There’s nothing quite like the feeling of sliding between a set of clean, cool and soft sheets at the end of a long day. The right bed sheets can set the stage for a restful and luxurious night of sleep.
But what if your sheets aren’t helping to create a cozy, soothing sleep environment? Perhaps they’re stiff, rough or even scratchy. Read on to learn what makes bed sheets soft, how to soften your bed sheets and why all of this matters for a great night’s sleep.
What Makes Bed Sheets Soft?
You probably know a soft set of sheets when you feel it, but what exactly makes bed sheets soft? While there is undoubtedly some variation as to what feels the softest and best to different people, some specific qualities make for incredibly sumptuous bed sheets.
The two main factors are material and thread count. The right combination of the two can create luxuriously soft sheets.
Luxury materials can make a big difference when selecting the most comfortable sheets. Although there are many great materials for bed sheets, the most popular for soft sheets are cotton, linen and bamboo.
Cotton is the king of the bed sheet world, with long-staple Egyptian and Supima cottons leading the way. These are especially breathable, soft and durable. Because of their popularity, there are a lot of knock-off versions of Egyptian and Supima sheets that are actually blends, so try to purchase them from a reputable company.
Bamboo is a fantastic hypoallergenic alternative for hot sleepers and eco-conscious shoppers. Like long-staple cotton sheets, bamboo sheets feel soft right out of the package. Because of bamboo’s long fibers, these sheets are durable and less vulnerable to pilling than other fabrics.
Linen sheets differ from cotton and bamboo because they usually do not feel soft right away, but instead become softer with time. While linen may not be the softest sheet material right out of the package, years down the line, a good set of linen sheets is likely to be the softest set you own.
The other major factor that contributes to sheet softness is thread count, or the number of threads present per square inch.
Many people erroneously believe that the higher the thread count, the more comfortable the sheets, but there are diminishing returns past a certain point. Sheets with overly high thread counts become dense and trap heat. The best thread count varies by material. For instance, a thread count between 400 and 700 is ideal for Egyptian cotton sheets, while linen sheets fare better between 80 and 130.
Different weaves offer different degrees of softness. The sateen weave is popular for cotton sheets and lends to their softness. A percale weave, on the other hand, creates a more crisp feel.
How to Soften Bed Sheets
What if you already have sheets you love and just want to give them a softness refresh? Or perhaps you bought a new pair of sheets and they’re not softening up as quickly as you would like.
Fortunately, there are many ways to breathe life back into old sheets and release stiffness from new sheets. It’s important to note that these tips are best for cotton, linen, and bamboo sheets. For delicate materials like silk, defer to the manufacturer’s care instructions.
Any DIYer will tell you that baking soda and vinegar can solve a whole host of problems. Baking soda breaks down residues and mineral buildup on fabrics allowing old sheets to breathe again and new sheets to lose any lingering chemical buildup from the manufacturing process.
To use baking soda to soften sheets, add half a cup of baking soda at the beginning of a warm or hot wash cycle. For a particularly stiff new set of sheets, mix baking soda and water in the bathtub and soak your sheets for a few hours before washing.
White vinegar is another household staple that can soften bed sheets. Vinegar reduces soap residue and naturally softens fabrics.
You’ll want to use it during the rinse cycle, so either keep an eye on your washing machine or add it to the fabric softener dispenser so that it will drop into the load at the right time.
For even softer and silkier sheets, try combining baking soda and vinegar–just not simultaneously! If you remember science fair volcanoes, you know why keeping these ingredients separate is best. To avoid a mess, add baking soda at the beginning of the wash cycle and vinegar during the rinse cycle.
Epsom Salts or Borax
To soften especially stiff bed sheets, use Epsom salts or borax to create a bathtub soak. Add 50 grams of Epsom salts or six tablespoons of borax to cold water, stir the solution, and leave your sheets to soak overnight.
This is a gentle process, so it’s a good option if you’re looking to soften sheets but are worried about damaging them. If you don’t have Epsom salts or borax on hand, a couple of handfuls of table salt will also do the trick.
Wash Multiple Times
It makes sense that if sheets soften the more you wash them, a few extra washes can help break them in. Most high-quality sheets, particularly cotton and linen sheets, soften over time. While it’s not the most environmentally friendly option, if you can’t handle how stiff or scratchy your new sheets feel, extra washes can help speed up the process.
It’s important to note that drying on medium or high heat can cause the fibers you loosened in the washing machine to tighten back up, so dry your sheets on low heat to avoid a frustrating cycle.
High Quality Detergent
If your sheets get rougher over time, your detergent may be to blame. Some detergents leave buildup on fabrics. In addition, harsh chemicals found in some detergents can harm the fibers in your sheets, making them feel scratchy.
