Thread count is the talk of the town, especially when trying to compare different types of bed sheet quality. But there’s a lot of debate on whether the count of the thread is really the decisive quality factor. A lot of bed sheet marketing revolves around the idea that higher is better, but is that truly the case?
What is Thread Count?
The thread count of a bed sheet is an indicator of the number of thread found in a square inch of fabric. There are two terms that come into play here: warp (which is the name given to the vertical threads) and weft (the name given to the horizontal fabric weave). The count of these two together is what gives fabric its count of thread.
For example, if a bed sheet has 200 threads woven horizontally and another 200 vertically, that means that the fabric has a count of 400.
What Does “Multi-Ply Yarn” Mean?
One of the terms often encountered when looking at the specs of different types of bed sheets is multi-ply yarn. What this actually means is that one single thread is made by several other threads which have been twisted together. There are long threads used in the manufacturing of bed sheets which are comprised of two to five threads twisted together.
And here is where foul marketing comes into play. Instead of counting the final thread that’s part of the construction, manufacturers will count each of the smaller and thinner threads that were twisted together.
Back to the example above, the one with 200 x 200 threads. By applying the multi-ply yarn logic, if a manufacturer uses two thread twisted together to make a thicker one, they also double the count of thread. And that’s how a 400 count becomes an 800 one.
What Measures Sheet Quality?
Thread count is important, but it’s not the most important factor in determining quality, and certainly not the only one that should be taken into consideration. That being said, the quality of the actual threads is more important than the number of threads that are in a square inch of fabric.
Organic cotton is a much safer bet in terms of quality, and it’s also healthier compared to cotton which has been conventionally grown.
Yarn quality is super-important when trying to decide which bed sheet is better than another. Yarn threads are given a number that symbolizes how thick they are. This number is actually the diameter of the yarn, and the higher the number is, the better the yarn is as well.
But here is the thing: when the materials are cultivated using harsh pesticides, the cotton becomes sturdier because it’s imbued with all sorts of chemicals. Some of the best sheets are those made with 60 and 80 yarns. If organic cotton is used to make them, the number can’t possibly be any higher than that.
In other words: if the specs of the bedsheets you’re planning to buy give you a yarn diameter of over 100, you’re most likely not looking at something made from organic cotton.
The main takeaway point is that the count of thread is not nearly as important as the quality of the thread itself.
What’s a Good Thread Count?
The truth of the matter is, a good count can be anything in between 200 and 800, provided that you remember that there are other factors equally or more important than the count of thread. If you don’t want to take any chances, consider buying bed sheets with a count of 300 if they have a percale weave, and 600 if they have sateen weave:
Percale sheets have a very simple weaving pattern: one yarn goes over and one yarn under. This type of sheet is very crisp and features a matte finish, with a quality and feel that increase the more you wash it. According to textile specialists, a good count for percale sheets is between 200 and 300. Those looking for denser sheet can also opt for products with a thread count between 400 and 500. Anything above 500 is most likely overpriced and deemed unnecessary. Those on a budget can look for sheets with a 180 thread count.
Sateen isn’t just a randomly-chosen term: it reflects a weave that’s as close to satin as possible. The reason behind the smooth and luxurious feel of the sateen weave is the difference in weave. Compared to percale, sateen weaves have a single thread under and three of them over, resulting in that silky feel. As far as the thread count of sateen sheets is concerned, average-quality products have numbers ranging from 250 to 300. Higher-quality sateen sheets have a count between 300 and 600.
What Else is There?
In all the thread count hype, one could easily forget to talk about the fabric. The primary material used to make the actual sheets is just as important as other aspects that people pay attention to when buying.
Cotton will always be the winner of the industry, because it’s resistant, wrinkle-free, breathable, comfortable, and soft. Polyester sheets are also very common, although they are not always as qualitative as those made from cotton. Polyester does, however, last longer than cotton.
Silk sheets are the talk of the town, mostly because they are luxurious, beautiful, but also expensive. They are naturally cooling, which makes them a great summer choice, but they are not as popular as cotton, precisely because of the spicy price tag.
Don’t let thread count fool you: it’s not the game-changer you thought it was. When buying bed sheet, avoid falling into exaggerated marketing promises, with 1,200 thread count fabrics that will last a lifetime. A percale sheet with a fine weave and a thread count of 300 can be just as good, if not better.
Remember that there are other things to pay attention to: materials, type of weave, single/multi-ply yarn, dye, and finish. Every detail matters if it’s the comfort you’re looking for.