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Back to Basics: Pillow Cases

Before shopping for bedding, most of us know the size of the sheets but sometimes we are unaware of the different sizes of pillows and pillow covers.  We need to know what size pillow case to purchase.  Most of us remember the size pillow we purchased, but if you have several different pillows the first step before shopping for pillow covers is to know the size you need to buy.  There is nothing more uncomfortable than having a king size pillow and  standard size pillow cases.  Before you shop, know the size you should purchase.


  • Standard:  21″ x 32″
  • Queen:  21″ x 36″
  • King:  21″ x 42″

As we can tell from the sizes stated above, the difference in pillow cases and their sizes is solely dependent on the length of the pillow.  To determine what size pillow case you should purchase measure the length of your pillow.  Then, check the chart above to determine what size pillow you have and what size pillow case to purchase.


How Many Sets (Pairs) to Buy

Most of us have a tendency to purchase a single set of two with each set of sheets.  It is suggested that at least two sets of pillow cases be purchased for each set of sheets.  There is a tendency for covers that rub against your face to show wear before the other bedding.  The cases may be the same color or same pattern or they can be a complementary color.  Often, when purchasing patterned sheets, the buyer will also purchase a set of solid pillow cases that picks up the dominant color in the pattern.

The reason for purchasing additional pillow cases is simple.  They usually show wear first.  To keep your bedroom looking fresh, have alternate covers, cases, or shams.  If properly selected, the sham covers can add to the room decor as well as to the general comfort of a night’s sleep. 

While we sleep or faces often rub on the cases, causing wear or depositing the oil from our skin.  For those who do not thoroughly remove their make-up there can be additional residue deposited on the pillow case.  Over time the cases will become not only worn, but often darker or discolored in the area where the face rests. 

It is not recommended that a strong bleach be used on colored bedding as it has a tendency to dull or fade the colors.  For that reason, an alternate set of covers will help keep the entire ensemble looking fresher.  We have all seen our pillow cases looking duller and more faded than our sheets over time.

Selecting the Fabric

The fabric and thread count of the pillow case can often determine whether we have a good night’s sleep or not.  Most of us have had the experience of waking up in the morning after sleeping on new sheets and pillow cases only to discover that our faces are chapped. 

Always wash the pillow cases before first use.  That will help remove some of the chemical sizing used by manufacturers to keep the cases and sheets from wrinkling while packaged.  Adding a little softener to the rinse water will help soften the fabric.

Of course, Egyptian cotton, Pima cotton, percale or flannel are generally softer to the touch.  However, all should be pre-washed before first use.  When purchasing Egyptian or Pima cotton pillow cases, the best thread count to buy is somewhere between 300 and 400.  This allows for a single thread weave that will be closer together.  Higher thread counts can in some cases be rougher to the touch.

The most important thing to remember when making a pillow case selection is that there is the most fabric to skin contact while sleeping between the pillow case and the face.  For that reason, the proper pillow case can be the difference in a good night’s sleep and tossing and turning.

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