The Truth About Thread Count

Illustration by Kagan McLeod

Numbers Are Meaningless: Well, sort of. Quality of cotton, not thread count, is key. According to Amanda Mettler, a textile buyer from Gracious Home, “long staple” cotton fibers like Egyptian cotton or U.S.-grown Pima cotton yield a smoother, softer end result. Make a 200 thread count your baseline. “Assuming the cotton is quality,” says Bed Bath & Beyond’s Sharon Silver, “I wouldn’t go much lower than that.” The higher end has no ceiling, even though, as Macy’s product manager Walter Bridgham notes, 1,000-thread-count sheets are so dense with yarn, they can start to feel “heavy, like a canvas.” Says designer Charlotte Moss, “I feel about thread count the way I feel about SPF. After a certain number, does it really matter? What you’re paying for at a Porthault, for example, isn’t just the high thread count—it’s the prestige and their beautiful, exclusive patterns, materials, and embroidery.” Quality control varies country to country. “I can guarantee a 200 thread count from Italy is better quality than a 1,000 thread count from Pakistan,” says Mettler.

Silky or Crisp: Sateen has a soft, cozy feel and attractive shine, so customers often perceive it as “more luxurious,” says Silver. At Sleep, a bedding boutique in Williamsburg, though, sateen doesn’t sell. Owner Hannah Curtin does better with percale weaves, which give a crisp, fresh feeling, “like when you’re getting into a cool bed in the summer.” If a sheet feels good to the touch but you’re unfamiliar with the label, Mettler recommends buying just pillowcases first to see how they come out after the first wash.

And to Make Them Last:Never dry-clean, says Lindsey Wieber, co-founder of the Laundress. And never, ever use bleach; OxiClean is a safer stain-fighter.

See Also
Testing 100 Mattresses
Sheets Beyond the Plain White

The Truth About Thread Count