Help Me Stop Ruining My Sheets
September 25, 2011 6:59 PM   Subscribe

Somehow, my partner and I have a superhuman ability to ruin sheets. The seams of the pillowcases split open. The sheets themselves develop gaping holes where our feet hit them. On several occasions, they've gone into the washing machine apparently fine, and come out torn to pieces. Can someone please give me very specific advice about how to make this not happen? Fabrics, thread counts, brands, tips on washing sheets, anything.

I don't think that we're especially hard on our sheets--we don't throw people out of burning buildings onto them, we don't build forts with them, we don't let our daughter use them to make hobo sacks out of...they get slept on, and that's about it. The sheets pretty much get put on the bed, stay there for a couple of weeks, tossed into the washing machine (washed in cold, dried on regular), and then folded and put into drawers. We have about four sets at any given time, and rotate through them...but it's inevitable that by the end of the year, all four sets will have been replaced.

I don't know if I'm buying exceptionally crappy sheets or what--they range from $20 t-shirt material sheets to generic Target $35-a-set sheets to some very nice sheets (in the $80 range) that a relative gave us as a gift. The result is pretty much always the same--within a few months, they've started to visibly wear, and usually within about a year, they're toast. (This is a year of occasional use--maybe a total of three or four months on the bed.) I think that the oldest set of sheets we have right now was one of the $20 t-shirt sheets, and they're about three years old, but other sheets of the same brand died much faster. The other current sets were all purchased in the last year, and the ones that I threw out this morning have only been used twice!

The three most common causes of sheet destruction seem to be the hems and seams fraying or coming undone, holes (large ones) developing on the sheets right where our feet hit, and the sheets just tearing into ribbons in the wash. There's also a lot of pilling, but this doesn't render them unusable--it's just annoying.

We do have fairly rough feet, both of us, but I wouldn't consider them to be abnormally rough--they seem about on par with most other people's feet. (And this is something that we're working on, so please assume that "Just do a better job exfoliating your heels!" isn't a workable option.) Additionally, our dogs and cats are allowed on our bed, but the only one who's ever really on the sheets (at least in the places where the damages occurs) is our miniature dachshund, and I'm not convinced he could do this much damage, especially as it's not evident in any of his other favorite hangout places.

We're open to any type of material--flannel, jersey, plain cotton, some sort of magical fabric that's been reinforced with titanium, whatever. I'd prefer not to spend $75 on a set of sheets, but if you think that they're the greatest sheets ever and will definitely not shred, I'm willing to at least consider it.

They're just sheets--it doesn't seem like it should be this hard!
posted by MeghanC to Home & Garden (34 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
On several occasions, they've gone into the washing machine apparently fine, and come out torn to pieces.

This fact (also comign apart at the seems) makes me think that it may be how you wash them. Do you bleach them each time they get washed? Bleach can thin down fabric drastically. If you aren't having problems with any of your clothes, try washing them with the same products and settings as your clothes.

Generally, I'd recommend sheets with a higher thread count. The fabric shouldn't matter in particular.
posted by DoubleLune at 7:13 PM on September 25, 2011 [2 favorites]

How quickly do your clothes wear out? My first guess would be to blame the washing machine. After all, your rough feet and even the tippytap of puppy toes wouldn't wear out the seams of the sheets.
posted by desuetude at 7:15 PM on September 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

You've taken a look at your heels -- how about your toenails?

Toenails can be much sharper than you think. I went through socks like WATER until I started getting more diligent about cutting those nails.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:18 PM on September 25, 2011 [3 favorites]

We don't bleach anything, and the sheets are washed on the same settings as everything else we own--sometimes even in the same load.

Our clothes seem to wear out quite slowly--I actually can't think of the last time we had to toss a shirt or something because it had a hole instead of because, say, it got stained, or we had twenty-seven novelty tees and really don't need that many.
posted by MeghanC at 7:18 PM on September 25, 2011

Does anything else go into your washer intact and come out ripped? [On preview: bleaching, yes, avoid] I bought, new, a Frigidaire dryer that ripped stuff -- Frigidaire was ridiculously unhelpful; avoid -- and if you have hard water, that could be an issue, too, but if your clothes aren't coming out trashed...

Not comfy sleeping in socks, I take it? (Vaseline on the feet, feet in socks, and then to bed is very good for the rough feet problem, but I can understand how somebody might not want to regularly go to bed with greased feet)

I have the best luck, for both durability and softness, with: Ikea's cotton sheets (thick-ish, and they get softer and softer with every washing), and vintage plain white from decaes ago in thrift shops. I am not a believer in "thread count" as an indicator of anything other than what the thread count is (and even then I am a bit dubious at times). That was not in the sheet-marketing lexicon not very long ago, and still soft, durable, high-quality sheets managed to exist... Ikea's sheets are clearly the opposite of high thread count when you look, and they wash up beautifully soft and the ones I am typing this on are several years old now.

