We all know the frustration of buying new bed sheets.
First there is a huge array of fabric choices: cotton, silk, satin, flannel, bamboo. Then, there are there variations: cotton or Egyptian cotton, 100% bamboo or viscose from bamboo or bamboo rayon or a bamboo and cotton blend? Finally, even once that is settled some options are $30 and others are $300. What's the difference? How do you choose?
Since this is BestBambooGuide, we hope you've already decided on the fabric you are looking for is bamboo. With that out of the way, I'm here to help you figure out the differences between all these choices. It's important to know which types bamboo sheets will sleep the coolest, which are the most environmentally friendly, and which will fit into your budget.
What Are The Options?
With their unbelievable softness, environmentally friendly production, and the promise of a cool night's sleep, it is no surprise that bamboo sheets have become increasingly popular over the last couple of years.
With this increase in popularity has come an influx of options. From the nature of the bamboo fabric itself, to the method of producing the fabric, to blends with cotton to try to combine the best of cotton and bamboo bedding, even when you've decided on "bamboo" the number of options can be overwhelming.
Here is a run down of most of the options you will come across. For some additional information on the various types of bamboo fabric, check out our article Know your bedding fabric: Rayon vs. Viscose vs. Modal vs. Lyocell.
100% Bamboo Sheets
This is the standard against which all other bamboo sheets are measured. If you just want "bamboo sheets" you should be looking for 100% viscose from bamboo or 100% bamboo rayon (viscose from bamboo and bamboo rayon are the exact same thing, just different names).
There is a lot of misunderstanding about what this means. First, viscose from bamboo and bamboo rayon are the same, so there's no need to worry about which one of these you should get. The rayon and viscose terms are because the fabric in bamboo bedding is made the same way any rayon fabric is made. You start with a plant (cellulose), dissolve it caustic soda, and then pull starnds of fiber from the dissolved liquid. These strands are woven together to form the fabric.
The important thing here is that you get 100% bamboo. These are the ultra soft, cool sheets that everyone is raving about. Something with polyester or "microfiber" mixed in will be totally different, and will not breathe well at all, leading to a hot and sweaty night's sleep.
100% Bamboo Lyocell
This is very similar to the 100% viscose from bamboo above, but the process used to manufacture the fabric is slightly different. Since we have a whole [BLOG POST] dedicated to that very topic, we won't bore you with it here.
What you do need to know is that as far as comfort and coolness go, this is identical to the 100% viscose from bamboo. The upside to bamboo lyocell is the process of dissolving the bamboo and produce the fibers somewhat more environmentally friendly. While the viscose process recycles about 70% of the caustic soda used to dissolve the bamboo, the lyocell process recycles virtually all of it in what is known as a "closed loop" production process.
This is far and away the most environmentally friendly way to make bamboo sheets. Unfortunately, the sheets themselves are not very comfortable, and it is prohibitively expensive.
To make bamboo linen, the bamboo plants are crushed by a machine until they are almost pulp. This pulp, which uses no chemicals at all, is then shredded and turned into fabric. Unfortunately, this will not be soft and cool like viscose from bamboo, it will be something closer to traditional linen. I'm not aware of anyone producing sheets this way because fo the cost, and the fact that they would not be great to sleep on.
Bamboo and Cotton Blend
I've seen some manufacturers claiming that bamboo sheets are "incredibility durable." This is just not true. Bamboo sheets are wonderful, but they are delicate, and any manufacturer or retailer claiming otherwise is not being entirely honest with you.
To solve this problem, several companies have introduced bamboo/cotton blended sheets. Here, you are more or less trading off softness and coolness, for increased durability. There was a set of these that I used to recommend in my comprehensive guide to bamboo sheets, but they've since stopped making them. I haven't found a bamboo/cotton blend that I thought was anywhere near as comfortable as 100% bamboo.
Polyester and Microfiber Impostors
Don't get me started on these! There are a bunch of them out there on Amazon that sell for $25 or $30, and have names that sound environmentally friendly, like "Zen" bamboo sheets. These are usually 40% bamboo rayon and 60% polyester. They are not cool, and they are not durable. They do initially feel soft to the touch, but tend to fair poorly and start falling apart after 6 months or a year.
