Bedding Thread Count Explained

Almost anyone shopping for sheets has come across the term thread count. You’ve probably heard it or read it dozens of times. Manufacturers love to advertise that their sheets have a thread count of 400, 600, 800, or an even higher number. The problem is, most of them don’t really explain what thread count actually means or how they arrive at the number they use in marketing. 

What Is Thread Count?

Most bedding is made from threads or yarns that are woven together in a kind of mesh. They have threads running vertically, with horizontal threads weaving through them. This doesn’t usually apply to knit sheets, which are constructed in a different manner.

To arrive at a thread count, simply add the number of vertical threads per inch to the number of horizontal threads per inch. A sheet with 150 vertical threads per inch and 150 horizontal threads per inch will have a thread count of 300.

Does Thread Count Matter?

Thread count can make a difference to the comfort and durability of your bedding, but a high thread count is not always a better option. One reason for this is that you reach a point of diminishing returns, where the added expense of a higher thread count may not make a noticeable difference to how the sheet feels to the touch.

Another problem with relying only on thread count is that it can be misleading. Some manufacturers may use very low-quality thread while others may have a much higher quality thread. A sheet with a thread count of 200 with poor quality thread could end up feeling less comfortable than a sheet with a thread count of 150 that is made of higher quality threads. 

Something to look out for is a thread count number that has been fudged. Typically, 200 vertical and 200 horizontal threads give you a thread count of 400. To make their thread count more impressive, some manufacturers use threads that are made up of multiple tiny threads braided together. These threads are usually lower quality and cheaper to manufacture. When manufacturers do this, they will sometimes list that same 400 thread count bedding set as having a thread count of 800, 1200, or even higher count. They arrive at this number by multiplying the number of strands in each thread by the number of threads, but in reality that may make no improvement in the look and feel of the fabric. 

Multi-strand, or multi-ply, yarn can often produce material that is scratchier and less comfortable. You may actually be better off with a single-ply 400 count set. Part of this is because single-ply yarn is softer and more flexible than yarns made from multiple plies.

Also consider whether the bedding is made of long-staple fiber or short-staple. Long-staple fibers are made of individual fibers that are longer and are woven together into threads, which then are used when making the fabric. Short-staple fibers are shorter fibers woven into threads. Long-staple fibers tend to be softer and smoother than short-staple fibers.

What Is The Best Thread Count For Bedding?

As previously stated, thread count is not the only factor to consider when determining the comfort and durability of bedding. It does, however, give you a general idea of where to start when you are shopping. All things being equal, a higher thread count can be softer and more durable than a lower thread count.

There is a sweet spot where you can usually find bedding with a high enough thread count and low enough price to make it the best overall choice. This spot usually lies somewhere between 200 and 400. It is often hard to tell the difference in feel between a 250 thread count set and one that is 300 or more, so that narrows it even more. Often bedding with long-staple fibers in this range is your best bet.

Watch out for thread counts exceeding 400. Many times those will be multiple-ply, which can be misleading. You should look for any mention of the number of plies. If they mention that it is two or more plies, this usually indicates that multiple strands make up each thread, and doesn’t necessarily mean better quality. 

Sheet Material Options

When you are glancing through the available bedding you’ll likely come across sheets made of a variety of materials. Some are often considered softer, others more durable. Below are some common terms you’ll find and what they mean when it comes to what the bedding is made from.

Cotton

Cotton is a very common material used in bedding. It softens over time, is breathable, and can be very durable. There are many different types of cotton you may see advertised. 

Upland

Upland cotton is the most common type of cotton you can find. It’s a short-staple cotton, with lower quality and cost than the long-staple varieties. It makes up most of the cotton produced in the US, and if you see cotton bedding that doesn’t specify the type of cotton, this is most likely what it is. 

Egyptian

Egyptian cotton is generally considered the highest quality cotton available. It is an extra-long staple variety, which helps create some of the softest and smoothest cotton you can find. It is also one of the most expensive fabrics you can find for bedding. Among some of the brands selling Egyptian cotton are Wamsutta and Mayfair Linen.