I would return sheets that pilled -- that is totally unacceptable -- and seams falling apart? Right back to the store.

I have no first-hand experience, but L.L. Bean's sheets get pretty good customer reviews, and their return policy is absolutely sterling -- if theirs fell apart like that you would be looking at a free new pair and polite apology from Bean. The stuff you mention about hems and seams coming apart suggests you are buying too-cheap sheets (so does the pilling). Totally not worth cheaping out if you are replacing them that often. If you can be confident that it is not a laundry issue after this thread, try Bean and Ikea.
posted by kmennie at 7:19 PM on September 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

I find that jersey sheets, while lovely, are not particularly durable. I can't believe that you're any harder on sheets than we are (two adults, six cats, one Yorkie mix) and I wash and dry sheets on hot frequently with nothing to show for it besides a little fading.

Try washing the sheets/towels separately? Perhaps zippers/fasteners on your clothing is snagging the sheets?
posted by crankylex at 7:23 PM on September 25, 2011

-sometimes even in the same load.

Your zippers, velcro, rivets and other things are snagging the sheets. Only wash them with socks, tees, towels, and other stuff with no hardware to speak of.
posted by slow graffiti at 7:25 PM on September 25, 2011 [11 favorites]

OR dog/cat nails need more trimming; even if they're not forcefully scratching, snags happen
posted by slow graffiti at 7:26 PM on September 25, 2011

Have you tried flannel? Our LL Bean flannel sheets have been ridiculously durable, and we have a set from the Company Store that has held up well thus far too.
posted by charmcityblues at 7:29 PM on September 25, 2011

I think slow graffiti has it.

Personally I was taught to always wash my sheets, pillowcases, and towels together in hot water, maybe with PJs, always separate from my street clothes. I'm not very fussy about laundry, but mixing sheets with regular clothes gives me pause. Besides, if you put a fitted sheet and clothing in the same load, the clothes can get sort of stuck "in" the sheet and not get washed properly (not to mention rip them at the seams).
posted by telegraph at 7:33 PM on September 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

My first thought was that your woven sheets are sateen rather than percale. Any sateen sheets I've had pill at the slightest provocation, like coming into contact with rough skin or shaving stubble. And once they pill, it seems like it weakens the fabric.
posted by DrGail at 7:34 PM on September 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

Jersey knit sheets do wear thin eventually - after a few years for me - but I've never had any of the problems you're describing with your sheets, and I use jersey knit exclusively.

I was thinking maybe there's a sharp edge in your washer or dryer, but if it's not happening to the other things you wash in it, I don't know. It sounds really strange that it's happening across all these different kinds of sheets, not just cheap no-name stuff. With that in mind, it does sound like maybe the other things you wash with the sheets are the problem. I only wash sheets with other sheets and have never had this problem.
posted by wondermouse at 7:36 PM on September 25, 2011

I really recommend Ralph Lauren sheets. They can be easily found at the RL outlets (just bought a queen set for $41 on friday!). They wear beautifully, never pill and I find that we can get at least 2 years of use from them. Also don't wash with anything other than sheets as street clothes can wear the fabric out and dry at no higher than med temp.
posted by saradarlin at 7:41 PM on September 25, 2011 [2 favorites]

With sheets one of the nice things is that long-staple cotton is both softer and more durable. Look for genuine Egyptian or "Pima," which is the same variety grown elsewhere (think of Kobe vs. Wagyu beef). Really high thread count sounds great in principle, but the more threads the thinner they have to be. We have soft, nice sheets that are 250 thread count. I bought our last set at Tuesday Morning (an outlet store), but if I had to buy some today, I'd get these from BB&B. They'll let you use three 20% off one item coupons at once, as long as they're not expired, so that would be $72.

One aspect of washing sheets that's different is that they can really get wrapped up in the agitator (if you have one) or with themselves (in a really full load). That would be a lot of strain on the whole sheet, including the seams. It helps to ball each sheet up before placing them in the washer, rather than (in the worst case) wrapping all the linens from the bed into a bundle and throwing that in the washer. Front-loading washers are much gentler on clothes, and more energy efficient, but it typically doesn't make economic or ecological sense to replace them until they need replacing.

I agree that your sheet wearing out sounds unusual. I think we have three sets, changed on similar intervals, cats sleeping on the bed, etc., and our three-year-old is younger than all of them.
posted by wnissen at 7:58 PM on September 25, 2011 [2 favorites]

This has never happened to me and I a laundry MASTER. And I have pets.

