The Bed Sheets Thread Count Guide

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People spend about one third of their life snuggled under the covers of their bed, so many want the most comfortable experience they can get. They get that comfort by purchasing luxurious blankets and sheets with the highest thread counts. Thread count is a complex subject that has several nuances, many of which people don't think about. They see a higher thread count and assume that it's the best, but that can be far from the truth. 

What Is The Definition Of Thread Count?

The definition of thread count is simply the number of threads used in a square inch of fabric on the sheets, including both the horizontal (weft) and vertical (warp) threads. Many believe that a higher thread count translates to softer, higher-quality bedding, but that isn't always the case. There are two main types of thread count: one-ply and two-ply.

  • One-Ply: This is what people want when they think of high thread count. This means there is only a single ply of yarn creating the blanket, so the thread count is definitively accurate. For example, a 300-count one-ply bed sheet has 300 threads in a square inch.
  • Two-Ply: People often feel cheated when they learn they purchased two-ply bedding, based on thread count. With a two-ply sheet, two sections of yarn are woven together, and the thread count of each layer is added. For example, a 300- count two-ply sheet actually has two 150-count layers. However, these can be advertised by the added numbers.
  • Further Layers: While one- and two-ply are the most common, sheets can also have more layers, thus diluting the thread count further. There have been reports of 400-count sheets that are actually just four 100-count layers.

bed sheets thread count

Bed Sheets' Thread Count: What A Higher Thread Count Really Means

Most sheets purchased in the United States have a thread count in the low 300s. Anything over 400 likely has more than one ply, so the thread count is a misleading representation of the sheet's structure. Sheets with more plies are more durable, but does higher thread count mean higher comfort? It depends on several factors.

  • Fiber Quality: Most sheets are 100 percent cotton fiber, but can be made of other materials as well, such as silk, satin and linen. Each of these fabrics feel different and offers different comfort levels. A 300 thread count silk blanket may feel much more comfortable than a 400 count cotton blanket. Cotton is the most used fabric and there are different levels of cotton from the basic to the more luxurious Egyptian and Pima cottons.
  • Yarn Size: Yarn comes in many different sizes, and the higher the number, the finer the yarn. Finer yarn means lighter and suppler sheets. Yarn sizes can range from the less expensive 40s and 50s and go all the way to 100. There are yarn sizes that are higher, but they're rare, and the bedding is very expensive.
  • Finishing: When the sheet is created, it should be finished usually by singeing and mercerizing. Singeing involves burning the ends to prevents the development of pills caused by fuzzing. Mercerizing involves treating the fabric for strength and increased luster. Lower quality sheets will not be finished.
  • Weave: Sheets are created using a variety of weaves which have their own looks and feel. Flannel weave is supple, soft and good for warmth. Jersey is elastic and flat. Percale weave gives cotton an almost silk like feel. Sateen give the fabric a more lustrous look and is incredibly soft. The feel of a flannel sheet is considerable different than that of a percale sheet even if they have similar thread counts.

The most comfortable sheet will have a single ply thread count of about 400 with at least two to three additional plies for durability bringing the thread count to about 1,200. It will be made of a high quality material such as Egyptian cotton and have a fiber size of 120. This will be incredibly soft, durable and very expensive. For people who do not want to spend a lot of money, a cotton sheet with a mid-300 thread count and a second layer with a fiber size of 80 will create a comfortable feel, but will not be as expensive as the highest quality sheets.

Is Thread Count Important?

A 300 thread count sheet can feel much better than a 1,000 thread count sheet depending on how they are made. Thread count is only one metric that should be used when choosing bedding, but it has been touted by marketers and advertisers to the point that people assume a high thread count means maximum comfort. Thread count is only a number, and can be easily manipulated to create high thread counts at low quality, so when choosing sheets, its best to take in the whole picture and not just the thread count number.

Last Updated: March 28, 2012
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About Brock Cooper Brock Cooper is a freelance writer for 

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