in the corners to keep it in place. Down is generally loftier than synthetic fill, and a baffle construction, which has strips of fabric inside to keep the down in place, feels fuller and keeps your bed from looking sad and saggy.

Small Touches, Big Impact

RS: What’s your styling secret when you’re dressing up a bed in the store?
LB: I always start with a pair of shams that match the duvet, to ground the mix of patterns. After that, pretty much anything goes.

RS: Are there any common bedding blunders that really bug you?
LB: Flattened pillows. They look terrible! I find myself fluffing them up in other people’s houses all the time.

RS: With the good ol’ karate chop?
LB: No, I never use the karate chop method. It actually it works better to just give them a hug with both your arms. A quick, tight squeeze will plump your pillows right up.