Sleep Smarts

Wait, Does a Higher Thread Count Actually Mean Better Sheets?

Read this before going to bed tonight.

January 12, 2022
Photo by Bobbi Lin

The most fun I’ve ever had in my life—better than a trip to Disney World or eating a "Cheeseburger in Paradise" at Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville—was building my wedding registry. Choosing fine china, overpriced picture frames, and luxurious glassware for other people to buy me has been, to this day, the peak of my existence. Choosing bed sheets on the other hand? That’s on par with waiting 28 minutes for the next Q train at Times Square on a Wednesday night... at 10:45pm.

Don’t get me wrong: I love a comfortable, neat bed and am firmly Team Flat Sheet, but when it comes to actually picking bed sheets—white sheets, to be specific—the options are, and I don’t mean to be dramatic, literally endless. I didn’t know much about what I was looking for in a “good” sheet set, so I thought “let’s start with thread count”! I knew that the higher the thread count was, the better the sheets would be (or, at least I thought this was the case). My fiancé and I went to every major department and bedding store comparing how sheets felt and still found ourselves totally lost. I knew it was time to turn to some experts in order to shop my way to a better night’s sleep.

What Does Thread Count Mean?

When shopping for sheets, you’ll find that there are thread counts as low as 100 and as high as 1500. So, does a thread count of 1000 mean that the sheets are, say, triple the quality? Not exactly. “Thread count is a measure that dictates the density of the fabric,” explains Jenifer Foley, retail manager of Frette North America. High thread count does not mean high quality sheets. (Say it louder for the people in the back). It’s not that thread count is an irrelevant detail, but it doesn’t mean that the higher number of threads, the better the quality. In short, more threads are used to make the sheet, which affects the texture of the fabric, but has nothing to do with quality.

“Once you start getting into higher thread counts, the fabric becomes thicker and actually loses breathability and flexibility," says Foley. If you truly do like a heavy sheet, then sure, perhaps a sheet set with a high thread count number will help you sleep well at night. But Foley says that most consumers actually prefer something around 300 to 400 thread counts, which is particularly ideal for hot sleepers. These will be more lightweight and provide much more breathability. Percale or poplin sheets are ideal for hot sleepers because they have a crisp, cool feel to the touch.

“Thread count is largely a marketing gimmick,” adds Ariel Kaye, Founder and CEO of Parachute. “We’ve been trained to equate large numbers with luxury, but this logic is not the case when it comes to textiles.” Some bedding brands, like Parachute, forgo listing thread counts altogether to avoid misleading consumers. Instead, they describe a particular sheet based on how it was made or how it feels to the touch.

In some cases, sheets with a high thread count number may not only be heavier, they also might be of worse quality (yep—that’s right!). “Many manufacturers will use low-grade thin cotton, cramming more threads into a smaller space. Often, they create a “multi-ply” thread by twisting two threads together before weaving. Since they’ve fit two threads in the place of one, they can claim double the thread count,” explains Kaye.

So then, what should you look for in good sheets?

Well, Foley says to choose 100-percent cotton sheets—that way you know that they’re not made with synthetic materials. She also recommends being cognizant of sheets made with long- or extra-long staple cotton, which translates to longer-lasting sheets that will not only hold up better over time, but will, in fact, get softer and smoother with each wash. Oh, and don’t think that you need to purchase Egyptian cotton sheets. This is another phrase that’s widely used in the textile industry, but doesn’t necessarily indicate quality. “You could get a bad batch of cotton that year that may have come from Egypt but it might not be long-staple cotton,” says Foley.

“For a more accurate picture of quality, look at how the fabric is sourced and produced and consider your preferences when it comes to temperature and softness,” says Kaye. Bonus points if you can buy in person, as that will allow you to touch and experience how the sheets feel against your skin.

Sleep Smarts is your guide to shut-eye—with trusty tips, product recs, and new routines for a better night’s rest.

