What You Really Need to Look for in a Sheet Set—Beyond Thread Count
Believe it or not, a higher thread count doesn't guarantee quality linens.
It's the age-old qualifier: The higher a bed sheet's thread count, the more luxurious it is. As it turns out, this supposedly tried-and-true linen tenet is more myth than maxim. "It is true that thread count can be an indicator of quality, but it is not the only one, and a higher thread count does not necessarily equate to more luxurious sheeting," explains Taylor Batlin, the brand director at Bella Notte Linens.
Janet Wischnia, the founder of American Blossom Linens, says thread count is but a marketing ploy, adding that sheets with a lower number of threads per one square inch (which is how the overall count is calculated) are often sturdier: "Good fabrics will have thicker, stronger threads that are more resistant to wear and tear," she says. "When a material has thicker threads, less of those threads are able to fit in one square inch, resulting in a lower thread count." Batlin agrees, noting that many manufacturers use "creative math" to hit a higher value, and that this tells you everything you need to know about their product. So, what is an indicator of true quality—and, perhaps most importantly, what do you really need to look for in a sheet set?
Consider the yarn quality, not count.
Look beyond the number and consider instead what your sheets are actually composed of. "We think it is valuable to consider the quality and type of yarn used to weave the fabric," explains Batlin. "Quality yarn is finer, allowing for a smoother, denser, and more durable fabric that will stand the test of time." Batlin notes that sheets made from Tencel and silk—both of which are woven from long and lustrous filament fibers—are most often the highest quality; but both Wischnia and Batlin maintain that cotton (particularly Pima cotton, notes Batlin) and linen can be just as luxurious when made by the correct manufacturer.
Buy American-made textiles.
Speaking of which: Sheets made in the U.S.A. (both California-based Bella Notte and Texas-sourced and Georgia-manufactured American Blossom Linens are crafted stateside) are, more often than not, better quality than those manufactured overseas. Textiles made in America, notes Wischnia, are also more expensive—which is ultimately a good thing (stay with us!). "From a cost perspective, a product made in the U.S.A is more expensive than a product made overseas, due mainly to higher labor costs as well as safety and environmental concerns," she explains. "If a product lasts longer and you do not have to replace it as often, then the cost per use is lower."
Knowing you purchased a product created in accordance with America's workplace standards will also help you sleep better at night, Wischnia adds; when you also consider the reduced environmental impact, you'll be out like a light. "Imported products take an over 8,000-mile trip on cargo ships that use heavy, tar-like fuel oil (called bunker fuel) which pollutes massive amounts of greenhouse gases, as well as sulfur dioxide," she says. "Buying U.S.A.-made products eliminates these pollutants."
Look at the stitching.
"Fine sewing results in beautiful linens [with longevity]," explains Wischnia. "A long-lasting set will have approximately 10 stitches per inch on all hems. The smaller and denser the stitches, the stronger the hem."
Ultimately, say Wischnia and Batlin, bed linens are personal, and determining the "best" product is usually a subjective process. That's why Wischnia recommends sourcing yours from a company with a post-use return policy. "The consumer can't realistically determine the fabric type, yarn spinning, weaving design, or finishing processes necessary for a great set of sheets," she says, "which is why the proof is in the pudding. You need to try them out to see if they're the right products for you."
This also comes down to how you sleep, temperature-wise. "Linen is recommended for warmer months or those who sleep on the warmer side, as the textile aids in temperature regulation and is incredibly breathable," explains Batlin. "Some sleepers may also prefer cotton percale sheeting, as it tends to remain cool and crisp against the skin while you sleep. For cooler months and cooler sleepers, we recommend Tencel and silk—both fabrications help retain heat and provide insulation on colder nights."
Skip the chemicals.
"Luxury linens can indeed be washed at home," says Batlin, and doing so should mean they get better with each and every washer-dryer cycle. This is another marker of a quality sheet set; if your top and flat sheets and pillowcases feel softer every time you put them back on your bed, you've struck gold. If they don't, they've likely been chemically treated, explains Wischnia. "Look at how the fabric is finished. Many bedding brands use chemical-based polishes or waxes to give their sheets a shine or chemicals to reduce shrinkage," she says. "Though the sheets look nice at first, after a few washes, your sheets are often left looking worn and old."