When my house was being remodeled last summer and the dust hadn't settled, I splurged and spent a night at the Ivy Hotel in downtown Minneapolis. I can still recall slipping into the sheets and thinking "whoa!"
I lifted the corners to find the brand. When I discovered that it was Sferra, I was slightly disappointed because I have the same brand at home and they don’t feel as soft and smooth. Then I realized why Ivy’s were better – they were ironed.
Talk about a letdown. Appreciating the luxury of ironed sheets is one thing but getting out the Rowenta is another. That’s when I started noticing that retailers are selling sheets labeled “wrinkle-resistant.” Some of the labels make even bolder claims such as “wrinkle-free” or “no iron.” These aren’t poly-cotton blends – they’re 100 percent cotton that claim to defy cotton’s worst flaw – wrinkles.
I had to know. Can “wrinkle-free” sheets feel as good as ironed ones?
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What makes them wrinkle less?
All cotton sheets with wrinkle resistance have a treatment applied to finished fabric after it’s been scoured, bleached and dyed, said Mike Tyndall, vice president of product development at Cotton Inc. in Cary, N.C.
It’s a similar treatment that has been used since the 1970s on no-iron dress shirts and khakis, but newer formulations make it more effective, he said. The treatment locks cotton’s molecular structure in place with a coating on the small hairs of the cotton fibers, helping to smooth wrinkles, he said. It lasts about 50 washings before the wrinkle resistance wears off.
Only about 3 percent of sheets have a wrinkle-resistant feature, according to Cotton Inc., but 74 percent of consumers are likely to purchase them. Discounters (Wal-Mart and Target), mid-line stores (J.C. Penney and Herberger’s), higher-end stores (Macy’s and Bloomingdale’s) and specialty retailers (Company Store and Garnet Hill) all sell them.
Most consumers probably prefer the look of a smooth sheet, but some people can feel a difference, too. One salesperson at Bloomingdale’s described the treated sheets as a “satin-y, almost polyester feel.” It’s a feel that some buyers will like and others won’t.
Several weeks ago, Target featured its wrinkle-free Home brand in the Sunday circular ($36 for a king set, regularly $45). I bought a set because I’ve had good luck with Target’s sheets in the past. Last year, Consumer Reports rated Target’s Home 600-thread-count sheets as a “best buy” for price and performance, although they are not labeled wrinkle-free.
I washed Target’s no-iron set and found that it definitely wrinkles less, although to call any of these sheets wrinkle-free would be an overstatement.
In May 2010 when Consumer Reports tested sheets, it included a couple of wrinkle-free models, but they didn’t fare well. The Canopy sheets from Wal-Mart ($35 to $39 for queen and king sets) and the Eddie Bauer Lodge Collection (now discontinued) still wrinkled, according to the magazine.
But consumers who are hesitant about trying the wrinkle-free sheets can rest easy. First, most of the all-cotton sheets aren’t expensive. Paying less than $50 for a king set at most discounters is a good value. Regardless of what you pay, no one can tell how a sheet will perform by feeling it in the store. Until it’s been washed and dried, the quality is a mystery.
That’s why it’s important to know a store’s return policy. While many retailers get strict about returning defective clothes, most department stores and specialty shops will let consumers return bedding if they’re unhappy with the quality.