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1. Thread Count
Thread count is the number of threads (both horizontal and vertical) per square inch of fabric. Generally higher thread count makes for softer sheets that will last longer, but some manufacturers use low-quality cotton to make thin threads that can be twisted together to increase the thread count. These multiple ply fabrics are heavier and do not improve the softness of the fabric, so beware of sheets that are more than one-ply. Usually thread counts above 600 can’t be achieved without multiple ply, so counts above that point likely won’t make much of a difference.
2. Weave
The weave of the fabric also affects the softness and durability. Percale weave is the most common and is a plain weave (same number of horizontal and vertical threads) that makes for a crisp, breathable sheet. A plain-stitch jersey knit will be stretchy. A twill weave creates a raised surface that produces a fluffy, flannel-like feeling. Sateen weave (more vertical threads than horizontal) makes for luxurious feel, but it’s more likely to wear and pill than a denser weave.

3. Fiber
Believe it or not, the type of cotton fiber used can make an even bigger difference to softness than thread count. The softest sheets are made from extra-long fibers of cotton. Egyptian, Pima, and Supima cottons are all certified long-staple, and combed cotton has had the shorter fibers removed, so they’re all good fibers to look for. Egyptian cotton is widely considered to be the most breathable, absorbent, and soft fiber available, though the Pima cotton grown in America isn’t far behind. Organic cotton is also considered to be especially durable, soft, and breathable. Beware of polyester/cotton blends, which can be durable and less expensive, but won’t be as breathable. If you have a higher quality fiber, you can get away with a lower thread count.
4. Finishing
Most sheets are treated, or finished, with chemicals to keep them from shrinking and wrinkling. Low-quality finishes may wear off after one or two washes, so don’t judge sheets purely on what they feel like in the store. If you have allergies or sensitive skin, look for pure-finish sheets, which use no chemicals, or have had all traces of chemicals removed.
 
Finishing:
Most sheets are treated, or finished, with chemicals to keep them from shrinking and wrinkling. Low-quality finishes may wear off after one or two washes, so don’t judge sheets purely on what they feel like in the store. If you have allergies or sensitive skin, look for pure-finish sheets, which use no chemicals, or have had all traces of chemicals removed.