Thread count sounds great in theory. The higher the thread count, the better the fabric, right? But in reality, the metric emerged in the early 2000s as a marketing term and isn’t really the best indicator of quality when it comes to bedding. (The idea has been debunked by multiple sources, including industry leaders cited in The New York Times.)

Thread count refers to the number of threads woven into one square inch of fabric. You add the vertical ones (the warp) to the horizontal ones (the filling) to get the total. But only so many pieces of thread can fit into one square inch. With bedding, that number maxes out around 400. When you see bedding with 1,000+ thread count, it’s a safe bet that those manufacturers used creative counting to get to that number.

So shift your focus away from thread count and look toward quality instead. Here are a few tips to help you determine if a fabric is truly well made.

The Feel

Think about what sensation you want against your skin when you crawl into bed. Some people prefer a cool and crisp feel while others like their bedding super soft and smooth. A good trick is to consider whether you sleep “hot” or “cold” at night. If you prefer cool and crisp, or sleep hot at night, percale or linen are both breathable. If you prefer a warmer, smoother feel, opt for sateen or even silk, which is great in both warm and cold climates.

The Quality of the Thread Matters Most

You want bedding that has the highest caliber of thread. Look for brands that use the highest quality cotton and long-staple fibers, which translates into a stronger thread and lower thread count… and ultimately bedding that’s softer and will last much longer than sheets made from a lower-quality fiber with a higher thread count. Sure, that can mean a thicker sheet overall, thicker fabric becomes less breathable and we can all agree that sweaty sleep is not fun.

Find Out About the Finish

Through the manufacturing process, the texture of a fabric can change. Synthetic finishes are often used to help emulate a certain feel or look. (Example: Glazing is a process that adds resin to fabric so it appears highly polished). It can take up to five washes for these synthetics to dissipate, and in the interim you’re sleeping on unknown chemicals. Look for fabrics that carry the Oeko-Tex Standard 100, a worldwide certification for products that are made without the use of harmful substances.

Pick Your Style

Think about the look that you’re trying to achieve in your bedroom. Do you want bedding that’s minimal or would you rather sport bold prints? Your bedroom should be a place where you relax and unwind, a place that makes you happy. The colors and images that you see before you fall asleep can impact your mood, which is why it’s important to consider what you’re really drawn to.

Were you surprised to find out the truth behind thread count? Will this change the way you buy sheets? Let us know in the comments below!