Thread count. If you're browsing for a new sheet set it's hard to avoid these bedding buzzwords. As with pixels on a digital camera, thread count alone won't help you pick the best product on the shelf.

The fabric spin cycle

As you'd expect, "thread count" generally refers to the number of threads on a piece of cotton sheeting. It's a label often used to up sell expensive sheets, because most of us have been led to think a higher thread count means better quality fabric.

The size of the area used to measure thread count varies by country and manufacturer - some use inches, others centimetres. There's no industry standard, and manufacturers don't have to tell you how they've counted those tiny fibres. So thread count alone isn't a reliable buying guide.

Preparation counts

Fabric softness depends a lot on how the cotton threads are spun or treated before they're turned into sheets. If coarser threads are used in weaving, a high thread count bed sheet won't feel much different to one with a lower thread count.

Quality sheet types

  • Egyptian cotton sheets are made from a species of cotton known for its quality. This type of cotton makes fabric that's luxurious and durable, lasting decades with the right care.
  • Sateen is a type of fabric made from pre-treated cotton using a satin weaving style. You'll generally find these sheets are soft and luxurious, but can pill and wrinkle more than Egyptian cotton.
  • Percale is a closely woven fabric that's durable, smooth and crisp. Percale weave is often used in bed covers and sheets with complicated patterns.

Terms like "percale" and "sateen" describe how cotton is woven, and will affect how the fabric feels. Adjectives like "luxury", "smooth" and "soft" are pure marketing speak. Like thread count, they're a pretty meaningless indicator of quality. A quick feel of the fabric is a better bet when it comes to choosing the right sheets for you.