What is Thread Count? – A Beginner’s Guide

Ian Mutuli
Updated on
Ian Mutuli

Ian Mutuli

Founder and Managing Editor of Archute. He is also a graduate architect from The University of Nairobi, Kenya.
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When searching for new sheets, you will come across several unfamiliar terms, such as thread count; it is a standard method of determining fabric quality. It refers to the density of threads in a square inch of the sheet.

What does the term "thread count" really mean? Is it important? If that is the case, what is the ideal thread count for sheets? So, without further ado, let us start!

What is the Thread Count?

So, what is thread count? Thread count is a metric that indicates how many threads are woven into a square inch of fabric. It is a measure of the tightness with which a piece of fabric is woven.

It is calculated by summing the number of threads running lengthwise (warp) and widthwise (weft) in a specific area. For instance, a cotton sheet with 100 threads each for weft and warp per square inch of fabric would have a thread count of 200 specified on the tag.

Thread count is a rough indication of a fabric's softness and feel. Also, it is often used in marketing to indicate that a particular product is of better quality than other sheets. While all of this is true to a certain degree, thread count is the major factor to consider when assessing the quality of sheets.

The thread count refers to the number of vertical and horizontal threads packed inside an inch square of fabric. Single-ply and double-ply threads are two types of thread used for this purpose. Ply is a term that represents the number of individual threads knotted together to form a bigger thread. So, if the thread count of a sheet is 800, the threads are 800 single-ply or 400 double-ply.

Single-ply sheets are usually thinner but less durable than double-ply sheets. Usually, the thread count ranges between 200 and 800, with the highest count being the finest. A sheet with a thread count of 300 to 400 is considered soft and comfortable by most people.

When determining the ideal thread count for sheets, it is essential to keep an age-old formula in mind: quality over quantity. Sometimes, the quality of the yarns and threads used is more important than their quantity or thread count.

Is a Higher Thread Count Always Ideal?

Better thread count sheets are usually costlier and more advertised as being of higher quality. As previously said, a greater thread count could imply better quality, but this is not always the case.

Indeed, a 400-thread-count sheet set will often feel better than a 200-thread-count sheet set. Assuming that the quality of the yarns, the craftsmanship, or the weave are the same for both sheet sets.

Usually, selecting sheets with a decent thread count (200-600 for most styles) will provide the highest performance. Keep in mind that your expectations may have to be adjusted somewhat based on the material chosen.

Insanely high thread counts (600-800) are unlikely to make a significant difference in pricing. High-quality sheets with very high thread counts are pretty similar to high-quality sheets with lower thread count. As a result, they almost have a similar texture and feel. Packing that many threads into a fabric may sometimes restrict airflow, creating a thicker, warmer feel.

Shoppers should be cautious of thread counts over 900 or higher. Usually, this is an indicator of low-quality sheets because the manufacturer is presumably hiding the product's actual quality.

One popular technique for inflating the thread count artificially is to employ double- or triple-ply threads, which are often of lower quality. As each thread technically contains 2 or 3 fibers, these are counted twice or three times in the thread count. Because of this, a sheet with a 900-thread count can be of lower quality compared to a similar sheet with a 300-thread count.

Types of Weave

Generally, the fabric weaving and production methods will play a minor role in your choice; they sometimes do not even feature on the packaging. However, there are a few things you should be familiar with:

Sateen is a cotton fabric with a satin weave, which provides a very silky, glossy feel but is less durable than a tight weave.

Percale is a durable, crisp plain weave fabric usually used for sheets; it contains at least 180 threads per inch.

Combed cotton is already combed to remove tiny fibers while leaving long strands, resulting in a piece of robust, soft fabric.

Types of Material

Sheets made of microfiber, a fabric consisting of very tiny polyester strands, are inexpensive and soft. They resist pilling better than conventional polyester fabric. On the other hand, polyester is less breathable than cotton. However, it is probably not the ideal option for those with sensitive skin.

Cotton jersey sheets are also reasonably cheap and quite breathable because of their knit rather than woven construction. Jersey is essentially t-shirt fabric, so if you enjoy sleeping in a comfortable old shirt, jersey bedding might be your thing.

Microfiber and jersey lack the cool crispness of the woven cotton. So, if you prefer to switch your cushions to the cool side all night, go for a cheap cotton percale instead.

Thread Counts for Different Materials

Cotton: A thread count of 200 to 500 indicates that the fabric is average to good quality.

Egyptian cotton: It has a thread count of 300 to 500.

Percale: Alternatively named as bed linen (plain weave), it has a thread count of 200 - 400 and is considered high quality.

Sateen: It is more densely woven and has a higher thread count. They are of excellent quality. 300 to 600 thread count is standard.

Linen: A lower thread count seems to be more suitable for this material. Although the thread count is within 80 and 140, it is rarely labeled as such.

Bamboo: They are becoming more popular. Bamboo has a thread count of 300 to 500, making it of good quality.

Sheets should be softer and smoother to the touch as the thread count and price increase. However, it is a misconception that higher thread counts necessarily lead to higher quality. Thread counts of over 1,600 are deceptive since the higher numbers are obtained by twisting two (or more) threads together.

Now that you have some idea about thread count and different kinds of sheet materials, you can choose your comfortable bed sheets. Enjoy!

Ian Mutuli

About the author

Ian Mutuli

Founder and Managing Editor of Archute. He is also a graduate architect from The University of Nairobi, Kenya.
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