Sorting Out The Thread Count: Everything You Need To Know About Buying Bed Sheets

Last updated: February 2022

Above, Parachute Linen Venice Bedding Set in Fog

If you’ve ever shopped for bed sheets, you know what an overwhelming experience it can be. Faced with a seemingly infinite number of choices ranging from fabrications to weaves to thread counts, how to know which sheet is right for you? We spoke with a few leading sleep and bedding experts to find out just that.

Effectively sorting out the thread count, here’s everything you need to know about buying bed sheets – and how to make them last once you have them. So you can spend less time shopping for sheets, and more time wrapped up in them catching those essential beauty zzz’s.

Related: 7 Simple Ways to Better Beauty Sleep, In Honor of National Sleep Awareness Week

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How to Buy Bed Sheets, And Make Them Last / The Lama List / / Photo courtesy Au Lit Fine Linens
Au Lit Fine Linens Essential 220 Thread Count Percale Sheet Set

How important is thread count, really? 

“Thread count is important, but not in the way you think,” says Joanna Goodman, owner of Canada’s Au Lit Fine Linens. “The myth is the higher you go the better the sheet, but more important is where the cotton is from (Egypt is considered to produce the world’s best) and where the cotton is woven (Europe has the world’s leading weavers). If you have an Egyptian cotton sheet woven in Europe, you’re going to have a great quality sheet regardless of how high the thread count is – so long as it is over 200TC. Reversely, a high thread count sheet not made of Egyptian cotton and woven in Asia, for example, will have lower quality.”

Ariel Kaye, Founder and CEO of Venice Beach, CA based Parachute, adds: “We’ve been trained to equate large numbers with luxury. But this logic is not the case when it comes to textiles. Thread count really isn’t important – in fact, it’s largely a marketing gimmick. Anything over 400 thread count is simply a result of manipulation of the fabric ply. What matters more than thread count is the caliber of the fabric.”

Says Goodman, “It’s important to know that thread count matters only in terms of personal preference and how silky or crisp you like your sheets to be. Some people love a high thread count sateen sheet, while others prefer a lower thread count percale sheet that is crisper and denser, like a cotton button-down.”

Put simply, “Thread count is the number of vertical and horizontal threads per square inch of fabric,” explains Terry Cralle, RN and Certified Clinical Sleep Educator. She continues, “It may not be necessary to have a thread count over 400 since a high thread count may also trap body heat, which is a problem if you are a hot sleeper. A thread count between 280 and 450 may be sufficient for most sleepers.”

Photo by cottonbro from Pexels

What are the top things consumers should look for when purchasing a new set of bed sheets?

Taking priority over thread count, Goodman advises checking a) where the cotton is from and b) where the sheet is woven:

“Egyptian cotton is considered the best in the world for its long staple, softness and durability. American pima cotton is also excellent. The Italians are the best weavers in the world, due to their long tradition of weaving, high standards for selecting cotton and advanced weaving technology. A sheet woven in Italy (or Switzerland or even Portugal) will be superior in quality for those reasons.”

How to Buy Bed Sheets, And Make Them Last / The Lama List / / Photo by Thirdman from Pexels
Photo by Thirdman from Pexels

What should consumers absolutely stay away from when purchasing a new set of bed sheets?

“You use your bedding every night, and it comes into direct contact with your body, so it’s extremely important to look for all natural options that are safe for your skin,” advises Kaye. “Beware of the term ‘organic.’ Companies frequently manipulate the term when labeling their textiles. Fibers grown organically – but processed with toxic chemicals – may still carry the organic label. ‘Wrinkle free’ or ‘permanent press’ labels should also be avoided because manufacturers are known to treat these fabrics with formaldehyde resin, a toxic chemical. Instead, you should look for bedding that is GOTS®certified organic. This means every fiber and thread has gone through a rigorous testing process to ensure they are free of harmful chemicals and synthetics – making them safe for all skin types, unless you have a specific allergy.”

Parachute’s Percale Sheet Set in Clay

What are the main types of sheet fabrications and the primary differences in each?

