Are High Thread Count Sheets Better?
Thread count – ah, thread count. You’ve seen it emblazoned on sheet labels at department stores and on product names online. You might have heard all your life to always go for the highest thread count you can afford when it comes to buying sheets. But you may have been misled. Want to know more? Let’s take a look at the most common questions and misperceptions about high thread-count sheets.
5 Frequently Asked Questions About Sheet Thread Count
- What Does Thread Count Even Mean?
- What Is the Very Best Thread Count for Sheets?
- What Is a “Good” Thread Count for Sheets?
- What Are the Highest Thread Count Sheets?
- What Determines Whether Sheets Are High Quality?
Thread count isn’t a scientific measure of sheet comfort in any way – in fact, it may just be a marketing ploy designed to separate you from your money. And, ironically, an extremely high thread count can even make sheets less comfortable. Many questions abound when it comes to choosing the most comfortable or softest sheets. Let’s look at each of these questions in further detail so we can debunk some of the most common thread-count myths.
1. What Does Thread Count Even Mean?
The definition of thread count is very simple – it’s the number of threads woven into a square inch of fabric. You simply add the total number of horizontal threads (filling) and vertical threads (warp) woven into a one-inch square of fabric.
You can think of it like the resolution on a computer monitor. “More threads” is similar to “higher resolution,” except instead of a clearer picture, you get softer, more durable and luxurious sheets. Or so the modern marketing hype would have you believe.
Once upon a time, thread count was a useful gauge for the quality of bed linens. The thread count worked in tandem with the types of weave used in cotton sheets. For example, percale sheets were known to have around 200 threads per inch, while sateen sheets hovered around 250 threads per inch. Then a bunch of bad apples ruined it for us all by turning thread count into a marketing gimmick.
2. What Is the Very Best Thread Count for Sheets?
The best thread count for bed sheets depends largely on the type of fabric. Unfortunately, different manufacturers tend to use different processes for their linens, and you can’t know exactly what you’re getting unless you take a factory tour. Some manufacturers may engage in shady processes like splitting regular threads into multiple threads during the manufacturing process just to be able to boost the sheet thread count. Others may use a finer, thin yarn size, which creates sheets with a higher thread count, but they aren’t as durable over time. Instead of the expected single ply yarns, manufacturers may use double or triple ply yarns and then count each one twice or even three times.
For example, 200 thread count sheets made of three-ply thread could be marketed as 600 thread count sheets, which simply isn’t accurate. To date, thread count is largely unregulated by any official or governmental body, so manufacturers and marketers have a ton of wiggle room when it comes to how to describe their products.
If you see 800 thread count sheets or 1000 thread count sheets, be skeptical – these numbers are probably nonsense. Any legitimate sheet with a thread count that high would likely feel incredibly stiff, and may also be unable to wick away any moisture or allow heat to pass through it. The result would be less comfort while you sleep – not more.
The U.S. International Trade Commission has also recently discovered that some international manufacturers have shorted consumers on thread counts. The ITC has since banned companies from importing sheets and linens with inflated thread counts, but this is good information to keep in mind when buying sheets and other bedding.
3. What Is a “Good” Thread Count for Sheets?
The bottom line is that any thread count over 200 is a good thread count for bed sheets – if you’re buying from a reputable manufacturer. Thread count only really matters when it’s too low or too high. Below that 200 threshold, you’re likely to notice that your bedding feels a little skimpy and rough or scratchy. And any legitimate thread count that gets too high can lead to stiff, uncomfortable sheets that don’t allow air to pass through them, simply because they’re so densely woven.
Fun fact: it wasn’t too long ago that the standard thread count for a sheet set was 120 – with 60 vertical and 60 horizontal threads per inch. In fact, in the 1960s, a thread count of 180 was considered the height of decadence, whether percale or sateen.
4. What Are the Highest Thread Count Sheets?
You can find truly absurd deals online, such as a four-piece sheet set with a 3,000 thread count for only $26.99 – but don’t be fooled. It’s highly doubtful that a high-quality sheet set can be sold for such a low price.
Clearly, thread count has lost all meaning when it comes to choosing the softest and most comfortable bed sheets. And many consumer advocacy groups agree – for example, Consumer Reports has stated emphatically that a higher thread count does not guarantee better sheets.