What is your all-time favorite sheet set? Let us know in the comments below!

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

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28 Comments

mary C. February 21, 2022
My Pillow Sheets--i don't like crisp, cold sheets. My Pillow Sheets are SOOOO COZY, from the the minute I crawl into bed. So comfortable; almost hate to get out of bed in the morning!! Husband loved, also!
 
youngEsmerelda22 January 27, 2022
I have 4 sets of Macy's, Martha Stewart 100% cotton percale sheets. I love them, my husband loves them, they launder beautifully and get better with every wash.
 
cosmiccook January 25, 2022
I detest the "wrinkle free" sheets. I have ONE set over 10 years old and I still feel the chemically warped threads. Not thrilled w Bamboo either as a hot sleeper. Sticking w Sateen & percale. I like Garnet Hill's products a lot. Company Store is a bit more affordable w sales but their products don't last. I try to buy items that are made in Portugal (much from Garnet Hill is sourced from) since they're known for their linens.
 
Lulu L. January 23, 2022
I love the bamboo cotton sheets for winter sold under the Home Republic brand in Adairs Australia. Beautifully thick & smooth & last for years. They are definitely not cool in summer as stated in their sales pitch if you are a hot sleeper.
 
dee T. January 23, 2022
Love the feel of Snowe percale. Crisp.
 
BarbaraT January 23, 2022
I’ve add arguments with friends who disagree with me when I say thread count doesn’t matter. I’m send this article to them by the way. I’ve found that Peacock Alley makes the best sheets.
 
cosmiccook January 25, 2022
I would love to be able to afford Peacock Alley--their linens are beautiful and SHOULD last generations.
 
carolgrab January 23, 2022
Charisma is no longer "Charisma". They sold the brand name quite a few years ago and the quality is no longer good. The sheets that I buy now are very expensive but worth every penny. I buy them at Bedside manor in Lake Forest, IL.
 
Marion January 23, 2022
I always have and will always prefer cotton percale 200 thread count sheets. I just love the really crisp feeling of them.
 
KS January 23, 2022
That’s my preference too. Crisp, smooth percale, all cotton, 200 thread count or less. Or just about any sheets made of 100% European linen!
 
RoddyF January 23, 2022
Our local Quilts Etc. sells really lovely sheets! A good count either Egyptian Cotton or Bamboo (rayon). They are really comfortable. And they wash beautifully if you wash them gently and dry them on delicate. I’ve had these two sets going for the last 10 years.
 
Rosalind P. January 23, 2022
Tried to read this send this on my Android and then send a message but I couldn't. Here's why (and it's the very problem I was writing about): The whole piece was 100% not worth reading because it was overrun by ads. Ads that, of course, made the screen jump around incessantly. The worst one almost completely covered my screen -- along both sides and the bottom -- until only a narrow slot of the text was visible. Closing it didn't work; it kept coming back. AND it was animated, so jumpy screen and the rest. And the advertiser is very much a huckster! Tried to read the text but it was impossible. I think the powers that be at Food 52 should be more, um, attentive to this. Understand the nature of the business model. "Free" to users who are willing to lend their eyeballs and brain to ads. But watch the balance. Practices like that diminish the editorial content, if they don't drive viewers away entirely. Lots of competition out there on food, home, etc. Please guard your reputation for quality?.
 
Paula A. January 23, 2022
I have found that feeling a sheet is of little value. It seems that after washing and drying before using, the fabric can often feel different than it does right out of the packaging.
 
Jane F. January 23, 2022
Linen sheets are the best: cool in summer and warm in winter. I have linen sheets from Pottery Barn and other online sources, but some of my best are from IKEA and are many years old now. They all still look great. I never iron them; if you don't like the wrinkles, after making the bed spritz water in a spray bottle and smooth with your hands; the wrinkles will magically vanish.
 
