Among the fibers used in sheets are:# Egyptian cotton: Cotton cultivated in Egypt feels softer than other cottons, generates less lint and is more durable.# Pima cotton: Previously called American-Egyptian, this is a high-quality cotton developed from Egyptian cotton and grown only in the southwestern United States. The cotton is exceptionally soft, and the fibers are strong and firm.# Modal: A category of manufactured fibers known for their strength. The fabric retains its shape well.# Lyocell: A manufactured fiber made from trees. It's soft, strong and absorbent. It's also strong when wet and simulates silk or suede. It's wrinkle-resistant and drapable.# Polyester: The most common polyester for fiber purposes is polyethylene terphthalate, or PET. It's a strong synthetic fiber that resists shrinking, stretching, mildew, abrasion and wrinkling. It washes easily and dries quickly. It's also used to make plastic soft drink bottles.The feel of cottonEgyptian and Pima cottons connote luxury and, in the past, sheets made of those cottons were sold only in high-end stores. But that has changed."Now you can find them anywhere from Wal-Mart to Bloomingdale's," Cwirko said.But sheet shoppers should always read the fine print to determine the amount of cotton in the sheets, Cwirko said. Often, packaging will say "cotton rich," but the actual amount of Egyptian, Pima or other cottons is small and the rest of the sheet is polyester or other manufactured fibers.One hundred percent cotton is best. Today's all-cotton sheets look a lot better than the cotton sheets of the 1950s, Cwirko said. They're less likely to shrink and don't wrinkle as much, she said.But, she said, don't write off cotton blends. "You can have a polyester fiber that feels like butter. It really is the way something is processed and finished."Once you've decided on the fiber, check the construction, or how the sheet is made. This includes the thread count, a number that allows the shopper to determine the quality of the sheet. To most people, that means softness. The Web site www.linenplace.com markets its bed sheets by describing 200-220 as a good thread count, 230-280 as better and 300-400 as best.You can expect to pay significantly more for higher thread counts. But not everyone agrees that a higher thread count really means a better sheet."You see on the label it's a higher count, but it's not necessarily softer," Slaven said. "You're spending a lot of money" for something that may not be better. Thread count is the number of horizontal and vertical threads in one square inch of fabric. High-quality sheets have at least 180 threads per square inch. The higher the thread count, the softer the "hand" or feel of the sheet, and the more pill-resistant it is, according to Westpoint Stevens."Percale" on the package means the sheet has a thread count of 180 or higher."Generally, the perception is like motorcycle engines -- bigger is better," Slaven said. "But you have to ask yourself do you need that high count?"
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