Hospital Sheet Buying Guide

There are many types of hospital sheets available for a variety of hospital beds.  How do you choose the best one?  Below is a comprehensive list of things to consider before purchasing your hospital sheets.

Woven Hospital Sheets  vs.  Knitted Hospital Sheets

The difference between woven hospital sheets and knit hospital sheets is how the fabric is constructed.  Woven sheets are constructed by weaving the yarn in and out in opposite directions.  Knit sheets are constructed of a single strand of yarn that is knitted into rows of loops.

Typically knit hospital sheets have much more elasticity and will stretch while woven hospital sheets will not.  Knit hospital sheets are also softer, thicker, and much warmer than woven sheets, which may be desired during colder months or in colder climates.  However, knit sheets are also prone to pinholes, snags or runners that once started, can continually worsen with use and laundering and extend throughout the sheet.  Woven sheets are much less likely to have this issue.   Determining which sheet will work best for your situation can be left up to a matter of preference.

Comparison of Hospital Sheets – Quality Ranking for Softness & Durability

Woven Fabrics

Contrary to popular belief, the fabric content of woven sheets does not have as much to do with “softness” and “durability” of the sheet as the thread count.  The higher the thread count, the more soft and durable the sheets will be.  Thread count is the number of threads per square inch of fabric.

Muslin

Most hospital sheets are made from a lower-end T130 (or 130-thread count) muslin, which is quite standard within the healthcare industry.  Muslin sheets are constructed of loosely woven cotton or poly blended cotton fabric and are typically listed at the bottom of the quality spectrum for softness and durability.  These sheets are usually quite thin and if held up to a light, the light will be able to shine through fairly easily.  A typical Muslin sheet will withstand approximately 75-100 institutional launderings.  These hospital sheets are generally less expensive and work well for many institutions; however, they are not as soft and will not last as long as the alternative higher quality percale hospital sheets.

Percale

Percale hospital sheets are constructed of a T180 (or 180-thread count) and are similar to the quality of standard sheets you will find at your local home store for regular sized home beds.  They are typically 100% cotton or made of a blended poly/cotton.   A typical poly/cotton blended percale hospital sheet will withstand approximately 160-180 institutional launderings.   Percale hospital sheets will almost always be softer and much more durable then their lower quality muslin counterparts.

Be sure to check which thread count you are purchasing before buying your woven hospital sheets!  A good place to buy higher quality T180 (or 180-thread count) percale hospital sheets is Elder Depot.

Knitted Sheets

There are 3 common types of knit hospital sheets within the healthcare market.  Jersey knit and Interlock knit are the more common types found; however, pique knit is gaining ground due to its ability to reduce runners from snags while in use or laundering.

Knitted hospital sheets are popular for many reasons.  They will stretch 20-35%, which allows Knitted Fitted sheets to remain in place when hospital beds are raised and lowered so the corners do not slip off.  They are more breathable and softer out of the package and do not require several launderings to “break them in” as can sometimes be the case with muslin or percale sheets.  Knitted sheets are also well known for their ability to deter wrinkling, although this only applies when the sheet is stretched fully!  Knit fitted sheets may be a good option if “skin shear” is an issue (more about this issue below).

Knitted sheet quality is not rated by thread count, instead they are rated by the weight of their fabric. This is because knitted sheets are “knitted” and not woven.  The higher the weight of the knit sheet (typically measured in ounces), the more thick, soft, and durable the sheets will be.  They can be constructed of a number of different natural or synthetic materials, including cotton, polyester, rayon, etc.  Knitted hospital sheets are typically made from cotton or cotton/poly material and most commonly sold as a bottom fitted sheets, which takes full advantage of the stretching ability of the fabric.

Jersey Knitted

Jersey knit is similar to the fabric found in most standard T-shirts.  Jersey knit hospital sheets are usually constructed of a light to medium weight single knit that can be expected to stretch about 20-25%.  The knitting process creates very fine vertical lines (marking the top of the sheet) on one side and a horizontal grain on the other (facing toward the mattress).  The sheet will feel slightly softer and smoother on the top side, but in general will be soft and smooth to the touch.  The only disadvantages to jersey knit may be the durability.  Over time, with many launderings, jersey knit sheets are more prone to snags, runners, or thinning of the fabric and the fabric can become over-stretched as its elasticity diminishes.

Interlock Knitted.

