Carol O’Callaghan gets advice from the experts on choosing, maintaining and laundering bed linen
Is there anything as comforting as slipping into a bed made up with clean linens just pulled off the washing line, having fluttered all day on a summer breeze?
Despite the best efforts of scented candle manufacturers, fresh air fragrance cannot be replicated, nor the feeling of those freshly laundered sheets and pillowcases to sooth a weary body and mind.
But are we maximising our comfort in the place where we spend one third of our lives, and which can be responsible for how we feel next day?
Apparently, the novelty of polyester and cotton mix bed linens is wearing off, even though they were the saviour of the overworked housewife and ironing phobics, as they eliminated the intensive labour of ironing pure cotton.
It seems the late lamented Celtic Tiger is responsible, which in his brief lifetime upped the bed linen ante from a focus on practicality to ultra comfort with Egyptian cotton, high thread counts and corresponding prices.
Mary Ring, managing director of bed linen specialist Top Drawer, says: “ounger people are going for higher thread counts because their parents bought them during the boom, and that’s what they’re used to, but 600 is enough for comfort and luxury. “After that, the price gets too high. Poly cotton fabric pils and a hot iron can stick to it. Cotton feels so much better, although the down side is the ironing so I recommend one of those modern steam generating irons.”
If you have space to store one of these models with its large water container, you can create volumes of steam to smoothen creases with a swift swipe. They’re particularly useful when struggling with uncooperative fitted sheets, and negotiating large flat sheets around the limited dimensions of a standard ironing board.
There’s even a labour saving approach to the dreaded chore of changing duvet covers. “Use a top sheet”, Mary suggests. “You get longer life out of your duvet cover when you have one. Fold sheets in four and iron just one side. The heat goes all the way down to the bottom layer.”
Converted to all cotton yet?
If so, there are two types to choose from, regular percale and sateen. The latter feels like satin but is actually 100% cotton and around 15% more expensive than percale.
But like anything we buy for the home, longevity depends on the care and maintenance we give it. If we’re paying that bit more, we’ll want value for money, but what we wash our bed linens in, can, over time, degrade them.
“If you’re using a biological powder on anything other than white, it will bleach out the colour,” says Mary. “If you pack too much into the machine, detergent tablets and liquitabs can cause spots of bleaching. Always use a non-bio powder for colours and a biological if you want snow white linens.”
Meanwhile, Lisa Duffin, buying director of Bottom Drawer which has concessions in Brown Thomas in Cork, Dublin and Limerick, has just returned from a buying trip to Milan, with the latest in bed linen trends for the next 12 months.
“Pure cotton is number one,” says Lisa. “It’s cool and comfortable. Thread count is important but check the provenance. If it’s French, Italian, Portuguese or from the US, great, but if it’s from the Far East and even has a very high thread count, it won’t have the same quality.
“Take it out of its packet, feel it, how cool it is to the touch and how it drapes. The Frette brand, which is used in top hotels, has a 400-600 has a thread count and it’s indestructible.”
Bed linen can provoke a battle of the bed fellows, however, with men having a preference for cool percale and women for warmer sateen, according to Lisa. Unsurprisingly, the solution lies in compromise. “A 500 thread count cotton sateen won’t be too shiny, neither will something with a jacquard weave which gives a lovely design but without being too fancy,” she says.
For the ultimate in luxury, silk is having a moment. “Pillow cases in particular,” says Lisa. “Silk is good for the skin and for bed head. I have big hair and it works for me.”
But price may be off-putting. “At €65 for one pillowcase it’s very dear,” she says, “but once you get a taste for it, there’s no going back.”
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