“The two main types are cotton percale and cotton sateen,” says Goodman. “Cotton percale is crisp and dense with a type of weave about 200TC. Cotton sateen is woven in a circular way to achieve a sheen, and feels silky against the skin.”

Team Sateen or Team Percale? Goodman continues, “Sateen vs. percale is strictly personal preference. You’re typically either a ‘crisp percale’ person or a ‘silky fine sateen’ person, however one is not better than the other – it’s simply a different weave.”

Explains Kaye, “We often compare our percale to the perfect button down shirt – cool and crisp to the touch. Its classic one-over-one-under weave makes it an exceptionally breathable fabric, and a stonewashing process gives it a more casual appearance. On the other hand, sateen is extremely smooth and has a unique weave: four-over-one-under. We call ours a matte sateen since it doesn’t have an overly shiny appearance – it’s more of a subtle, luxurious luster. Fun fact: sateen bedding is more wrinkle resistant. There is also linen, a natural fiber made from the flax plant which is a stronger, more durable alternative to cotton.”

Which will help you get the best night’s sleep? If you’re a hot sleeper, “Natural materials such as cotton, bamboo, or linen can all help wick away perspiration and give you a cooler night’s sleep,” advises Cralle. “Personally, I like cotton sheets in the summer and flannel sheets in the winter.”

Aside from the usual suspects, there are also jersey cotton sheets, satin sheets and a growing number of high-performance options like SHEEX, whose cooling sheet sets are strategically designed to reduce sleep-disrupting temperature fluctuations at night.

How to Buy Bed Sheets, And Make Them Last / The Lama List / / Photo courtesy SHEEX
Photo courtesy SHEEX

When is it necessary to spend more on a set of sheets?

“Cheap sheets made from lower quality fabrics may interfere with a good night’s sleep by not fitting the mattress properly, bunching up, irritating your skin, or just not feeling comfortable,” advises Cralle. “That said, more expensive does not necessarily imply more comfortable – it all depends on your individual sleep needs and personal preferences.”

“Good sheets are an investment,” adds Goodman. “If you invest in authentic quality sheets, they will last many years, and get softer and softer over time. Considering we spend about 3000 hours a year in our beds, we believe in investing in the quality of your sleep. A pair of jeans can cost $300+.  A pair of shoes? Over $1000. An amazing quality sheet set can be had for $250 – $350, and will transform the way you sleep!”

How often should you wash your bed sheets?

“We suggest washing your bedding every 7-10 days,” advises Kaye. “For percale and sateen sheets, we recommend washing with cool water. For linen sheets, use warm water. Always use a mild, liquid detergent. Allow the detergent to dissolve before adding your bedding to the washer. If you use bleach, make sure it’s non-chlorine. Only wash like items together – the same color and fabric – and never wash bedding with clothes because zippers, buttons, etc can cause pilling and abrasion.”

Cralle suggests, “You may also want to wash new sheets before use to reduce or eliminate any irritants and impurities such as excess dyes, finishes, etc that may be on them.”

Photo by cottonbro from Pexels

Should you put your sheets in the dryer?

“To preserve the life of the sheet (plus avoid ironing), remove the sheets from the dryer after 10-15 minutes MAX,” recommends Goodman. Smooth them out, hang them over a small fold-up rack or shower rod, or even laid out on the bed, and let them finish drying that way. You won’t have to iron, and the sheets could last decades. It’s the heat from a hot dryer for a full hour that destroys the fibers of the cotton, and both wears and wrinkles the sheets. Also – never use fabric softeners! The chemicals can wear sheets threadbare. I have sheets from the nineties in mint condition, and my mother’s from the early eighties. The beauty of real authentic quality sheets is the way they soften over time, becoming indescribably magnificent to sleep on.”

Photo by Jaymantri from Pexels

What is the general life expectancy of a set of sheets?

“Frequent washing breaks down even the highest quality bedding, so replace your sheets and duvet covers when you see signs of aging like stains or fraying hems,” explains Kaye.

“With proper care, genuine quality sheets can last 10 or 15 years,” says Goodman. “Even more, if they don’t go in a hot dryer every week!”

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