Interlock knit is constructed of a light to medium weight knit fabric that is a more resilient knit by forming a knot at the juncture of the threads to help prevent runs and resist pin-holes.  Interlock knit sheets can also be constructed of a variety of fabrics and generally have a more natural and higher stretching ability from 25-35%.  The Interlock Knit hospital sheets are also different from the jersey knit as they will be typically be thicker and both sides of the sheet will look and feel the same.

Pique Knitted

Pique is a method of knitting that creates a fine, textured mesh surface.  This softly textured knit provides maximum protection from snags and runs, while remaining soft on the skin.   The appearance of a pique knit fitted sheet is similar to that of a waffle weave.  This is becoming more popular in the healthcare industry due to its greater durability while still remaining soft on the user’s skin.

Hospital Sheets & Skin Shear

Considerations for Those at Risk of Skin Shear

Skin Shear can be a common risk factor for those confined to a hospital bed, especially individuals who are unable to change positions without assistance. Skin shear from hospital bedding occurs when the skin rubs against bedding materials causing friction which can result in redness, irritation and possible sores.  This is different than bed sores or pressure ulcers, as skin shear does not interrupt blood flow, but rather diminishes circulation to the tissue, which in turn damages the skin and blood vessels.  In more basic terms, this is when an individual’s body moves, but their skin remains fixed to the bed sheet, which results in friction that causes skin shear.

Skin shear can develop from a number of causes, including the repositioning or moving of a person by dragging across the fabric of the fitted hospital sheet as opposed to actually lifting the person with a draw sheet.  In addition, when individuals use their heels or elbows to reposition themselves, this can contribute to and cause skin shear.  When skin shear causes exterior skin breakdown and is coupled with the presence of moisture, urine or feces, this could be a breeding ground for more serious skin conditions.

The hospital bedding you choose can help with the deterrence of skin irritation.  If this is a factor in your consideration of hospital sheets, you should consider purchasing fitted sheets that provide a more soft and breathable material, such as knit fitted sheets. These types of sheets are less likely to bunch up underneath the user, which can lead to skin irritation or breakdown and will be slightly less abrasive than woven hospital sheets.  The more breathable knit system can also help to reduce the allowance of moisture that can get trapped in the bedding.

While using knit fitted hospital sheets may help to reduce skin shear or skin breakdown, you always want to be sure that bedding is dry to prevent the moist atmosphere that invites skin irritation.  In addition, an individual that is immobile will need to be moved every few hours (at a minimum) to ensure that skin breakdown and pressure ulcers do not develop.  When moving the person, be sure not to drag them (causing friction), rather use a draw sheet to move the individual by lifting them.

Sizing for Hospital Sheets

How to choose the Right Size Hospital Sheets for Your Hospital Bed

A standard size hospital bed mattress is 36” wide x 80” long.  There are also special hospital beds that provide different size mattresses.  For example, a Bariatric hospital bed (supporting users over 500 lbs) can have widths measuring from 42” wide up to 60” wide.  In addition, certain model hospital beds provide for additional length and can have mattresses measuring up to 84” long.  The best way to determine the appropriate size for your hospital fitted sheets is by actually measuring your hospital mattress (width x length).

It is also important to take into consideration the depth of the mattress.  Most woven muslin and percale fitted hospital sheets will accommodate mattress with depths of up to 9”.  Whereas, a Knit Fitted Sheet will generally accommodate thicker mattresses up to 12” or hospital mattresses that have air pressure overlays, especially due to their stretching ability.   Since most fitted hospital sheets are contoured with elastic corners, they will be able to accommodate depths “less than” what is shown on their dimension.  For example a 36” x 80” x 12” fitted hospital sheet will still fit on a hospital mattress measuring 36” x 80” x 7”.

Standard Mattress Size Measurements

  • Basic Hospital Mattress: 36” x 80”
  • Basic Bariatric Hospital Mattress:  42” x 80”
  • Twin Size Hospital Mattress:  39” x 75”
  • Full Size Hospital Mattress:  54” x 75”
  • Queen Size Hospital Mattress:  60” x 80”
  • CA King Size Hospital Mattress:  72” x 84”
  • King Size Hospital Mattress:  76” x 80”

Brighten the Bedroom!  – Go Pastel!

Alternatives to Standard White Hospital Sheets – Pastel Colors

Most hospital sheets in the healthcare marketplace are standard white.  This is definitely practical if you will need to bleach the sheets on a regular basis for cleaning.  However, don’t be afraid to spice things up and bring some color into the bedroom – even if just for special occasions.  Hospital sheets are not just available in the same boring white, they are also available in a wide variety of pastel colors and designs!  Check out the fashionable designs!

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