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.