Katheryn's K. January 23, 2022
Yes I have a linen duvet cover, bed skirt and shams from PomPom at Home, beautiful stuff and the duvet cover is so light and soft and I don’t mind the creases I like that casual look. I would really like linen sheets but we just don’t really need new sheets so I have a hard time buying right now but will in the future. Thanks for tip re wrinkles and the spray bottle.
 
Katheryn's K. January 23, 2022
Wamsutta Dream Zone are gorgeous for a few reasons, soft and smooth, very deep fitted sheet which I have found is hard to find. We have a pillow top with a memory foam on top so need a very deep fitted sheet. The colours are gorgeous, I love the blush colour. They are 750 thread count but not heavy at all and get even softer with washings. They wash well, don’t come out all wrinkled.
 
Debi January 23, 2022
Thank you for mentioning thread count Katheryn. Many sheets say they have 'deep' pockets but don't say how deep. 15 inches isn't enough to hold in place for some mattresses.
 
Katheryn's K. January 23, 2022
The bottom sheets are 20 inches deep, very hard to find. I also use on our other beds that don't need as deep a sheet just because they tuck in well, they have a nice wide elastic edge marked with bottom, top and side.
 
Katheryn's K. January 23, 2022
I buy them at Bed Bath and Beyond.
 
Debi January 23, 2022
Thank you for the info! Appreciate it :)
 
Erin B. January 23, 2022
I'll check out these Wamsutta Dream Zone sheets since I love it when "top/bottom" and "side" is marked.It's so annoying trying to figure out which is the top/bottom on my king sheets. I also really appreciate it when both the fitted and flat sheets are marked with the size - it's such a simple thing, but so many manufacturers don't do it. I have King, queen, full and twin beds in my home and sometime it's hard to tell the difference between the sizes unless they're marked.
 
Donna J. January 23, 2022
Boll and Branch, I received a set from my Son. Expensive, but well worth the price. 100% cotton. The sheets are so comfy and stay put throughout the week. I hate wrinkles. We all know the best day of the week is clean sheet day.
 
liz O. January 23, 2022
Charter Club (Macys) cotton percale 300 threadcount. I've used them forever, my mom used them forever and my daughter now does too. Crisp, cool,, beautiful colors. They're perfect.
 
j. January 23, 2022
Redland Cotton. Substantial but breathable. Unbelievably like the sheets I remember as a kid, starting in my grandparents cottage in New Hampshire
 
Mina January 23, 2022
I've been there trying to find the softest, smoothest sheets ever since my Apartment 9 sheets from Kohl's finally fell apart.

I finally have found them: Target's Threshold Performance and Organic sheet sets. And let me tell you these are soft as a baby's bottom and get softer with every wash. DH and I also have a California King bed--do you know how HARD it is to find CK sheet sets?? Luckily these from Target are available and in a nice range of color and patterns.

P.S. The secret to folding a fitted sheet is to turn it inside out to start then fold one corner over the other, rotate and fold again. This prevents the sheet from tangling and you having to blindly try to match corner seams. Shake the sheet out, then with the 4 corners oritented in the upper right, lay it down and fold from the bottom up into thirds or fourths depending on the overall sheet size, then fold from right to left 2 or 3 times, again depending on the size.

Now you have a nicely folded fitted sheet!
 
janet V. January 24, 2022
YES! These Target sheets are amazing. Great price, are on sale often and 5% off with RedCard.
 
Renee January 23, 2022
I LOVE my charisma sheets from Costco. They are consistently the most durable sheets used on our 6 beds. I am a hot sleeper—I always come back to these sheets because they feel crisp no matter how many times washed. Call me crazy, but they have a silky ‘sound’ I love when I make the bed.
 
Mo W. January 17, 2022
I have always had terrific luck with Charisma sheets. Lightweight, breathable and stand up over the years. Oftentimes, that is the primary brand sold at very decent prices at Costco. Their selection of colors at Costco is not great but the brand is.