Does Thread Count Really Matter? What to Look for When Buying Sheets

For many people, purchasing new sheets can be a daunting task, especially with the abundance of options available in the market today. One of the most common questions that people often ask when buying sheets is whether thread count really matters. Thread count refers to the number of threads woven together in a square inch of fabric. The common notion is that the higher the thread count, the better the quality of the sheet. However, this may not necessarily be true. In this article, we will discuss whether thread count really matters and what to look for when buying sheets.


The term "thread count" pertains to the quantity of horizontal and vertical threads present per square inch of a sheet. Typically, a higher thread count translates to a softer sheet that is more likely to maintain its quality over time or even become softer. Generally, good quality sheets fall within the range of 200 to 800, although some may exceed a count of 1,000. A high thread count in bed sheets does not necessarily indicate better quality. In fact, manufacturers may use certain techniques, such as twisting multiple yarns together, to increase the thread count artificially without improving the texture of the fabric, and sometimes, this can even decrease the overall quality. However, do not assume that a low thread count equates to poor quality. According to experts, there are well-finished 200-count cotton sheets that feel like they have a higher thread count.


Nowadays, mechanical finishing techniques are preferred over chemical treatments to enhance the texture and performance of fabrics. For those on a budget, it is recommended to opt for 200-count combed cotton sets from a reputable brand, as they tend to have strict certification standards for their finishing processes. Thread count, which is determined by adding the number of lengthwise (warp) and widthwise (weft) threads within a certain area, is commonly used as a rough indicator of a fabric's softness and feel. However, it should be noted that while thread count is a factor in the quality of sheets, it is not the only consideration. Other factors also play a crucial role in determining the overall quality of a set of sheets.


What is the Best Thread Count for Sheets?

Thread counts for quality and comfortable sheets can range from 200 to 800 or more. While there is no one ideal thread count, different types of high-quality sheets typically fall within certain acceptable ranges. As a starting point, consider sheets with a thread count of at least 200. Sheets with a lower thread count may not feel as soft and may lead to a less comfortable sleeping experience.


The optimal thread count varies based on the fabric type and weave used. Percale, which is also called "plain weave," has a basic pattern of one over and one under, resulting in percale sheets of average quality having a thread count of approximately 180-200. On the other hand, a sateen weave has a more compact pattern, resulting in sateen sheets of average quality having a thread count of about 250-300.


Is a Higher Thread Count Better?

Sheets with a greater number of threads per square inch tend to be pricier and promoted as superior quality. However, as we've previously explored, a higher thread count doesn't always equate to better quality. While it's accurate that a set of sheets with a 400 thread count will typically feel nicer than a comparable set with a 200 thread count, this assumes that the yarn quality, workmanship, and weave are equal for both sets. To achieve optimal results, it is recommended to seek sheets with a moderate thread count of 200-600, depending on the style. However, it is essential to consider the material used and adjust your expectations accordingly. Investing in excessively high thread counts (600-800) is unlikely to provide significant benefits beyond a higher price tag. Fabrics with very high thread counts may feel and perform similarly to those with lower thread counts but of high quality. Overcrowding a fabric with too many threads can hinder airflow, resulting in a denser, warmer feel.


Shoppers should exercise caution when considering sheets with extremely high thread counts, such as 900 or more. Such thread counts are often an indication of poor-quality sheets, as manufacturers may employ tactics to obscure the true quality of the product. A common method used to artificially boost thread count is to use double or triple-ply threads, which are generally of inferior quality. As each thread technically consists of two or three fibers, they are counted multiple times towards the thread count. However, a sheet set with a thread count of 900 may actually be of lower quality than a comparable set with a thread count of just 300.


When you should ignore the thread count

Unless the sheets are made of 100% cotton and have single-ply weaves, the thread count is likely to be either misleading or irrelevant. This is because, for materials other than cotton, thread count does not hold the same significance. Let me explain why.


Polyester or blends


Polyester fibers are not like cotton as they are created in a factory and can be made exceptionally fine, enabling polyester and cotton/polyester blends to achieve thread counts in the thousands. Manufacturers are even developing methods to utilize these fine polyester yarns specifically to boost thread count claims. While polyester does have its own advantages, such as greater strength, less susceptibility to wrinkles, and lower cost than cotton, it lacks the luxurious feel of natural fibers.


Linen and silk


Linen and silk fibers cannot achieve thread counts equivalent to cotton, similar to polyester. Due to its thickness, linen inherently has a lower thread count, whereas silk, being very thin, is usually measured by weight.


Flannel and knit fabrics


Cotton is the primary material used for making them. However, unlike traditional woven sheets, flannel sheets are typically sold based on their fabric weight, and jersey-knit sheets have a unique construction that doesn't involve thread counts.


When purchasing bed sheets, it's important to consider thread count, but the highest thread count isn't necessarily the best. For optimal quality, look for a thread count between 300 and 500. It's recommended to avoid thread counts higher than this range, as manufacturers may have manipulated the count by using multi-ply yarns. While thread count can be a helpful indicator of sheet quality, it shouldn't be the only factor you consider when shopping for sheets. Other important factors that impact the feel and quality of your sheets include the type of fibers used, the weave, and the staple length. These factors can have an even greater influence on the overall quality of your sheets than thread count alone. By familiarizing yourself with the key features of high-quality sheets, you can make more informed comparisons and select a set of sheets that meet both your preferences and budget.