5. What Determines Whether Sheets Are High Quality?
While thread count isn’t the be-all, end-all of quality sheets, it was a useful measurement in the past. However, modern manufacturing and materials science can help companies engineer fabric that makes the most comfortable sheets.
Instead of focusing on the advertised thread count when buying sheets, you should consider these important factors:
Material – More important than the thread count is the base yarn material of your sheets. For example, if you’re opting for cotton sheets, look for extra-long staple cotton like Pima or Egyptian cotton. Or, you might prefer linen, microfiber, or bamboo sheets. Once you’ve settled on a yarn material, just go for the weave that feels the best to you. After all, you’re the one sleeping on these sheets, and only you can decide what feels the most comfortable. For many years, cotton has been the most common fabric choice for bed sheets, but in recent years, bamboo has surged in popularity.
Stretch – It’s important that your sheets have some give – the more they stretch, the more they can flex underneath your body in order to prevent pressure points. High thread count sheets don’t stretch as much, and they can lead to what’s known as a “drum effect.” Instead of moving with your body, tight sheets spring back up at you, which makes for a stiff, uncomfortable night’s sleep on your bed.
Breathability – Some sheets – especially high thread count – can trap body heat while you sleep, which can lead to lots of tossing, turning and throwing off of covers as you struggle to get comfortable. You want to look for materials that will wick away moisture during the night, keeping you cool and fresh-feeling, not hot and sticky. Some sheets, especially those made of bamboo, can even help your body regulate its own temperature.
Weave – There are basically two types of weave: percale and sateen. While a percale weave generally feels light and crisp, a sateen weave is known for feeling soft and smooth. The better of the two is entirely up to your personal preference. The chief difference between them is the number of vertical threads used. Percale, which is more of a plain weave, employs an equal number of vertical and horizontal threads, while sateen sheets feature more vertical than horizontal threads. This makes the fabric extremely soft, but more likely to pill and tear.
Softness – At the end of the day (literally), you want sheets that feel super soft and cozy to the touch. Keep in mind that snuggling into high thread count sheets can feel like getting a stiff handshake from a former boss. Be careful to buy your sheets from a reputable source – some manufacturers have been known to coat their sheets in silicon so that they feel soft and smooth right out of the package. But after a few washings, the coating is all gone, and your sheets will feel like a burlap sack. The mark of a truly good sheet is that it feels better and softer after every wash.
One thing to look for is the type of processing used to make your sheets. For example, if you’re buying cotton sheets and you see the terms “combed” or “brushed” in the product description, you know they’ve gone through a process to remove debris and nubs from the surface of the fabric, which ultimately makes it softer.
Wrinkling – Unless you’re a fan of wrinkles, look for sheets that are wrinkle-resistant. Some sheets might have polyester blended into the cotton fabric, which helps reduce wrinkles, while others may be treated with chemicals to prevent wrinkles. If you’re worried about chemicals, you can also insist on sheets that are certified to contain no unsafe levels of chemicals.
Sustainability – It’s also important to think about how your sheets were manufactured. With modern production techniques and materials, you can find sheets with raw materials grown naturally and responsibly, without pesticides or fertilizers. You’ll sleep easier knowing the Earth didn’t have to suffer for your luxury linens.
Customer Satisfaction – With most sheet brands, it’s fairly easy to see if they have happy customers. A simple Google search can bring up customer reviews, forums, and videos that show you exactly how the company has been meeting customer expectations in terms of comfort, softness, and durability. While ultimately no one can choose your bed sheets but you, it’s good to set a benchmark by seeing how a particular set of sheets stands up to customer scrutiny.
Does Thread Count Matter?
When it comes to choosing bed sheets, thread count is the number you’ll hear tossed around more than any other. High thread count has been the gold standard of quality, softness, luxury, and durability for bed linens for quite some time. But forget about it – or at least forget using it as your only measure of quality sheets.
There’s a lot of confusion in the marketplace when it comes to thread counts and sheet quality. Now that you’re more familiar with what thread count really means and how easily it can be manipulated, you’re well on your way to choosing the best bed sheets for you based on the factors that actually matter. Happy shopping and sweet dreams.