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We’ve all heard the advice. When it comes to thread count, higher is always better.
But here’s the thing: It’s possible for thread count to be too high.
That’s right. Because they’re just as aware of the colloquial advice as we are, some manufacturers will artificially pad their thread count numbers so they can charge a higher price.
Not only that, but thread count alone is not a guarantee you’re getting great sheets. It’s just one of several factors. You also need to look at the type of cotton, ply count, and weave.
What do all of these mean, and how do you know you’re buying good-quality sheets? We break it all down below, starting with thread count.
Thread count describes the number of threads woven into a square inch of material. This number includes threads woven horizontally (known as “weft”), as well as vertically (“warp”).
Thread count is calculated by adding up the total number of weft and warp threads in a square inch. If there are 100 horizontal threads and 100 vertical threads in a square inch, the sheets would have a thread count of 200.
A good thread count is anywhere from 200 to 800. That’s the great news: the Goldilocks range of a good thread count is actually much larger (and much cheaper) than most people realize.
Anything above 800 will also feel nice, but for most people, increases in thread count over 800 don’t translate to a noticeable increase in quality. There’s only so much thread you can weave into a square inch.
Anything below 200 thread count, on the other hand, simply won’t feel as nice to sleep on. More importantly, these sheets will only last you so many cycles in the washing machine before they start to tear and pill.
Good thread counts, between 200 to 800, provide several benefits. Your sheets will last longer, and you’ll be able to clean them frequently without them falling apart. Even though you’ll pay more for them initially than you would for lower-quality sheets, you’ll still save in the long run since you won’t have to replace them as often.
Higher thread counts also make for softer sheets. Softer sheets feel better for all of us, but especially so for people with sensitive skin or allergies.
Yes—to a point. Generally, sheets with a 600 thread count are going to feel softer than sheets with a 200 thread count. But there’s more to a great sheet than just thread count.
In fact, many manufacturers inflate their thread count in order to jack up the price and trick consumers into thinking they’re buying super nice sheets. Unfortunately, suspiciously high thread counts (think: anything over 1,000) are often an indication of lower-quality sheets, as manufacturers will count multi-ply yarns (which are rougher and lower-quality) to boost their thread count. We’ll explain the most common marketing tricks below.
So, what makes a good sheet? To buy quality sheets, there are four key things you need to consider:
Note that thread count is just one of four on that list! Let’s review the other three to see how they affect the durability, quality, and overall feel of your sheets.
Higher-quality threads use longer fibers to avoid the fibers from sticking out in the weave. Look for long-staple or extra-long-staple (ELS) cotton. You’ll often find these in any fabric with the phrase “long staple,” Supima, or Egyptian in it.
Combed cotton is another good choice. This describes a process whereby shorter fibers are removed from the cotton before it’s spun into yarn.
When it comes to quality fabric, you have lots of choices, including linen, bamboo, Egyptian cotton, and Supima cotton. Sheets made from any of those materials will be noticeably superior to polyester sheets.
The weave describes the way the threads are woven together. Weaves can be plain or sateen.
Percale sheets use a plain weave, where the horizontal (weft) and vertical (warp) threads alternate evenly in the weave, like a checkerboard pattern. Percale sheets have a crisper feel and sleep cooler than sateen, so they’re best for warmer temperatures or hot sleepers. Good-quality percale sheets have a thread count between 250 to 500.
Sateen sheets use a satin weave, where the weft threads lie across four warp threads at a time. Because its design allows a satin weave to fit more vertical threads in, it creates an overall softer, smoother-feeling sheet. However, because they contain more threads, sateen sheets have a heavier, warmer feel than percale. Higher-quality sateen sheets require a higher thread count (between 300 to 600) in order to reduce snags along the wefts.
In the image below, plain weave is on the left, with satin weave on the right.
Single-ply sheets describe sheets with one strand of yarn per thread, indicating a higher quality sheet. Single-ply sheets use finer, stronger threads.
Multi-ply sheets typically have to use more strands because the threads are lower-quality. They’ll be coarser and thicker than the yarn used in single-ply sheets, so fewer of them will fit in a square inch. As a result, the sheet will have a rougher feel, as the fibers will stick out of the weave.
Sometimes manufacturers inflate their thread count by counting multiple plys, even though multi-ply thread is an indicator of lower-quality sheets.
As you can see, there’s more to quality than thread count. And yet thread count still seems to dictate the cost of sheets. Why?
There are two main reasons for this. The first, unsurprisingly, is that manufacturers know that we believe higher thread counts are worth more money, so they charge accordingly.
The other reason is that higher thread counts are still a decent proxy for quality. In order to fit in more threads, you need to be using finer yarn. The finer the yarn, and the more of those threads you weave in, ultimately the stronger and softer the sheet will be.
Thread count is important, but it’s not the be-all, end-all of quality sheets. If you don’t want to spend as much on a higher thread count, allow yourself to choose sheets with a lower thread count. Just ensure they check the box on the fabric, weave, and ply count.
Sheets made from single-ply, higher-quality cotton, but with lower thread counts, are probably going to be a lot more comfortable, and last much longer, than a polyester sheet with a high thread count.
For your comfort, avoid sheets with thread counts below 200. For your wallet, be suspicious of super high thread counts. When you start to see thread counts higher than 1,000, it’s often a sign that the manufacturer is playing tricks, like counting multiple plys. They can also add extra threads into the horizontal weft. This allows them to artificially inflate the thread count, tricking consumers into paying more for lower-quality sheets.
In review, when purchasing sheets, look at all four quality indicators, not just thread count. Opt for single-ply sheets made of long-staple cotton, with a thread count between 200 to 600. And don’t forget your personal preference. If you love how your sheets feel, even if they don’t have the “right” thread count, don’t worry about it. What’s ultimately important is that you get sheets that make you look forward to sleeping; not what the label says.
The last step in finding the best sheets for you? Reading the online reviews. Get started below: