Tricks to Soft and Smooth Sheets

boll and branch, nordstrom, cotton percale sheets, thread count, bed, bedding, making the bed, bedroom, Christine Kohut Interiors, #CKdesignninja, design ninja

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Guests Are Arriving Soon and I’m Three Sheets to The Wind

I love having visitors, and guests are arriving any minute now. Well, by the time I post this, these guests and then more guests will have already arrived, but I digress. I have been cleaning the bedrooms and changing all the sheets, including on the One Room Challenge bed. Making them all nice and fresh gave me an idea to write about. It might come in handy or maybe you’re just bored and have a few minutes to kill and will flatter me by reading this.

Stripping It Down

First, let’s talk about stripping. No, not like JLo in Hustlers.

Stripping the bed. I am going to tell you my secret: I’m freaking lazy. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely change the sheets before each guest arrives, but I don’t necessarily strip them as soon as they leave. Here’s why.

First, after everyone leaves, the last thing I want to do is EXTRA work. I already have dishes, vacuuming, etc. Then I have all the laundry that I didn’t do while they were here. And of course, I don’t want to spend a whole day washing sheets, because that is really how long it takes, don’t you agree?

Another reason is I think bedding can get a little stale, even clean sheets, in the time between visitors. Sure I could launder them, fold them (oh, THAT’S FUN…not!) and put them in a drawer or closet and wait until company comes, but even then they are not as fresh as washing them and getting them on the bed the day before or day of their arrival. So I just make the beds as is, and wait until right before I know someone is coming. That’s when I strip them down and air out the bed for a day. Washing, drying and putting the sheets on the bed right away.

Of course, I do have back up clean sheets in a drawer if someone shows up unexpectedly or, well, after almost 26 years of motherhood, raising three kids, I know to always have back up. A lot of back up.

Design Ninja, Christine Kohut Interiors, peacock print cotton percale sheets for sale at Target
Click to see other prints available at Target

Soft Like Buttah (and melting like it too)

Secret number two: I’m picky but not THAT picky. I prefer 100% cotton percale sheets. As soft as they are, I absolutely hate microfiber sheets, which are kind of popular lately. And remember when jersey sheets were a thing? I think they still are for some people, but not my favorite. Microfiber’s claim to fame is how thin they are, how slippery smooth they are, and they don’t really wrinkle (because they are usually polyester or other man-made product).

But when I sleep with them, here’s what happens to me. The fabric actually hurts my face. As smooth as they might feel, on my bare skin the microfiber feels like of prickly.

Don’t laugh at me.

Also, the comforter always slides off, the sheets seem to slide around everywhere, and the sheets get super hot. They don’t seem to breathe. Now, while I don’t think I’m full throttle into hot flashes and stuff, it’s possible I’ve been running a little hot when I sleep.

With microfiber sheets, I wake up actually all sweaty and gross. Which is gross. You can try to sell me on the benefits of microfiber, but I’m not buying it.

EE Cards, hot flashes, humor, Christine Kohut Interiors

Jersey sheets are those “t-shirt sheets” made out of a stretchy cotton jersey. Why don’t I like them? I think because I don’t slide at all! So I guess that’s the opposite of the microfiber sheets. My clothes feel like they’re velcro’d to the bed, my pajama pants get all jacked up when I toss and turn, and that’s no bueno.

Of course there are other types, like flannel, linen, bamboo, and even silk that we can discuss. Maybe another day. I do like quality linen and bamboo sheets and what I’m sharing below might pertain to those as well. But for the sake of this post, I’m sticking to cotton percale sheets (because they are can be a lot cheaper than those other two, and remember, I said I’m not THAT picky).

Cotton sheets are not that hard to find, but the good ones are very pricey. Pima and Egyptian cotton are the words to look for here. Some are worth it, but are a luxury in my mind. And probably for a lot of you. The less expensive ones can be horrible and scratchy, shrink to half their size, or might have a poly blend to help them keep their shape and be a little smoother. Again, poly doesn’t breathe, people.

But You Have to Give a Sheet

Man, I crack myself up. Anyway, many people have a misconception that a super high thread count is going to give them a super high quality sheet. But that’s not necessarily true. I am going to focus on the difference between Sateen and Percale to help you when you’re shopping for more affordable sheets. The word “sateen” sounds really fancy and more enticing than “percale” but it’s really not. Here’s the deal:

Thread count does matter, but it’s they way those threads are woven that mattress more. The thread count is the actual number of threads or strands of yarn in one square inch of fabric. The difference between sateen and percale is HOW they are woven. Do you know what warp and weft are? Basically they are the directions of the threads in a woven fabric. Warp is the length, weft is the width.

Still with me? Ok, so…

A sateen weave is created by weaving 4 threads over 1. The sateen weaving method produces fabric 4 times faster, thus 4 times cheaper than a traditional percale, or balanced weave. Percale has the same number of threads are woven in both the length direction and the width direction. A sateen sheet that claims a thread count of 400 will have 80 threads in the length direction and 320 threads in the width direction. A 400 thread count percale sheet will have 200 threads woven together in each direction. 

percale sateen sheet weave, 100 percent cotton, bedding, tips and tricks, Christine Kohut Interiors, design ninja

The difference is profound. It’s also worth noting that even though a sateen might feel softer on the first day, over time, that long weave starts to break down. Those little breakdowns can cause a rougher feel. Pilling can happen. Worse, small holes and tears can happen. Over time, you’ll be replacing them sooner, spending more money, so there’s that too. A percale will age better. The weave is more durable and causes less shrinkage. And the cotton just gets softer over time.


