Wrestling with Sheets: A Beginner’s Guide to Finding the Proper Fit

Posted by Andrea Martin on

Clean sheets are one of my “happy” smells. Fresh from the dryer or hanging on the clothesline, something about that clean sheet smell triggers my endorphins. Once collected and carried to the bed, however, my positive thoughts take a drastic turn. In fact, it’s when those clean sheets meet their mattress that my outlook shifts. In short, I wrestle. 

I love a good metaphor like anyone, but let me be clear here: I literally wrestle with my bedding to pin it to my mattress. Why is it that a bed (of known dimensions) cannot easily or adequately be encased in a sheet that’s allegedly tailor-made to fit it? 

If it were simply a struggle to put on clean sheets, that would be one thing. I would let it go. But ill-fitting sheets have a more lasting impact - an impact on sleep. In my case, when I’m in bed the slightest motion causes my sheets to bunch, come undone, slide, and interrupt rest. Basically I’ve got my sheets in a bunch, and I’m sleeping (or tossing and turning) on top of them, and that is disturbing. 

Instead of going the route of defeat or anger, I went looking for a reason my sheets were working against me. This led me to contact Rob O’Neill from the team of sleep technology pioneers at Leggett & Platt. Before I went digging for answers to my sheet problems, I wanted to get my terminology straight. Rob said anything that is a sheet, mattress pad, mattress protector or the like falls under the category “top of bed accessory.”  And if you really want to sound like you know your thread counts, just shorten it to “top of bed.”

I explained that I regard mattresses and sheets like I do ketchup and mustard, or salt and pepper: they just go together. But when I put this couple together, they are always at odds.  Rob knew exactly why.

In a Relationship, but It’s Complicated

The main reason for the lack of compatibility between sheets and mattresses is rooted in industry and technology. Primarily, the mattress industry is separate from the top of bed industry. Though sheets fit the beds of the 1980s, they don’t fit the mattresses of today. Technology, Rob explained, has created a slimmer mattress. For mattresses like mine the depth isn’t what it used to be, but sheets haven’t conformed to this trend. So, while the length and width of the sheets and mattress align, the “depth of pocket” is often too large. This is one world where “deep pockets” aren’t a good thing. They are the number one cause of a poor fit. Sizing problems are a result of industries not aligning. Eventually, Rob predicts, the discrepancies won’t be as great. 

You Can’t Make a Silk Purse Out of a Sow’s Ear

What’s the second reason for ill-fitting sheets? Product quality. In the bedding world, you don’t cut corners; you cover them. If you want a quality sheet that doesn’t budge, you need elastic that goes around the entire bottom to help cinch it in. If your sheets only have elasticized corners, expect problems. To help avoid this, be on the lookout for “full circle elastic,” Rob advised. Sheets that go on sale or are “value-based” often won’t offer the elasticized perimeter you need to hold the sheet wall in place. The sheet wall is already more voluptuous than you need, so elastic helps control it. It’s like belting a Moo Moo.

Kept in Suspense

In my research, I found a lot of chatter about mattress suspenders and mattress garters. Basically they clip and grip sides of a sheet and pull the cloth taut. Rob sees these as a “stop-gap measure,” an aftermarket solution to the problem, but not one that is viable long-term. Suspenders could increase wear and tear on the cloth itself and possibly cause premature rips and holes in the sidewall. When I asked about using mattress suspenders for my clothes (I saw it on the Internet!), Rob had no comment.

Prep for your Shopping Trip

Consumers know to shop for comfort (thread count) but neglect shopping for function (proper sizing), which is just as impactful.

Integrate both considerations with Rob’s four tips on what to look for in a sheet set:

·         Cotton content: 100% cotton

·         Cotton type: Egyptian, Pima

·         Deep pockets: the packaging should say if it’s a deep pocket set in fine print (if not, take the sheets out and look)

·         Full circle elastic

Under-the-Covers Look

And finally, if that wasn’t helpful enough, I wanted to learn by Rob’s example:

A: How do you make your bed?

Use another person…or put sheets on counter corners.

A: What do you sleep on?

Rob: 400 Thread count Egyptian sheets.

A: And…

Rob: They’re Leggett and Platt, if I can say that.

A: You definitely should! I asked you. What color are they?

Rob: Ivory and White

The man knows his sheets…and now I do too. Maybe I can get back to enjoying the happy smell of clean sheets, instead of dreading a midnight wrestling match.

About Andrea

Andrea Martin is an English major with a love of writing. In her free time she enjoys reading books and hanging out at coffee shops with friends. View all articles by Andrea
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