To avoid the pitfalls of low-quality detergents, use natural, high-quality detergents. Free and clear detergents work well to protect not only your skin but also your sheets. If you still notice buildup, use less detergent or add a second rinse cycle. Lastly, ensure you’re not overfilling your washing machine.
Fabric softener does precisely what it says—it softens fabrics. And it can do an excellent job. If you’re looking for a quick fix, adding fabric softener to your washing machine or even running a load with only fabric softener can enhance softness and reduce static cling.
However, any laundry aficionado knows that fabric softener has drawbacks. Namely, it softens by coating fibers in a chemical substance. This reduces the breathability of your sheets, can irritate your skin, and can break down fibers over time. If you use fabric softener, opt for one designed for natural fibers and use it sparingly.
Wool dryer balls are a fantastic and eco-friendly alternative to fabric softener and dryer sheets. These balls bounce around in your dryer, fluffing up clothing and sheets in the process. They also help reduce wrinkling, which is particularly important if you have linen bed sheets.
An additional benefit of dryer balls is that they reduce drying time. If you don’t have dryer balls, you can use clean tennis balls.
If you have the outdoor space, give line drying a try. The fresh air and sunlight will gently dry your sheets, helping you avoid the shrinkage of fibers that occurs when tumble-drying bed sheets.
To avoid wrinkles, shake out your sheets before pinning them up to dry.
How to Soften Stiff Sheets
Some sheets take a while to soften up. To speed this process along, try the following steps.
- Wash with baking soda and white vinegar. Add half a cup of baking soda to the wash cycle and half a cup of distilled white vinegar to the rinse cycle. You can add vinegar to the fabric softener dispenser if you’d rather not sit around waiting for the rinse cycle.
- Use warm or hot water when washing sheets. While you can use warm water in perpetuity, hot water can break down fibers more quickly and should only be used to soften stiff sheets. Hot water may be too rough for some fabrics, so check your care instructions to make sure it’s okay to use.
- Wash, dry, and repeat. If your new sheets are super stiff, try washing and drying them a few times in a row to loosen them up.
How to Soften Scratchy Sheets
Because many things can cause scratchy sheets, this can be a trickier problem to solve. Try out various methods below to see what works for you.
- Soak your sheets. This gentle process can help soften scratchy sheets. Try soaking in a mixture of water and distilled white vinegar for a few hours before washing your bed sheets. If this does not work, switch to Epsom salts or borax next time.
- Use fabric softener. While fabric softener isn’t the answer to all scratchy bed sheet issues, if the cause of the scratchy texture is fiber breakdown, fabric softener may help. It coats the fibers in a substance that reduces static cling and is soft to the touch.
How to Soften Old Sheets
Old sheets can lose their softness for various reasons, including fiber degradation, residue buildup, and pilling.
- For pilling, remove pills with a razor, scissors, or battery-operated fuzz remover. Check out our blog on how to avoid and fix pilling in sheets for more detailed instructions.
- For residue buildup, wash with baking soda and white vinegar. These household products help to clarify fibers and remove residue. Also try switching to a gentle, natural detergent and ditching fabric softener to avoid the buildup returning.
- For fiber degradation, use fabric softener. If your sheets grew rough over time and don’t respond to other softening techniques, the fibers may be damaged. In this case, fabric softener may be the best choice to extend your sheets’ lifespan.
How Can Soft Bed Sheets Lead to a Good Night’s Sleep?
To create the perfect sleep environment, your bedroom should be a comfy, cozy sanctuary. If you are not physically comfortable, you may end up tossing and turning or even waking up due to discomfort.
A great mattress is essential for providing the support you need for a restful sleep, but bed sheets directly contact your skin, so they matter too.
Whether you buy super-soft sateen Egyptian cotton bed sheets or soften your existing bed sheets using one of the many methods above, having soft sheets is a key part of creating a comfortable sleep space and ultimately getting better sleep.
What are the softest bed sheets?
High-quality long-staple cotton sheets are considered the softest sheets, at least straight out of the package. Egyptian cotton sheets with a thread count between 400 and 700 are an incredibly soft option.
Are linen sheets soft?
Linen sheets often start a little stiff but soften significantly over time. They are likely to be your softest sheets if you care for them and keep them long enough.
Are bamboo sheets soft?
Bamboo sheets are a very soft eco-friendly option. Like cotton, bamboo has long fibers and is soft right away.
Do sheets soften over time?
Most high-quality sheets soften over time. Linen, cotton and bamboo can soften more with each additional wash. On the other hand, lower-quality materials often grow more coarse with time.
What are the softest cooling sheets?
While most natural fabrics make for relatively cooling bed sheets compared to their synthetic counterparts, linen and bamboo bed sheets are especially cooling.