It's your machine, choice of jersey over regular sheets, or other laundry screwing up your sheets. What about the dryer, and what shares the dryer space with your sheets?

Look for alternate culprits. Regular sheets of any thread count don't do this.
posted by jbenben at 7:59 PM on September 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

Thread count does matter. I like 100% cotton percale sheets 400 thread count. I have also been buying 500 thread count 100% Egyptian or pima cotton sateen sheet sets. The percale sheets are hard to find but do not buy lower thread count or other than 100% cotton. The sateen comes in higher thread count which is heavier and, presumably, better quality but I prefer the 500 or 600 count in the sateen. Sheets made of high thread count long staple Egyptian or pima cotton fabric are generally well made and do not suffer from the badlly sewn seams or pilling too often found in the cheaper sets. I have not tried flannel or knit sheets--just a matter of preference.

I find sheets at and watch for specials. If you are flexible about color and pattern, you can usually find really good buys. I try to keep four sets per bed and rotate weekly. But even in years that I had only two sets rotating weekly they far outlasted cheaper sheets. Wash with other soft laundry and never use bleach. I sometimes use an "oxygen bleach" which is safe for soaking stained or discolored linens. Finding these sheets for sale online has saved me a lot of money.
posted by Anitanola at 8:14 PM on September 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'd suspect a combination of cheap/thin sheets and something involving your washing machine -- I've never seen a sheet set wear out at the seams or tear holes the way you describe, and I have bedding that's a solid ten years old.

When I put sheets in the washing machine, I make sure they aren't all balled up together; I sort of fold them in the way you might with a soft-serve ice cream cone. I make very sure not to pack them down to fit more into one load, that is bad juju.

Maybe try washing only sheets in a load for a while, not drying as long, and if that helps some... spring for some sheets that are more expensive and maybe a little more durable would do the rest of the job? I've got some sturdy, soft, and not crazy expensive bamboo sheets from Target that I adore. I can't recall the exact price, but I think they were in the $50 range for a king-size set.
posted by Andrhia at 8:18 PM on September 25, 2011

--And if you can stand it without feeling gross, the scientific method might work. Keep the same set of sheets on your bed without washing for a couple of months, to see if they're any different before and then after; that would help to confirm whether it was the washing or the wear that causes the problem. Take photos to compare.
posted by Andrhia at 8:20 PM on September 25, 2011

Nthing slow graffiti; start washing your sheets by themselves. In addition to the sheets snagging on zippers and velcro, you're probably overstuffing your washer. A set of sheets is a good-sized load, and you want to give your laundry enough room to agitate. Overstuffing makes it easier for your laundry to get tangled or stuck, leading to rips.
posted by Metroid Baby at 8:26 PM on September 25, 2011

I have been buying my own sheets for about 30 years, and until a couple of years ago, I always bought the cheapest sheets I could. Like from salvage stores or Kmart. And I usually had only one or at most two sets of sheets. I have never had sheets wear out. I still have some sheets that I know I bought in 1990, and while they're faded, there are no holes or tears.

So in my mind, it has got to be something to do with washing, or storage, or something else external. Even if your feet were tearing them, that wouldn't explain the seams ripping. I'm wondering if it has to do with your mattress pad.
posted by MexicanYenta at 8:33 PM on September 25, 2011

As a note, the holes where your feet hit may be caused by movement at night. My husband's stepfather apparently does this thing where he walks/runs all night, effectively rubbing a hole where his feet rest on the sheet in a couple of months or so. Exfoliation, socks, etc. haven't helped with this.

Otherwise, the other advice you've gotten sounds good wrt washing and purchasing. I haven't purchased new sheets since 2005, and we haven't had any problems such as the ones you describe with ours.
posted by daikaisho at 8:36 PM on September 25, 2011

How often do you launder the sheets? We wash ours once a week, every week. We just got a new bed, different size than before, but the previous sheets on the old bed were laundered every week for over 4 years, without a single loose thread, and these sheets were the only set, in use every night. And it was the cheapest set of sheets we could find at Walmart. Your sheets should last longer, unless you wash them like every day or something.

Now, in every set of sheets I have used have been symmetrical; meanng that it virtual impossible which end was used for feet last time, and which end was used for your head. Are you sure its the feet end? It seems like it could easily be the head end, which would be a lot more accessible to your pets.

