Despite thread count’s reputation for being irresistibly luxe, the elusive metric tends to prompt a flurry of questions. What is it? Is a higher thread count better? And most commonly — does it even matter? Below, we break down thread count and why and when you should take it into account when buying bed sheets. Consider your uncertainties about thread count officially put to rest!
What Does Thread Count Mean?
Thread count refers to the number of threads per square inch that are present in a particular fabric. It’s calculated by adding the number of horizontal (also called weft) threads with the number of vertical (warp) threads within a certain area of a bed sheet. Essentially, a sheet with 100 weft threads and 100 warp threads would have a total thread count of 200.
Why Does Thread Count Matter?
Basically, thread count is a measure of how tightly woven the bed sheet is. A higher count also indicates finer yarns, which make sheets more cushiony and durable. Thread count is meant to be used as an indicator of a sheet’s softness and how likely it is to soften even more over time.
Although thread count doesn’t 100% guarantee a fabric’s softness or breathability, it usually has some impact. Ultimately, breathability and comfort depend primarily on the sheet’s construction material! For instance, an Egyptian cotton sheet will always be more supple than a polyester sheet, even if both have the same thread count.
Two Weaves to Know: The terms “percale” and “sateen” are often thrown around when talking about bed sheets. Percale is woven using a one-over, one-under process, which makes a bed sheet feel light and crisp. A three or four-over, one-under pattern comprises sateen sheets, resulting in a weightier, silky feel and subtle sheen.
When Does Thread Count Matter?
In general, bed sheet specialists recommend thread counts between 200 and 600. Thread counts lower than 200 make for a rougher texture, while any figure about 600 is probably inflated for marketing purposes. Some manufacturers boost their high thread count by using multi-ply yarn, which refers to two to five smaller (usually cheaper) strands twisted together within the sheet.
Because thread count primarily impacts durability and feel, it’s best to take into account how often you’ll use and launder your bed sheets. If you use your sheets daily and wash them weekly, consider higher thread count bedding. Also, if you like a heavier feel, consider a sheet with a high thread count. On the other hand, lower thread count bed sheets are lightweight and crisp — i.e. more appropriate for hotter climates.
The Take-Away: All in all, the quality of the fabric matters more than the quantity of the threads. For example, Egyptian cotton is a renowned household linen material. That said, it has longer (and therefore fewer) threads than you would probably expect. Basically, there’s no need to lose sleep over thread count!
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Lead image: Design by Steve + Filip Design Inc. / Photo by Jeremy Witteveen