Bryce Jones is the editorial assistant for Better Homes and Gardens and specializes in covering all things lifestyle. She's been working in journalism for over five years.
When shopping for a new set of sheets, it's likely you'll come across the term thread count. Bedding brands will advertise that their product boasts a thread count of 2,000, leading you to believe their quality is the best you could ever find. But that's not always the case: Thread count, which is simply the number of threads woven into 1 square inch of a piece of fabric, is only one element that factors into how luxurious your sheets feel or how well they hold up over time—and it's not the most important feature.
Marketers have been known to push the concept that bigger is always better, which helps explain the misconception that higher thread count always equals higher quality. This isn't to say that thread count doesn't matter entirely—but there's a threshold.
In the early 2000s, manufacturers took multiple threads and weaved them together so they could market the sheets as having double the thread count they actually did, says Parima Ijaz, founder of Pure Parima, as a way to make more money.
"At a certain point you can't even fit that many threads," she says. "Depending on the yarn quality, you can't really get more than [600 to 800 threads] within 1 square inch. So as long as you're starting at a foundation of at least 300, 400 thread count, past that, thread count doesn't matter."
To make a fabric you likely have to have a count of at least 100, says Missy Tannen, co-founder of Boll & Branch. If you're using really fine thread or yarn, you can fit more in a square inch, and that gets you a more silky feel. On the other end, flannel sheets (for example) use a more substantial thread, so that count is likely to be lower.
Both Tannen and Ijaz emphasize that quality mainly comes from the material used, something they discovered when they began the process of creating their products—and the best, most tried-and-true fabric is cotton.
"Looking at lots of different materials … for [Boll & Branch], it became about cotton," Tannen says. "Cotton is commonly used in sheeting, and has been used for centuries. So I kind of just wanted to make that classic, perfect bedsheet, and in doing so I learned so much about cotton farming." India is the world's leading cotton producer, so Tannen and her team went there to source it—and they made sure it was handpicked and rain-fed with no added pesticides.
The manufacturing and farming process is important: Organically made sheets are great not only in terms of quality, but also for the environment. It's a good idea to stay away from sheets with finishes marketed as wrinkle-free or extra-soft because they're often made with powerful chemicals like formaldehyde. Ijaz says to look for the OEKO-Tex certification when shopping to confirm that the fabric has been tested for harmful substances and was made sustainably. She also recommends avoiding synthetic materials—which include polyester and microfiber—because they are heavily processed and not biodegradable.
Another common misconception is that you have to pay a high price to get good quality sheets, Ijaz says. "We have found that we were able to get a fair level of quality, or even very high Italian linen quality, at a great price because we just worked really hard with our partners to create a really beautiful sheet set at an affordable price range," she says. She says to also watch out for sheets marketed as 100% Egyptian cotton—unless the sheets are certified, that claim may not always be legitimate.
Luckily, other bedding brands are more on board today with dismantling the thread count misconception, Ijaz said. But it's still important to do a little digging to confirm you're getting the right sheets for you.
"Find a brand you trust—I think that's huge in today's world where so much shopping is online," Tannen says. "Especially [with] sheets, it's such a personal product that literally is touching you for a third of your life. So I really think that sheets is a place to invest in, and make sure you really know what you're getting."