How do you make new bed sheets soft?
December 3, 2007 6:33 PM   Subscribe

I received a gift of a 500 thread count sheet set. I've always been under the impression that the higher the thread count, the softer and more durable the sheets are. These sheets, however, are not soft. They are noisy, wrinkle easily, and don't feel very pleasant. Since I don't have the receipt to return them, what can I do to make them feel better? I've already washed them twice and used fabric softener sheets in the drier but with no success.
posted by asuh to Home & Garden (13 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
It would help a lot if we knew the fiber (or fiber blend) and type of fabric of your sheets. 500 thread count is high for Egyptian cotton, low for sateen. 2 washings are plenty for cotton, but hardly an introduction to water for bamboo.

Details, please?
posted by paulsc at 6:40 PM on December 3, 2007

thread is woven of thinner strands, called a ply. some manufacturers will count each ply in their thread count--basically marketing 250 2-ply thread count sheets as 500, or whatever.

so, it's possible your relative got ripped off. that said, a lot of washing is your best bet. you might wash them with a pair of sneakers or something else to beat them up a bit more in the washer; failing that, i suppose you could always make curtains.
posted by thinkingwoman at 6:42 PM on December 3, 2007

They might feel better in very hot weather - "crisp" sheets. That said, anything that makes them softer is likely to be slightly damaging/weakening the fabric. You might consider using them to cover over the top of your bedclothes (and/or as a mattress cover under a regular bottom sheet), so they won't be next to your skin.
posted by amtho at 7:19 PM on December 3, 2007

I'm sorry I forgot to include the type! They are 100% pure cotton.
posted by asuh at 7:23 PM on December 3, 2007

Ever since people learned about thread counts, manufacturers have found ways to miscount the threads, to make cheaper (less comfortable) fabrics that meet the new marketing standards and sometimes to just flat out lie about it.
posted by Tacos Are Pretty Great at 8:04 PM on December 3, 2007

OK. For 100% cotton, 500 thread count is high, and they could be labeled as per thinkingwoman's note. If so, your "real" thread count is 250, meaning that your sheets are good quality. But they could be true 500 count, very high quality goods as well. Its just that at that thread count, the individual threads would be so fine as to not gain much strength from being mercerized, which is a common chemical treatment applied to nearly all cotton bedding goods. A 400 thread count pima cotton set I have is very soft. A 500 thread count Egyptian cotton set I have is soft, but notably "crisper" than the pima, due the greater filament fill. Fiber does make a difference.

As to what you can do to make your sheets feel softer, I'd recommend several things.

First, wash and machine dry them a couple more times, in warm and then hot water, to remove all sizing. The mechanical agitation of the washer and dryer will help, but mainly, you are trying to remove the last traces of sizing and chemical anti-static additives used in the manufacture and packaging of your sheets.

Do not use fabric softener sheets in drying. Fabric "softener" adds one or more of several fabric treatments, including various cationic agents and surface lubricants that effectively control static, but have the disadvantage of making fabric much less absorbent. As you are trying to thoroughly launder you sheets at this point, adding fabric softener is, counter intuitively, counter productive. If you routinely use fabric softener sheets in your dryer, your dryer drum will have a light coating of those agents, most likely. You may want to put a load of towels or something through the dryer, without a dryer sheet, before drying your sheets, to minimize the transfer of fabric conditioner to your bedsheets.

After the last wash cycle, if you can, instead of drying your sheets in a machine, it would be good if you could hang them in outdoors in sunshine for at least 3 or 4 hours. It is OK if they freeze on the line when you do this. If they freeze, you may have to dry them in a machine afterwards for a shorter than normal time. But the point of exposing them to sunlight is get the help of UV rays in breaking down any remain sizing agent, or optical brighteners used in the manufacture of the sheets, or added by your laundry detergent.

When dry, make your bed with your sheets, but spend several minutes first smoothing the bottom sheet, and then the top sheet with a smooth bottom dinner plate (preferably a stoneware or china plate with a foot ridge). The unglazed foot ridge of the plate is a kind of very, very fine abrasive, which will smoothly "polish" the fibers of your sheets. Move it in vertical overlapping strokes, with little pressure, at a reasonable speed (maybe a foot or so a second). You may actually feel the sheets getting smoother, and you may see a bit of cotton dust collecting on the underside of the plate. Wipe it off as needed, and keep going, doing the facing side of your top sheet, too. The more you do this, the more you are abrading your sheets, at a much faster rate than just using them does, so you are accelerating the "break in" of your sheets. A couple passes should make a noticeable difference.

Thereafter, wash your sheets in warm water, with a mild detergent (without included bleach or optical brighteners) and a medium dilution of Clorox bleach only when necessary, and cold water rinse. To fight yellowing, hang them outdoors to dry when possible, and use a little bluing, every third or fourth wash. Dry without fabric softener. Your sheets will quickly soften in use, partly by picking up body oils and friction from you as you sleep.

posted by paulsc at 8:12 PM on December 3, 2007 [105 favorites]

wow, awesome answer paulsc! i'll give it a shot.
posted by asuh at 8:25 PM on December 3, 2007

My tactile experience with high thread-count sheets is that they are not so much soft as they are smooth (YMMV). As I like that slippery feeling in sheets high thread count works for me. You might try running your hand over some flannel sheets and see if that is more your definition of soft, as it is with me.
posted by nax at 8:53 PM on December 3, 2007

and, to build on nax's answer...if you find flannel soft, try jersey next. that is what all sheets forever should be made of. imagine, wrapping yourself in your softest tee shirt constantly.
posted by nadawi at 8:57 PM on December 3, 2007

In addition to paulsc's excellent advice, a 1/4 cup of white vinegar in your rinse cycle will aid in a thorough rinsing of the sizing agents, stopping them from redepositing themselves in the sheets as the cycle continues. It's actually an excellent addition to your overall laundry repetoire in place of chemical fabric softeners.
posted by Dreama at 8:00 AM on December 4, 2007

Seconding nax & nadawi- I've always found high-thread count sheets, and silks, to be very uncomfortably rough. Silk for example always feels scratch to my fingers, like a vinyl record. Silk against my skin feels like nails on a chalkboard. Some people like that "stiff, hotel room" feel of high-thread count sheets, but not I and I'm guessing not you.

The jersey modal fabric found in these sheets (I've got two sets, I love these so much!!!) are just unbelievably soft. It's like sleeping in the embrace of a teddy bear wearing an old, comfortable tee-shirt. *sigh* :)
posted by hincandenza at 6:55 PM on December 4, 2007

i just want to say wwooowwww never see such complete laundry advice before . who was that masked man. i'm saving this in my lifehacks book lol
posted by Soulbee at 7:47 AM on December 5, 2007 [1 favorite]

Hincandenza, your link to the soft jersey sheets you love is no longer good. Can you provide brand and product info for them? I'd love to check them out. I just bought some 800 thread count sheets at Maceys and they are way too crisp.
posted by proactive100 at 2:58 PM on August 22, 2008

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