What Does a Sheet’s Thread Count Mean Anyway?

When searching for a new sheet set, you’ll likely see a variety of styles, features and thread counts. While the first two categories are relatively straightforward, the idea of a thread count often leaves people a bit bewildered. We’re here to set the record straight so you can pick out your sheets with ease.

Defining Thread Count

Of all the wording in a product description, the thread count is the most misunderstood. In essence, thread count refers to the number of threads found within one square inch of fabric. Warp threads are the vertical threads, weft threads are the horizontal ones, and the amount of each one present will determine the look and feel of the fabric.

You’ll find that thread counts will vary, anywhere from 100 to 1,000 or more for cotton sheets. However, the majority of cotton sheet sets offer thread counts between 300 and 600, with 400 considered a good-quality fabric. Here are a few things to keep in mind when deciding which thread count and sheet set is right for you.

Fabric Weave

The weave of the fabric also influences the thread count, with the main two weaves being percale and sateen. Percale sheets are also known as plain weave, and they have an equal number of vertical and horizontal threads. Lighter weight percale sheets might have a 200 to 400 thread count, while heavier weight percale might offer 400 to 600. Sateen sheets have a lustrous appearance, which is the result of their weave. There are four vertical threads for every horizontal thread, and this leads to a slightly higher thread count – roughly 300 to 700.

What’s This About Ply?

The term “ply” refers to how many yarns you’ll find in each thread. Single ply means one yarn per thread, and two-ply means there are two yarns per thread. Which one is better will depend on how many factors, including the quality of the cotton, the length of the fibers, the weave of the fabric and other considerations. There are equally as many good single-ply fabrics as there are two-ply fabrics, which means a higher thread count single ply could feel similar to a mid-range thread count two-ply. Of course, the lower the thread count, the less likely you’ll be able to escape scratchy sheets – and that’s why higher thread counts are far more popular. Let’s explore this one a bit further.

What About Cost?

Typically, lower thread counts are less expensive and often more appealing to those on a tight budget. There’s nothing wrong with spending money on a budget sheet set if you only need it for a guest room or as a spare set of sheets. You’re also more likely to be drawn to lower-thread-count sheets if you have children since those sheets would be less expensive to replace if soiled or otherwise damaged (perhaps by nighttime finger painting in bed).

Lower Thread Counts

Sheets with thread counts between 100 and 250 are typically considered lower quality. However, some types of fabrics and styles naturally have lower thread counts, such as linen or flannel, which could cause confusion if you’re unfamiliar with their qualities.

Lower thread counts indicate that there aren’t as many warp and weft threads within each square inch. Therefore, the fabric is likely less durable and rougher to the touch. However, sheets with a lower thread count can offer a lightweight, basic-quality fabric that suits warm summer nights or weekend getaways to the lake house.

Higher Thread Counts

At the other end of the spectrum, you have higher thread counts, usually 600 to 800 and above. Sheets with more threads per square inch will feel softer and warmer, so they’ll offer more luxury than the basic, potentially scratchy sheets that only offer 100 to 200 threads per square inch.

If you love the feel of silky sheets or you want to your bedroom to feel like a luxurious getaway, a set with a higher thread count is the best bet for you.

Why Are Higher Thread Counts More Desirable in Sheets?

Higher thread counts, when combined with high-quality cotton and honest manufacturing practices, lead to bedding that is more comfortable. If you try to sleep in a bed with rough, non-breathable sheets, you won’t be able to have a restful night, leading to tiredness the next morning and maybe even negative health effects over the long term.

When you have bedding with higher thread counts, you’ll slip between sheets that are softer, smoother and more luxurious. Of course, the ply and the type of cotton used will give an indication of how comfortable you’ll be at night. Anything more than two-ply will likely result in threads that break and cause pilling. After all, multi-ply threads have numerous yarns woven together, and they might not all be from long-fiber, high-quality cotton. Egyptian cotton is an example of long-fiber cotton, and it sits at the highest pedestal for the bedding industry. This type of cotton is durable and smooth, and it maintains its look and feel with repeat washings. Pima cotton is yet another high-quality cotton, and Supima is an even higher grade of Pima. They are both highly sought after for their quality and soft touch. Upland cotton is the most common type of cotton, and it comes in short and long fibers. While it isn’t as high of quality, it can certainly produce sheets with a smooth finish and high thread count.

From the quality of cotton to weave of the fabric, there’s a lot that goes into producing quality bedding. When you start with a high thread count and look for other markers of exceptional sheets, you’ll have the perfect set for your bedroom retreat.


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