Let me guess…you’ve read 17 different guides to choosing bedding and duvet covers so far and you’re utterly overwhelmed with choice.
I’ll attempt to simplify it a bit.
There are loads (and loads) of types of bedding, but the majority of people buy one of these three options when they want a new duvet cover, pillowcases or bedsheets:
- polyester/polycotton bedding – cheap, manmade and not very breathable so not great for allergies. However, it’s durable, it copes with lots of washing and doesn’t need ironing as much. About £10 – £30 for a double duvet cover and pillowcases.
- cotton bedding – natural and breathable but it wrinkles easily. Quality varies. About £25 – £100+ for a double duvet cover and pillowcases.
- Egyptian cotton bedding – high priced, natural, breathable. The best type of cotton out there because it’s made from longer strands of cotton. Quality varies and there’s some ‘creative’ labelling from some sellers. About £35 – £100+ for a duvet cover and pillowcases.
I personally prefer cotton bedding instead of polycotton or polyester bedding. If you’re feeling flushed and want proper luxury, take a look at 100% Egyptian cotton bedding.
Alternative materials for bedding
There are also other bedding materials available such as pure silk (ludicrously expensive although a silk pillowcase isn’t so pricey) and linen (good value and natural but difficult to iron). Those options aren’t as popular so we won’t focus on them.
I’ve picked out five of the best bedding sets and bedspreads in the UK for 2021 which use the most popular types of material (cotton, Egyptian cotton and polycotton/polyester). I’ve included a range of cheap and more expensive options, but they all offer a good specification for the money and get good reviews.
Prices are for a double duvet cover and are correct at the time of typing. There are usually options to also buy bedsheets, pillow cases and valances (for anyone running a 1950s style B&B).
1. Soak & Sleep Classic 200 Thread Count 100% Egyptian Cotton Bedding – £38
This Soak & Sleep Classic 200 thread count Egyptian Cotton bedding ticks a lot of boxes for me. It currently scores an outstanding 4.6/5 from 500+ customer reviews.
Yes, it has a relatively low thread count, but a high thread count isn’t necessarily better for everyone and it’s often used as a marketing gimmick. Higher thread count bedding feels smoother, heavier and silkier and they don’t tend to wrinkle as easily. However, some people prefer the lighter and cooler feel that you get with 200-300 thread count cotton bedding.
It’s also much more important to look for genuine Egyptian cotton with long staple fibres. These are generally thought of as the best type for duvet covers and bedding. Some less respectable sellers will mix together short and long fibres but still call it Egyptian cotton. It’s much the same way that cheap ‘Cranberry Juice Drink’ is sugary water with only a couple of cranberries.
Also important is how the bedding is woven together. We’re drifting into a very boring area now, but the gist of it is that this bedding feels cool, crisp and strong because it has a ‘percale’ weave. If you get hot in bed this is a good choice (ooer missus).
Upgrades and alternatives
You’re better to go for the more expensive 400 thread or 600 thread options from Soak & Sleep if you want to feel warm and snug or want softer or silkier feeling bedding. These weave the cotton together differently so it’s a bit denser, smoother and heavier (this is called ‘sateen’ weave).
Soak & Sleep is a highly rated UK bedding company, with an average customer review score of 4.6/5 on TrustPilot from 20,000+ ratings at the time of writing. According to their website they’ve won multiple awards, including big ones from Which?
The 200 thread count bedding comes in white, grey or ivory. You can also buy fitted sheets, flat sheets, pillowcases and bed set bundles in the same range.
Pros: made from Egyptian cotton, breathable, keeps you cool, award winning brand
Cons: lower thread count isn’t as smooth or silky as a higher thread count, poor choice of colours, cotton wrinkles and shrinks easier than synthetic materials
Similarly priced alternatives:
- More colourful option (pictured): John Lewis & Partners Crisp and Fresh 200 Thread Egyptian Cotton Bedding (£45 for a double duvet cover). 4.3/5 from 1000+ reviews. 17 different colours, same posh fibres as Soak & Sleep, ‘percale’ weaving so it’s got a ‘matt finish’.
- Cheaper option: High Living 300 Thread Count Egyptian Cotton Bedding (£26 for a double cover). 4.3/5 from 3000+ reviews, slightly shinier and warmer as it’s woven differently. Good value but not a big name brand.
- Better option for the planet: Soak & Sleep’s 200 thread count organic cotton bedding (£32 for a double duvet cover). 4.7/5 from 20+ reviews. Not Egyptian cotton, but it’s grown without pesticides and less water. It’s woven in the same way (‘percale’) and it does have a ‘long staple length’ which is the key thing to look for in cotton bedding.
