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Buying a bed and bed linen

Choosing a new bed isn’t easy. There are several types of mattress and base on offer, all with advantages and disadvantages. And no bed is complete without the right bed linen. Which you choose, and how you put them together, could determine whether you wake up happy or grumpy for the next 10 years.

Types of mattress

There are a number of different types of mattress to choose from.

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Bed bases - like mattresses - also vary. Pick carefully.

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Back problems

Are you suffering from back problems? Use our tips to pick the right bed for you.

  • You may have difficulty getting into and out of a bed that's too low or too high. When you sit on the edge of the bed, your feet should reach the ground comfortably, and you shouldn't need to use much effort to stand.
  • If you're prone to pressure pain from sitting or lying in the same position for too long, choose a mattress with soft padding but firm underlying support to allow you to roll over and sit up easily. An innersprung mattress with a foam or latex overlay could be suitable.
  • Although a firm bed can help alleviate lower back pain, a bed that's too firm could aggravate some back conditions. Ask your doctor or back-care specialist for advice.
  • If money's no object, a motorised bed could be a great comfort for a bed-ridden person. The mattress, which can be viscoelastic or latex, lies on a base which can raise the head or legs. For extra luxury you can buy a massaging overlay. We're told some people buy them just to make reading in bed at night a little more comfortable.
  • Beds with names involving "paedic", "physio", "chiro" or "ortho" aren't necessarily any better for you. Your back will tell you which mattress is best.

Asthma and allergies

Dust mites thrive in beds, where they feed on scales of skin. It’s their faeces that trigger asthma. Thankfully, there are ways to minimise exposure to these blighters.

  • Vacuum your mattress regularly.
  • Try a slat base – it will improve ventilation and provide fewer places for dust mites to accumulate.
  • Buy allergen exclusion covers for your mattress, pillows, box base and duvet inner. Available from asthma organisations, they allow moisture to escape but keep mites and their debris in.
  • Air blankets and duvets weekly, where possible in direct sunlight.

The Asthma Foundation of New Zealand has more advice on making your house safe for those who suffer from asthma.

Beds for kids

Trundle beds or bunks are popular space-saving options for children's bedrooms.

If you're buying a bunk bed, consider the safety issues.
If you're buying a bunk bed, consider the safety issues.

You can use a foam mattress on them to see a child through the early years, but as they approach the teens you should look for a mattress that offers decent support.

If you're buying a bunk bed, consider the safety issues. In 2010, according to the Injury Prevention Research Unit at the University of Otago, 101 children aged four years or younger were admitted to hospital after falling from a bed or bunk. Don't let children up there until you're confident they're old enough to cope.

There is a standard for bunks: AS/NZS 4220:2010 Bunk Beds. It specifies safety requirements including material, construction, design and performance. If you're building bunks, you should design and build them to this standard; you can buy a copy from Standards New Zealand.

A guard rail and fixed ladder are key features. There should be no sharp edges, or protrusions which might catch clothing and create a strangling risk. Metal tubular bunks should have the tube ends plugged. The standard sets out what are safe gaps in the structure.

A trundle bed is a good option for sleepovers and should be safe for a child just out of the cot, but it's not a permanent solution. If the lower bed has a thin mattress it won't give enough support.

Whatever the type of bed, the mattress should always fit the frame so there are no spaces where a child's arm, leg or, most importantly, head can become trapped. A bunk bed will have a recommended mattress size and this is what you should buy. If you use a mattress that's too deep, you'll increase the risk of your child rolling off the top bunk.

Be careful where you place the bed. Don't create a space between the bed and a wall which could trap a small child.

Buying advice

How to increase your chances of getting a good mattress.

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Bed linen basics

Ply? Thread count? We explain the basics of bed linen.

Thread count

Thread count simply means the number of threads (both vertical and horizontal) in a square of fabric – either per 10cm² or per square inch. Bed linen made and sold in New Zealand usually displays thread count per 10cm².

A reasonably high thread count (over 180 threads per 10cm²) is good, as closely woven fabric wears well and shrinks less. However – and this is where it gets confusing – a higher thread count doesn't always mean better quality or greater durability.

A thinner yarn produces a higher thread count as more threads can fit into each 10cm² of fabric. The fabric will be soft and smooth, but it's also more delicate and may not last as long. Durability depends on the strength and quality of the fibre and the quality of the weave.


This refers to how many yarns are wrapped together into a single thread – single-ply fabrics use threads made from 1 yarn, while 2-ply fabrics are created using 2 yarns twisted together to make 1 thread.

Fabric that's 2-ply (or more) is heavier, stronger and more durable than single-ply. The trade-off is that the fabric may not have the soft, silky feel of a high-thread-count, single-ply sheet.

Checking the label

It's standard practice to count each individual yarn when calculating thread count. So a sheet labelled "1000 thread count" could technically be 250 threads per 10cm², woven with 4-ply thread.

When you're buying bed linen, check for the thread count and the ply of the yarn. If it's not specified, ask. That way you'll know what you're getting.

Treat your sheets well

Take good care of your sheets and you will enjoy them for a long time. Machine-wash in cold water using gentle detergent. For fresh-smelling wrinkle-free sheets line drying is best.

A clothes dryer is your only option? Then use a cool setting and take care not to over-dry.

Choosing bed linen

Follow these steps to get the most comfortable linen for your bed.

  • Figure out exactly what sized linen you need. Measure the length, width and depth of your mattress. Modern mattresses have added depth from 'pillow-tops' – so to avoid sheets popping off the corners, make sure you get a good fit.
  • Pick linen with natural fibres that breathe. Cotton is the obvious choice: good-quality cotton sheets will get softer with wash and wear. But if you like your sheets wrinkle-free and hate ironing, a polyester-cotton blend may suit you better ... or look for cotton sheets with a non-iron finish.
  • Check the seams on the wide hem of the top sheet and on the pillowcases. Stitches should be neat, tight and fairly small.
  • If there is no sample on display, take the sheets out of their packaging and see how they feel. Go with what feels best to you, remembering that fabrics feel different once they've been through the wash a few times.
  • High-quality bed linen has usually been singed and mercerised. Singeing (burning the tiny fuzz from the surface of the fabric) prevents pilling. Mercerising (using caustic soda to swell then shrink the fibres) increases the lustre and strength of the fabric. If you don't like the thought of sleeping between chemically-treated sheets look for organic cotton.
  • Generally, best-quality bed linen comes at a price. A sheet with a sky-high thread count at a rock-bottom price is likely to be too good to be true. Aspects such as fibre quality and construction may have been sacrificed to achieve the bargain price.
  • If you are looking at making a serious investment but you're not quite sure which linen is right for you, buy the pillowcases first and see how you like them.

Unpicking the jargon

What some of the jargon means when it comes to bed linen.

  • Combed cotton: Fibres are combed and the short ones are removed to make a smoother fabric.
  • Long-staple cotton: Varieties that grow unusually long fibres (27-29mm).
  • Percale: A closely woven (at least 225 threads per 10cm²) plain-weave fabric (100 percent cotton or a polyester-cotton blend) with an equal or similar number of vertical and horizontal threads.
  • Plain weave: The simplest weave structure: single vertical and horizontal threads woven under and over.
  • Sateen: A weave that has more threads on the surface of the fabric – usually 4 threads woven over 1 thread. It has a smoother, silkier feel than plain weave fabric.