You'll hear people brag about their 800 thread-count sheets, but does that mean they're necessarily the best? Possibly not, depending on what you're looking for out of your sheets. There's also fiber, yarn thickness, weave, and finish to consider. Various combinations result in different feels, from soft and weighty to crisp and cool. Here's what to keep in mind:
Thread Count: Quite simply, this is the number of vertical and crosswise threads (warp and weft) per square inch. It seems like a higher thread count would yield a thicker, more luxurious sheet, but think about it: The more threads you squeeze into that square inch, the thinner they'd have to be in order to fit. According to Consumer Reports, the "sweet spot" is around 400, though some sheets with a thread count of around 300 are great, as well.
Yarn Thickness: Many sheets will be woven using single-ply yarn, or yarn with only one thickness, resulting in thinner sheets. Double ply (two threads twisted around one another) sheets will be thicker and possibly more durable.
Fiber: Do you prefer cotton, linen, silk, bamboo, or a blend? According to Justin Sonfield, general manager of merchandising at The Company Store, "cotton is still king" for its durability and comfort. Linen is light and textural and silk is smooth, luxurious, and naturally hypoallergenic. In addition, bamboo offers the softness of cotton but can be more durable, eco-friendly, and antimicrobial. Better blends, such as cotton and silk or cotton and bamboo, capitalize on the best properties of each fiber, says Sonfield.
And if you think it's as simple as choosing cotton, think again. There's a range there, too: Egyptian, Pima, and Supima (the trademarked name for 100 percent American Pima) are premium cottons. They have longer fibers, resulting in softer, suppler sheets. Egyptian cotton is the most luxurious, breathable, and absorbent. Make sure the label says 100 percent Egyptian cotton. Otherwise, the sheets may only have a little Egyptian woven in with more standard cotton.
Weave: Weave has a lot to do with the feel of the sheets. According to Sonfield, percale sheets are crisp and cool (think hotel sheets) while sateen sheets are satiny-smooth. Flannel sheets have a soft, raised nap and are warm and cozy. And jersey sheets aren't woven at all, but knitted, for that soft, drapey feel you love in your favorite tee.
Care: More lavish sheets like linen or silk are lovely, but they require special care. It may be worth it to you to invest the extra time and expense required for their upkeep. But, if you're more of a wash-and-go type, consider skipping the special fibers. Even so, Sonfield suggests washing your sheets alone to ensure they get the best clean possible and remove them from the dryer quickly to prevent wrinkles.
Jolène M. Bouchon is a regular contributor to Brides.com and a freelance writer.