What Is a “Thread Count” anyway?

When looking to spruce up your bedroom, one of the things people consider is bedding. Specifically, sheets and other linens.  Shopping for sheets will involve choosing the right colors to match your décor and selecting a fabric that’s breathable, soft, and durable. It also involves understanding thread count as a  measure of the sheets' quality. 

A thread count is the measure of the number of threads in a single square inch of fabric. Although a thread count of a sheet can impact its softness and quality, it shouldn’t be used as the only determinant of quality. The reason why is because not all manufacturers calculate their thread count similarly.

Read on to learn more about thread count and some myths surrounding thread count. We also look at other factors you need to evaluate when buying bed sheets. 

What Exactly is a Thread Count?

Thread count is the number of thread strands of fabric per square inch of fabric. Calculating the thread count involves counting the number of vertical threads and the number of horizontal threads that make up the fabric’s weave. 

A 500-thread count sheet has 250 vertical single-ply threads and 250 horizontal single-ply threads woven together. 

The phrase thread count started as a marketing ploy by bedding manufacturers to push their sales and distinguish themselves from the competition.  That’s where the myth, high thread count translates to better quality, came from. 

The truth is that getting a higher thread count doesn’t mean you’re guaranteed better quality. 

Is There a Good Thread Count For Bed Sheets?

Quality bedding should have a thread count between 180-300 and be made from single-ply long-staple cotton. You’ll find high thread count sheets to be heavier, and most are manufactured from short-staple cotton. 

Most of these high thread count bed sheets restrict the airflow around your body, which could lead to a restless sleep due to the heat. A bedsheet with a thread count that falls between 200-300 is ideal as it provides the required softness, comfort levels, and a luxury feel. The National Sleep Foundation found this range to deliver optimal breathability and coolness. 

Other Factors That Affect the Quality of Bed Sheets

Unfortunately, going for a high thread count sheet doesn’t guarantee high quality. Other factors that you need to evaluate when shopping for bed sheets include:

Fiber Quality

Bed sheets come in various fibers, including polyester, cotton, bamboo, and more. The fiber type will determine a sheet’s maintenance needs, longevity, aesthetics, texture, and more.  Fabrics like Egyptian cotton and linen are popular because they are comfortable, soft, and durable.  You should always choose a sheet based on your preferences as some people prefer satin, while others may opt for silk or cotton. 

Fiber Length

You can expect a better quality fabric and yarn when the fiber is longer. For example, Supima cotton comes from Pima which is 50% longer than average cotton fibers.. Regular cotton sheets are one inch long and rough in texture, unlike Supima sheets from 1.5 inch long fibers, resulting in a lighter, soft, and durable fabric. 


Ply is the number of fibers twisted to form a single thread. Less is better when choosing a sheet based on ply.  You’ll find that sheets with multi-ply yarns to be heavier and coarse. It’s recommended to get a sheet with single-ply yarn. 

Single-ply sheets have a strand of yarn per thread, while multi-ply sheets have more strands that are thick and coarse. Most multi-ply sheets have a rough feel, and some manufacturers will claim to produce sheets with a high thread count, which in reality means they’ve inflated the thread count by counting multiple plys.

The Fabric Weave

A fabric weave will affect how the bed sheet feels against the skin. Manufacturers use different weave types and even combine some weaves to create quality material. Some of the common weaves include:

Combed Cotton

Combed cotton is produced through a combing process that helps to remove impurities and short fibers. The end product is a strong fabric with a soft texture. 


Percale is another weave fabric featuring a thread count of 180 or more and consists of tightly-woven fabric. It has no sheen, and it’s of medium weight. 


Sateen features a satin weave structure and is made from spun yarn. It consists of vertical yarns that are floated over horizontal ones, leaving you with a soft and luscious feel bedsheet.  It’s less durable due to its looser weave.

Percale and sateen are two popular types of weave as they produce the quality fabric. Percale is light and breathable, while sateen is heavier and silky, 


Some manufacturers treat bed sheets with chemicals to ensure they don’t lose shape or wrinkle.  However, a few will make organic sheets with a pure finish, meaning you get chemical-free sheets.  Although organic sheets tend to wrinkle easily, they are the best option. 

The Size of the Bed Sheets

Don’t assume that a king-size bed sheet will fit your bed. The problem with these standard sizes is that they don’t account for mattress depth or shrinkage. You may find that a sheet doesn’t fit if you use a mattress topper or if your mattress has a higher depth.  Consider shrinkage as well, especially when purchasing fitted sheets. 

Where the Sheets are Made From

The place a sheet is woven can have an impact on the feel and quality of your bedding.  Italy and Portugal are known to manufacture luxury sheets. Their bedding will feel different compared to sheets from other geographies. 

Getting quality bedding is an investment.  Having uncomfortable and rough sheets can interfere with your sleep.  However, don’t focus too much on the thread count when shopping for sheets. Thread count isn’t everything when shopping for bed sheets.  A thread count of 200-400  should be enough for a  quality sheet.  Stay away from manufacturers claiming to have sheets with a high thread count as they may be using multi-ply yarns. Factors like fiber quality, finishing, fabric weave, and spinning all determine a sheet’s quality.  Taking all these factors into consideration will help you find the right sheets that you’ll love. 

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