- Warmer option: Silentnight Brushed Cotton Duvet Set (£27 for a double duvet and pillowcases). 4.5/5 from 200+ reviews. 100% cotton, but not Egyptian cotton. Has a cosier, fleecier feel because of the way the cotton is brushed. Silentnight is the biggest name in the UK mattresses market and scores 4.1/5 on TrustPilot.
2. John Lewis & Partners 400 Thread Count Soft & Silky Egyptian Cotton Bedding – £80
It’s important not to get too overexcited about high thread counts (see above). Some companies use clever counting techniques to come up with massive numbers which are a bit misleading. If you’re really interested, it’s to do with counting twisted yarns as individual threads.
However, there is something to be said for a genuinely higher thread count if you want bedding which is very soft and smooth.
This 400 thread count bedding from John Lewis & Partners is a good choice if you want bedding which feels luxuriously soft rather than crisp. It’s woven in a special way to make it feel ‘soft and silky’ and it uses 100% Egyptian cotton. Again, it’s worth saying that the ‘long staple fibres’ which you get with Egyptian cotton are really good for bedsheets, pillowcases and duvet covers.
Customers give it an average of 4/5 at the time of writing and it comes in a very good range of 10 different colours. You can also buy pillowcases, fitted sheets and flat sheets in the same range.
Pros: excellent brand reputation, silk and smooth feel, naturally breathable, Egyptian cotton, great choice of colours
Cons: very expensive
3. Amazon Basics Microfiber Duvet Cover Set – £19
You’ll often hear people saying unkind things about polycotton or polyester bedding as it’s manmade, isn’t very breathable (so can make people with allergies itch) and is seen as the cheap option.
I generally agree, but let’s not write it off completely or tease it unfairly.
For a start, polyester and polycotton (i.e. a mix of cotton and polyester) is low on the hassle-scale. It doesn’t tend to shrink and lose its shape so easily and it doesn’t wrinkle as much as 100% cotton bedding. That means you can often get away without ironing it, which is rather appealing. It’s popular with hotels and the like who need to wash bedding constantly for that reason.
Polycotton and polyester bedding is also much cheaper than cotton, so it’s good if you need to replace bedding regularly.
Reviews and value
I’ve picked out this Amazon Basics Microfibre duvet cover which comes in several colours and scores a very impressive 4.3/5 from about 8000+ customer reviews. For the bargain price you also get pillowcases thrown in.
There’s also a similar one from Amazon Basics which is a polycotton blend (a mix of cotton and polyester) which was scoring 4.1/5 at the time of writing.
Pros: durable and affordable, huge range of colours, popular product with lots of reviews
Cons: less breathable than proper cotton bedding
4. Catherine Lansfield Canterbury Bedding – £19
Next up, a mention for Catherine Lansfield’s Canterbury bedding.
Is it made from 100% Egyptian cotton and the finest long staple fibres? Well, no.
Is it made from organic, pesticide free cotton. Er, no it’s not actually.
So why have I included it, I hear you ask in a sarcastic tone?
Well, because it is hugely popular thanks to its range of pretty designs and patterns. It’s good value, it comes with pillowcases included and you can buy matching things like reasonably priced curtains and bedspreads.
More importantly, it gets really good reviews from customers (4.6/5 from 2000+ reviews). Personally I think it does a good job of looking more expensive than it is.
Which material is it made from?
It’s made from a polycotton blend (i.e. about half cotton, half polyester) so it doesn’t have the natural breathable qualities of 100% cotton. But it is easy to wash and doesn’t wrinkle as easily at least.
If you don’t like this design, there are dozens of others at a similar price.
Pros: good choice of interesting designs and styles, matching curtains and bedspreads available, low prices, lots of positive reviews, durable
Cons: synthetic material isn’t as breathable as cotton
5. M&S Supima Cotton 750 Thread Count Bedding – £105
You might want to take your shoes off for a minute, because I’m about to blow your socks off.
Having told you that Egyptian cotton is the best type of cotton for luxury bedding, I’m now going to tell that there’s a credible alternative.
Supima cotton is similar to Egyptian cotton but it comes from the USA. It has similar ‘extra-long staple’ fibres that you get with Egyptian cotton, so it makes for very good bedding.
I’ve picked out the Supima bedding from Marks and Spencer, as it gets very positive reviews (average of 4.5/5 from customers at the time of writing).
It has a 750 thread count which means that it will feel a bit smoother and silkier than bedding with a 200 thread count.