I highly recommend that you avoid polyester or microfiber blends. These just aren't "bamboo" sheets.
How Are They Woven?
Like any fabric, there are different weaves that you can choose from when selecting bamboo sheets. Amongst bamboo sheets, there are two choices that come up most frequently: twill and sateen.
This is a loose weave which you can recognize by the regular, diagonal ribbing. To identify this, look carefully at the lines of the fabric. If they are all single lines and pointing in the same direction then it is a twill weave just like in the picture.
Although the high end Cariloha sheets (the "Resort" line) are made with a sateen weave, in my opinion the twill weave is superior. The twill weave is found on the Bamboo Supply Co sheets, as well as on the Cariloha Classic line of sheets. I've found that twill weave is slightly stronger and more durable, and it also feels smoother and softer on my skin. This is one of those areas where opinions differ, so if you're really concerned you can order pillowcases of each and see how it feels to you.
The defining characteristic of a sateen weave is that the threads are 3 over, 1 under. This gives them a slightly shinier appearance, and some people find them softer. Personally, I find these a bit less comfortable against my skin than the twill.
Other than the "too silky" feel, sateen bamboo sheets are somewhat less durable. This is due to the nature of the sateen 3 over, 1 under pattern that makes threads more susceptible to getting torn in the wash or during use. Small tears in the threads can lead to pilling or outright tears in the fabric.
So there are some downsides to sateen, but if you prefer an ultra silky feel then they could be the right choice. Just know that you will have to exercise some extra caution to maintain them.
What Thread Count Should I Look For?
I feel like there have been a lot of articles written explaining why blindly looking for a high thread count is a terrible way to purchase sheets. In fact, you can weed out low quality sheets by looking for things like 1800 or 1500 thread count since these are using shady tactics trying to inflate the number. Basically, they count individual plies in a thread instead of the whole thread. This allows them to triple count each thread.
However, once you've eliminated the sheets with unrealistically high thread count numbers, you are still left with lots of options that have reasonable thread counts.
How Do I Decide Which Bamboo Sheets Are For Me?
In order to help you figure this out, I've put together a checklist you can use to guide your buying decision. Here are the really important things you should be looking out for when buying bamboo bedding:
- Buy 100% bamboo viscose, bamboo rayon, or lyocell bamboo. Anything else is going to be less comfortable, or of lower quality. Only 100% bamboo is going to give you the cool night's sleep you are looking for with the smooth, silky feel bamboo fabric is known for.
- Look for the guarantee. Any reputable company should stand behind their product. Major sheet manufacturers like Bamboo Supply Co, Cariloha, and eLuxurySupply are going to offer some kind of money back guarantee against defects. Make sure to read the terms of the guarantee before you make your buying decision so that if something is wrong you'll be able to get a refund or replacement.
- Examine the weave. The manufacturers website or product listing should mention the weave, but if not look at a close-up of the sheets and compare to our photos above. You should get a sateen weave if you're willing to sacrifice a little durability for extra smoothness. Get a twill weave if you are worried about pilling, and don't mind sacrificing a tiny bit of smoothness and silkiness.
- Watch out for the thread count. With bamboo, if the thread count is anything over 600, it is probably a low quality product using a misleading tactic (or outright lying) to inflate the thread count. Not only is this a sign of a dishonest company, but it is probably a sign of a low quality product made with polyester or microfiber.
- Price. Obviously you should stay within your budget. The more expensive options do tend to be higher quality, come with a better guarantee, and last longer. But if you can't afford to spend $300 on sheets, then there are still great options for as little as $100. Sheets that claim to be bamboo and are $25 are almost certainly a scam.
Which Sheets Do You Recommend?
Glad you asked! I have a whole article, Bamboo Sheets - Comprehensive Buyer's Guide that I keep updated with the latest products. It has ratings and a "best of" list to keep you informed about which bamboo sheet sets you should buy.
If you have any questions leave a comment below!