In America, more usually means better. Bigger portions, larger TVs, more horsepower! But when it comes to your bedsheets, it's best to toss this conservative thinking aside. When picking a new set to lie under for roughly a third of your life, understand that a higher count doesn't automatically mean better quality – and the magic number is right around 300.
Thread count is actually the number of threads woven into one-square inch of fabric. This is different than "ply," which is how many threads are twisted together to form one piece of thread. A single ply fabric uses just one piece of thread, and a double ply twists two threads together into one. But here's the thing – the Federal Trade Commission permits bedding manufacturers to count the threads of two-ply fabrics twice.
"This doesn't actually increase quality and it doesn't increase the feel. All it does is make it a heavier, less breathable fabric," says Greg Shugar, co-founder of Thread Experiment, a men's bedding brand. So a 600-thread count is not 600 threads woven together. It's just two-ply 300 thread count entwined. The sheets are artificially bulkier, and twisting threads together doesn't make fabric softer or more comfortable. The same goes for a pricey 1800 thread count – really just four plys twisted together, which makes a thicker fabric.
While thread count may not be much more than a marketing ploy, fiber and fabric quality are important. Stick with cotton or cotton-linen blends. The percale cotton washed solids from Thread Experiment are a good pick, and woven to stay crisp. Shugar urges to stay away from manmade polyester and microfiber, which won't last as long and feel less soft than cotton on your skin. "And god help you if you're into silk."