As for seams tearing, do you put something extra on top of your mattress to make it softer? Sounds like the sheets are over stuffed.
posted by BurnChao at 8:37 PM on September 25, 2011

Definitely wash your sheets completely separately from all other laundry, even towels. Towels are rougher than your sheets and can strain the fabric, plus the lint they shed contributes to pilling.
posted by illenion at 8:50 PM on September 25, 2011

Nthing that your zippers, etc. are snagging them in the washer or dryer.
posted by desuetude at 8:51 PM on September 25, 2011

My daschund, Sophie, can totally shred an "indestructible" squeaky toy in 30 seconds or less, so I would sincerely not rule that out! (our pups look like twins!) Sophie does not get to sleep in our bed though.
posted by Jayed at 10:30 PM on September 25, 2011

Is it possible that your (spring) mattress is wearing out? Try flipping and rotating your mattress, if you haven't done that in a while.
posted by pH Indicating Socks at 11:40 PM on September 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

I have covers for my futon that have a worn patch from using my feet to push me headward (pillow-ward?) when I turn over, or after I flip the pillow. But they've appeared over a period of years. So the foot thing is possible, I suppose.

When I go to my grandmother's house, I sleep on sheets that I know for a fact are older than I am, which have been slept on and washed so many times that instead of feeling like new dress shirts, they feel like really flowy scarves, but even though the color is almost gone in places, they still have no holes or loose threads. Pretty sure they're ordinary cotton percale sheets.

I personally don't like the stretchy t-shirt sheets, but I don't like them because they get too hot. I like cotton percale sheets, because they feel crisp and smooth (not satiny-smooth, but not coarse), and because they seem pretty tough. I've never seen one damaged that I didn't damage on purpose.
posted by Mister Moofoo at 12:19 AM on September 26, 2011

are you buying the right size sheets - I had sheets that would pull off the mattress for years until I realized that I had been buying double bed sheets, and my matress was actually queen size - they are only 6 inchs different in width - maybe try a bigger set?
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 12:33 AM on September 26, 2011

Front loading washers are much kinder to fabrics. If you are using a front loader already, be sure you know the proper way to load large pieces like sheets.
posted by Cranberry at 12:56 AM on September 26, 2011

If you do look into some high thread count sheets (and I suggest it) make sure they're long ply egyptian cotton and not marked as 2-ply, 4-ply or anything else. This means they used short fibres and twisted them together, meaning your 500 thread count sheets aren't true 500 thread count and will not last anywhere near as long. Sometimes this is on the packaging and sometimes you have to read the small print to find out. Also, the higher the thread count the generally more hard wearing, but if you go over 500-ish the sheets are going to be very thick and not as soft.

For what it's worth, I just inherited an egyptian cotton double bed sheet from my parents (they have a super-king so can't use it) which is old (10 years? more?) and it's super soft and has no visible damage to speak of.

The one time I bought jersey type sheets we destroyed them in a year, too. They do not last in my experience
posted by stillnocturnal at 2:08 AM on September 26, 2011

On the cheap side, I'm currently going on two years with a set of Springmaid sheets from Target. They've been in continuous use and I've laundered once a week with other linens (towels, etc.) only. It looks like Target has stopped carrying them, but they're still up on Springmaid's website for $49.99 for a full set.
posted by pie ninja at 4:18 AM on September 26, 2011

I came here to tell you that you should probably trim your toenails shorter and avoid washing your sheets with other clothes that have zippers, but that advice has already been given.
posted by hootenatty at 6:34 AM on September 26, 2011

The real shock to me is that the seams come apart. We use Target sheets, have dogs, I have horrible feet and don't shave my legs very often (and stubble makes the sheets pill on my side), I'm a thrasher, and I've still never lost a corner seam even on ancient sheets (including some of my mother's cotton-poly sheets from the 70s). I have put my horrible foot through one, but it was at least three years old.

A thought: I can really only stand to go about 10 days on a fitted sheet because it starts to stretch and get really mobile, which might make movement tug harder and more often at the seams. I need a wash and dry to snug it back up. Maybe that's happening to you?

Someone above also mentioned a saggy mattress, which is also going to put a lot of stress on the seams. Maybe your mattress is wrecking your sheets, especially if you're both having to use your feet as serious leverage to roll over, get up, etc.

Aside from that, I agree that sheets should be washed only with sheets. It wasn't until a single tossed-in towel ruined a rayon shirt in one wash that I realized what a destructive force texture can be in there. That still doesn't explain the seams, though.
posted by Lyn Never at 6:52 AM on September 26, 2011

Echoing what 5_13_23_42_69_666 said, if the seams you are ripping are on the bottom fitted sheet, you may have a thicker mattress than you are purchasing sheets for. The strain can be pulling the seams apart.
posted by gagoumot at 6:58 AM on September 26, 2011

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