It comes in grey or white.
Pros: very positive reviews, luxuriously soft feel thanks to long fibres, M&S reputation for quality
Cons: poor choice of colours, very expensive
Frequently asked questions about buying bedding
Which is the best material for bedding?
After reading multiple guides on this, my conclusion is that the best type of bedding is made from 100% Egyptian cotton.
However, there are a few caveats to that.
1. High quality alternatives
Silk and linen have definite advantages too, but they aren’t as popular. When I checked, John Lewis & Partners was offering more than 200 different cotton duvet covers, but only one linen duvet cover and one silk duvet cover. The main reasons seem to be that silk is very expensive (sometimes 10x as much as a cotton duvet cover) whilst a lot of people don’t like the look of linen bedding.
2. There are some plus points to polyester
Polyester or polycotton bedding (i.e. a mix of cotton and polyester) lacks a lot of the comfort and breathability of cotton. However, it is very practical as it doesn’t wrinkle as much as cotton and it copes well with being washed regularly. It’s also cheaper than cotton. So, lots of hotels and accommodation providers use polycotton bedding.
3. Not all Egyptian cotton is equally good
There’s a big variation in the quality of Egyptian cotton bedding, so you need to read the small print. Is it 100% long staple fibres (that’s the good stuff) or is it a mix of different length fibres? Is it actually from Egypt? Personally, I’d go for a brand I trust and assume that if it doesn’t give much information on the label then it’s not a good sign.
4. Environmental concerns
There are environmental issues around non-organic cotton, as it uses a lot of water and pesticides to produce. For that reason, lots of people go for organic cotton bedding or another sustainable alternative (search for organic cotton bedding at Soak & Sleep).
5. Cotton bedding is plain and simple
If you want pretty patterns and pictures on your bedding, you probably don’t want Egyptian cotton bedding. It tends to just come in simple colours and shades. Some places just offer white, but you can get dozens of colours with a bit of digging around (like this one from John Lewis & Partners). A brand such as Catherine Lansfield is worth a look if you want a pretty duvet cover with matching curtains rather than plain cotton bedding (see #4).
Scientific studies into materials
If you fancy a bit of further reading, you might like to dig into the academic research on bedding materials. Researchers in India carried out a comparison of different bedding materials using a rigorous scientific approach (‘Appraisal of Bed Linen Performance with Respect to Sleep Quality’ by Chanda, Ahirwar and Behera called, 2020).
More than 50 people judged various materials including cotton fibres, synthetic materials and a combination of the two. They judged them on factors such as ‘feel’, ‘smell’ and ‘luster’ and created a ‘Bed Linen Sleep Quality Index’ where each material was given a score.
The winner was a material called ‘modal’ which comes from beech trees but it isn’t widely available in the UK. A blend of modal with other materials such as cotton and polyester was also popular. 100% cotton didn’t score as highly but it scored better than viscose cotton.
What’s the best thread count for Egyptian cotton bedding?
There is a lot of furious debate online about thread count in Egyptian cotton bedding.
Some guides will tell that 200-300 thread count is best whilst others tell you that 400-700 thread count is best. Most of us assume that a bigger number is better because higher thread count bedding costs more.
My conclusions are that:
- A higher thread count makes for smoother and silkier sheets, generally speaking.
- Bedding with a thread count of 200-300 will feel lighter than bedding with a thread count of 1000 which will feel very dense. So, some people actually prefer the feeling of 200-300 thread count bedding.
- Some companies use creative counting techniques to bump up the thread count, so it is often misleading (it’s to do with twisting three yarns together and counting it three times). You can try reading into the descriptions, but most companies don’t give you enough information to know for sure. To their credit, John Lewis & Partners actually give you this information in their bedding descriptions so you know what you’re getting.
- It’s more important to check if a product is 100% Egyptian cotton with long fibres. Cheaper materials are a mix of different types of cotton or don’t use long fibres.
What’s the difference between percale cotton, brushed cotton and cotton sateen?
A lot of the jargony bedding-related words you’ve read just refer to the way that the cotton is treated or constructed. For example:
- percale cotton means it has been tightly woven so it is strong and keeps you cool
- brushed cotton/flannel cotton is cotton which has been, er, brushed to make it fleecy and soft, so it keeps you warm
- cotton sateen means it is shiny and satin-like. It makes you feel a bit warmer than percale cotton
Meanwhile, organic cotton means that it was made without using pesticides which is better for the planet and your conscience. It uses a lot less water and produces fewer greenhouse gases.