Pima

Pima cotton is a long-staple type of cotton. It’s not as soft, smooth, or durable as the Egyptian cotton, but it is usually considered much higher quality than Upland cotton. This cotton is pricier than the Upland cotton, but usually not nearly in the range of Egyptian cotton. You can find Pima cotton bedding sold by Peru Pima and L.L. Bean, among other brands.

Supima

Supima cotton is a brand name for a version of Pima cotton. It is considered to be a high-quality, extra-long staple that is soft, durable, and breathable. It can sometimes, though not always, be more expensive than Egyptian cotton, and is of similar overall quality. Some people consider Supima to be superior to Egyptian cotton, partially because of the strict laws covering workers and the environment where it is produced. Some brands you may see who sell Supima bedding are Gryphon and Sleep Number.

Polyester

Polyester is a cheap, man-made material that is made from the same polymers used to create everyday plastic items. It usually resists fading and holds its color well, but can often be stiff and scratchy, and sometimes does not breathe well. You typically find it blended with other materials. Some brands selling polyester bedding are Wayfair and Mellani.

Linen

Linen is a natural fiber, made from fibers of the flax plant. It typically breathes well and is hypoallergenic. While it can be stiff when new, over time linen will get softer and is more durable than cotton. One downside is that linen tends to wrinkle more than some other fabrics. You can find linen bedding from Brooklinen, Parachute, and many others brands.

Silk

Silk is a natural fiber produced by silkworms. It is usually considered one of the most luxurious and high-end materials for your bedding. While silk is costly and fragile, it is also soft, cool to the touch, smooth, and breathable. Royal Opulence, Thxsilk, and others sell silk bedding.

Jersey

Jersey sheets are knitted sheets, usually made from cotton or a blend. Jersey itself isn’t a material, but a way of preparing the material. Think of it as a way the fibers are knitted together. This may be best described as similar to a knit t-shirt.  Price and softness are the main advantages, along with it being easy to clean. The downsides include durability and the fact that it isn’t very luxurious. Jersey bedding is sold by Ink & Ivy and Pottery Barn, among other brands.

Blended Fabrics

Blended fabrics are blends of two types of fiber, commonly cotton and a synthetic. You may find cotton and polyester blends, cotton blended with nylon, or cotton and rayon. These retain some of the advantages of each fabric and are usually durable and relatively low-cost. Bedding made from blended fabrics are sold by such brands as Royal Hotel, Beautyrest, and others.

Flannel

Flannel is usually made from cotton, but can also be made from other fabrics, such as silk. It’s a woven fabric that is breathable and moisture-wicking. It is typically soft, relatively low cost, and easy to maintain. Manufacturers make flannel by brushing cotton, wool, or other material with a wire comb, which softens the surface of the material. You can find flannel sheets sold under the brands L.L. Bean, Threshold, and many others.

Weave

Bedding comes in different weaves, most common being percale, sateen, and satin. Depending on the pattern of the over-under weave of the yarn that makes up the fabric, you will get different weaves.

Percale

This is the typical weave that most people are familiar with. A horizontal thread may go over one vertical thread, under the next, and so on. This usually creates a durable, firm, and crisp weave as the outcome.

Sateen Or Satin

Sateen and satin are both variations on the standard weave. Instead of one over, one under they may have a one over, three under pattern. This can produce a softer and smoother surface on the fabric. Sateen is typically made of short-staple yarns, often rayon or cotton. It is more durable than satin. Satin is typically made of long-staple threads, such as silk, nylon, or polyester. It usually has a higher shine than sateen, but is more expensive and doesn’t breathe as well.

Where To Buy Bedding

When you are searching for new bedding, there are many places you can find it. Many retailers sell bedding that ranges from low-quality to high-end. Some of the best places to shop for bedding, in no particular order, are:

  • Brooklinen
  • Parachute
  • West Elm
  • Bed, Bath & Beyond
  • Nordstrom
  • Amazon
  • Pottery Barn
  • Crane & Canopy
  • Wayfair
  • Overstock

If you want to shop in person and do not have any of the brick-and-mortar stores from the list above nearby, you can sometimes find good quality bedding at Target and Walmart. 

Knowing what manufacturers are referring to when you purchase new bedding is key to finding the proper bedding for your needs. By understanding these numbers you can find the best bedding for your budget.

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