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Your thread count questions, answered.

If you’re searching for the perfect set of sheets to give you an incredible night’s sleep, you’ll have seen a lot of talk about thread count. And the way it’s been talked about, you’ll be forgiven for thinking that thread count is the be all and end all for bed sheets. So what is thread count, and why is it (not so) important?

What does ‘thread count’ mean?

Thread count is the number of threads in a square inch of fabric. It’s worked out by looking at the number of horizontal threads (the weft) and vertical threads (the warp) within that square inch. Thread count essentially measures how tightly woven a fabric is – the higher the thread count, the more threads the makers have packed into that square inch.

For example, a sheet with 125 weft threads and 125 warp threads will have a thread count of 250.  

The implication is that the higher the thread count, the finer the yarns must be, and therefore the fabric will be softer and more durable than lower counts. But, this is not necessarily true.

Thread count only really applies to 100% cotton sheets. When it’s used on anything else it’s potentially misleading.

 
left: duvet cover set pictured: Artemis | right: duvet cover set pictured: Cordelia

 

Is higher thread count better?

Not necessarily. There’s more to bedding than just thread count, and elements like breathability, softness and comfort aren’t covered when you consider this one facet of fabric. Sure, a high thread count can be a sign of quality – but too high? You might just be paying over the odds for bed sheets that aren’t any better than a 400 thread count one.

A 1000 thread count fabric is a very tightly woven fabric, but it might not be any different to the same fabric with half that thread count. Different weaves will have an impact too, for example percale is one over, one under, whereas sateen is four over, one under.

Thread count can be manipulated too. For example, polyester sheets can have thread counts in the thousands, because the thread they use can be manufactured to be super thin – so it sounds like an incredible thread count, but in actuality it doesn’t mean that it’s any better quality (and you might be paying more for it!).

What’s a good thread count for sheets?

A good thread count can range from 200 – 600, with percale cotton sheets coming in at 200- 400 and sateen weaves going up to 600. But looking at thread count alone won’t give you soft sheets. You have to look at the quality of the cotton and the type of weave, too.

When it comes to quality, look for 100% cotton or Egyptian cotton for fine yarns that will contribute to the softness of your sheets. Polycotton has its place too, as it is hardwearing and durable – perfect for busy family life.

Think about the weave too. A percale cotton weave is crisp and cool with a matte finish, whereas sateen is smooth and glossy. There are other finishes like brushed cotton, which is super cosy, ideal to snuggle up in while it’s cold outside.

Want more on how to buy bedding? Take a look at our bedding buying guide for in-depth information on what to look for.

 
Left: duvet cover set pictured: Kyoto Right: duvet cover set pictured: Botanist

 

When does thread count not count?

Thread count only counts when you’re looking at 100% cotton with single-ply weaves. Anything else and it’s probably not the whole truth. Some things to check:

Multi-ply

If the fabric you’re looking at uses multi-ply threads, then the thread count might have been fudged – especially if it looks particularly high. Some sneaky marketers like to inflate the thread count by counting 2-ply threads as two threads, and 3-ply as three, etc.

Polyester or blended fabrics

As we mentioned before, polyester sheets can be manufactured to make the thread count sound good – but it doesn’t necessarily have a positive impact on the quality of the fabric.

Linen

If it’s a linen sheet, you likely won’t find a thread count on it. Linen uses a thicker thread, so it would naturally have a very low thread count.