Of course, then there’s the whole issue of smoothness. Let’s say you already have some cotton sheets that work with your bedding and you like the way it looks. But the sheets aren’t all that soft. Or you’re buying a lower thread count percale and want to speed up the softness factor. Want to know the secret to smooth, soft sheets? Or, really, want to know what’s NOT the secret? Fabric softener! Avoid it. And that spray wrinkle releaser? Avoid that too. Because that is really just fabric softener with some water added in a spray bottle. (Of course, if you love that stuff, now you know how to make your own, so there’s that.)

downy wrinkle releaser
If you like this stuff, then get some here. Click the image to shop.

I don’t mind the stuff for things that aren’t against my body, like maybe a table cloth or something. But sheets (and the armpits or crotch areas in clothing- just keeping it real folks- areas that need to breathe) should be free of anything that essentially coats the fabric in a waxy film. You know how some people use fabric softener on their towels and when you visit you can’t seem to get the water off of your body after a shower? Why do you think that happens? Because the waxy coating builds up on the fabric which feels soft to the touch but acts like a barrier between you and the fabric. I think spray starch can also get like this.

So, what to use instead?

This sounds ridiculously simple, but a good way to get those new sheets to start softening up is to use vinegar in your wash. There were two options: add a half cup of white vinegar to your final rinse with your regular detergent every time, or do a couple of washes with a half cup of white vinegar and a full cup of baking soda. I figured I’d try both out and I’m here to let you know that both work.

Here are some other ways vinegar works with your laundry, from The Spruce.

But I also experimented with ironing the sheets as well. I went for a double whammy. Turns out the stiff new sheets I had purchased got a lot softer and smoother after a few washes in vinegar AND with a pass with a hot iron.

I don’t iron my sheets all the time, relax.

That’s too much work. It’s actually more like a work out, and probably a bit comical to watch me do. Sheets are big and the ironing board is small. I’m sure, decades ago, girls were taught how to properly iron sheets in Home Economics class while boys were learning how to make cutting boards in Woodworking class, but those skills are not common knowledge for younger generations. Matter of fact, I know a lot of people who don’t even use a real iron! They prefer a handheld steamer. Or wrinkle releaser. Gasp. I’m just going to say that nothing smooths fabric like a real iron.

Sunbeam Steammaster 1400 Watt Large Anti-Drip Nonstick Stainless Steel Iron with Steam Control Retractable Cord,  Christine Kohut Interiors, Design Ninja, Amazon Recommended,
This one is highly rated, has a retractable cord and is a great price

Now it has a name?!

My Soft and Smooth Experiment kind of happened by accident. I did the washing tricks and they did help. But the sheets came out of the dryer so wrinkly and I had first time guests coming so decided that all of the sheets should look super fresh and wrinkle free. And I realized that the combo of the vinegar and the baking soda and then the hot iron REALLY made the sheets feel a lot softer. Oh, I forgot to mention that there was ZERO vinegar smell!

I wish I could show you the difference but you can’t SEE it as much as FEEL it. Ironing with high heat (cotton can withstand super hot temps) relaxes the fibers and smoothes them down. The final result is that fresh, smooth, crisp, hotel feeling.

Considering this was for my visitors, that is the feeling I want. Without investing several hundreds of dollars in high quality sheets. I just can’t. Obviously, you should if you could.

1700 watt auto shut off steam iron , PUR, non-stick surface, Christine Kohut Interiors #CKdesignninja, design ninja, same day shipping, on sale, amazon
These are 520 Thread Count Egyptian Cotton Percale

But now you know a couple things that should help you achieve the “look for less”. I put it in quotes because I just think it’s such an overused term in the DIY world, fashion world, every world, but it works. It really should be the “feel for less” but that sounds weird.

Look for 100% Cotton Percale Sheets and Use Vinegar

Let me know if you try these tips! And I apologize to the houseguests that had to use the not so soft version of the sheets before I discovered all of this.

Ok, now I want to get back into bed. Until the next set of visitors arrive! With not one full week in February without a guest, I wonder what who the next few months will bring?

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Such great tips. You’re hilarity is great and I love that it came through on this reading. Here’s me running out to get some white vinegar ‍♀️‍♀️

Sheri Bruneau

First of all, you just crack me up! I love your voice in your blog Christine. Second, wonderful bedsheet tips. Who knew there was so much to know!


I always wondered what the difference between percale and sateen was. Now I know! Great info and tips. I’ve been trying to stop using chemicals for a few years now. Seems that baking soda and vinegar can do it all. Except now I need to figure out how to get a non chemical scent in the laundry. Just a fresh clean scent. Any tips?


oh for the love!
I have to iron my sheets now?? LOL
seriously- what a great post!
and I’m for SURE cashing in that invite to come stay now that I know how much care and concern you will be putting into my sleep!

Leslie Carothers

What a useful post, Christine. I never knew any of this and I have never used vinegar this way..or ironed a sheet, for that matter! But I do enjoy ironing, it relaxes me!

Thanks for all of this great info!

Janet Lorusso

Great post, Christine! Vinegar cures everything LOL (vodka does too, but that’s a different discussion)! I love the explanation of sateen vs percale. I’ve always preferred the feel of cotton sateen, but the fitted sheets do wear through faster and this explains why.

Darla Powell

Terrific tips! Thanks!

Chantelle Fulce

Great stuff!

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