When buying bedding, you’ll hear a lot of talk about sheet thread count. It can be confusing to navigate the world of bedsheets when you’re unsure what the best thread count for sheets is or if it really matters. You already have countless other decisions to make when searching for quality bedding: long-staple cotton vs combed cotton, microfiber vs cotton sheets, bedding bundle vs sheet set. Don’t let the questions about the ideal thread count stress you out — we’re here to help.
Thread Count: What Does It Mean?
Before we can talk about whether thread count matters, we need to back up and address what exactly thread count means. It’s actually not as complicated as it may seem.
Thread count refers to the number of threads woven per square inch of fabric. This number accounts for both warp threads (vertical threads) and weft threads (horizontal threads) as well as different layers of material if the textile is multi-ply. However, things can get a bit tricky here.
Generally speaking, fabrics with higher thread counts are often softer or are commonly believed to be. However, it’s easy for companies to market their products with a higher thread count by using multi-ply fabric (multiple layers sewn together) rather than single ply.
For example, a multi-ply and single ply bedsheet, each with a 400 thread count, would feel quite different. Why? Well, the single ply sheet would actually have 400 threads per square inch, making it quite soft. However, the multi-ply sheet would still have those 400 threads, but it would be split up between the number of layers it has.
So, if it were made up of two layers, each would only have 200 threads per square inch. Or, if it had four layers, each would drop down to 100 threads. Technically, it would still be a 400 thread count sheet, but it would feel much rougher and be of lower quality.
That’s why high thread counts aren’t always the best indicator of the quality of sheets, though they still provide helpful information.
Are High Thread Count Sheets Better?
People commonly believe that high-thread-count-sheets are always better. However, this isn’t necessarily true. Other factors, including the type of material used, type of weave, and thread length, can be superior indicators of a sheet’s quality.
In fact, thread count only really matters when it comes to single ply cotton sheets. We already know that advertising thread count on multi-ply fabrics is a bit misleading, but the same goes for non-cotton materials too.
Synthetic fabrics like microfiber are composed of such thin yarns that their thread counts can skyrocket into the thousands without even having a soft, smooth texture. Plus, even if they were soft, polyester is notoriously unbreathable, making it a terrible option for hot sleepers and those with sensitive skin. So, what are microfiber sheets good for then? Polyester is wrinkle-resistant, affordable, and creates durable bed sheets, but it’s far from high-quality fabric. This is a perfect example of why it’s essential to consider factors beyond thread count when buying luxury bedding sets.
It’s not just producers of synthetic fabrics that use the hype around higher thread counts to their advantage, though. You’ll often see this with linen, a natural fiber made from flax, as well. Many linen sheets are made from multi-ply fabrics that give the illusion of having a higher thread count. In reality, the garment is likely composed of many layers, each with a lower count.
So, high thread counts may not be the most critical concern, but is a low thread count bad? Generally speaking, thread counts under 180 often have a rough texture as the weave is relatively loose.
Best Thread Count for Sheets
We know that not all bedding material options are created equally, but did you know that there also isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to thread count? Instead, different materials and weaves have unique ranges for their ideal thread counts.
Of course, anything under the minimum recommended thread count creates a looser, rougher material, but what about counts higher than the suggested range?
Typically, purchasing sheets with extremely high thread counts are either indistinguishable in texture compared to ones within the recommended range, or they’re made of multi-ply material. In the latter’s case, you may be getting a poorer quality sheet, despite a higher thread count.
Percale, also known as plain weave, is a cotton material that follows a basic one-yarn-over, one-yarn-under weave pattern. This tightly woven material always has a minimum thread count of 180, but the ideal range is 200 to 300 yarns per inch. Beware of anything over 400: it may be multi-ply! Since percale doesn’t require too high of a thread count to be soft and comfortable, it’s a very lightweight, breathable textile, perfect for the bohemian bedding of your dreams!
Sateen may seem similar to percale — both are made from woven cotton — however, they’re pretty different. Since sateen follows a looser, three-yarn-over, one-yarn-under pattern, it requires a higher thread count to remain stable and durable. When buying sateen sheets, aim for fabric in the 300 to 600 thread count range. This silky, buttery-soft material is ideal for both sleeping and accent pillows, or anywhere you want to add a pop of sheen to your home.
Don’t be fooled — silk isn’t measured in thread counts. Instead, you’ll see this textile graded in “momme.” Rather than referring to yarns per square inch, momme indicates a fabric’s weight, and thus, its density. When shopping for silk bedding, look for material between 19 to 25 momme.
Bamboo sheets are created from a bamboo wood pulp mixture and chemically treated before getting spun into thread. Bamboo is a naturally soft material, so aim for a thread count between 250 to 350 when shopping for bamboo bed sheets. Remember to look for a 100% bamboo material!
As mentioned, thread count is a little misleading and often used as a marketing ploy when it comes to microfiber sheets. Since these synthetic threads are so thin, thousands can easily fit into one square inch of fiber.
Instead, microfiber’s density is measured in grams per square meter or GSM. The ideal density range for a high-quality microfiber sheet is between 100 and 120 GSM.
What Makes Sheets High Quality?
So, if the thread count isn’t the most reliable measurement of quality, what is? Be sure to check out these other factors before purchasing new sheets.
A fabric’s weave pattern plays a significant role in the texture and quality of the sheet. Sateen and percale are the two most common weave types available for bedding, and the differences primarily come down to personal preference.
Sateen is a silky, buttery-soft material that’s perfect for a bit of added luxury. This textile is naturally wrinkle-resistant, sheeny, and warm yet breathable. On the other hand, percale is not quite as soft but is much more lightweight and airy.
Choosing the best material for your sheets is a highly personal decision. Cotton is one of the most common and generally affordable textiles available. Plus, you can find it in a variety of grades. Thanks to its breathability, linen is also a widely loved bedsheet material, while silk is renowned for its smooth, gentle-on-skin qualities. Of course, polyester is your friend if you’re looking for longevity, but natural textiles like bamboo are much more environmentally friendly.
There’s more to buying cotton sheets than searching for “100% cotton.” Different types of cotton have different textures to them — even when woven the same way. So always look for long-staple cotton-like Pima, Supima, and Egyptian cotton: these textiles will be the softest, most durable cotton options available.
Thread count does play a vital role in knowing the quality of sheets you’re buying, but it’s not the only factor that matters. In fact, when it comes to thread count, higher isn’t always better. Instead, extremely high thread counts can be a marketing ploy — and a red flag. Rather, pay attention to other factors, including material, thread lengths, and weave patterns.