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Thread Count Guide: What Does It Really Mean?

You probably hear a lot about sheet thread count, and there is a lot of misinformation out there about it. We often are asked why we don’t make 1000 thread count sheets. This is because most people believe that high thread count sheets are the best quality, but the truth is a little more complex. In fact, thread count is only a part of the quality equation. We’ve gathered all of the details for you, so you’ll be able to separate truth from myth.

The Marketing Terms Game

Once upon a time, we all thought that any food package that said “lite” or “diet” on it must mean it’s good for you. Many of these claims were debunked as simple marketing ploys when the terminology was standardized. We still see these kinds of confusing terms on food packaging today. And it seems bedding has fallen prey to similarly misleading marketing tactics.

Somewhere around the mid-nineties, Americans were sold the idea that a higher thread count means better quality sheets. We wanted a way to quantify quality. And let’s face it, numbers are easy. Give us a numerical scale and we’re on board. But the truth is a bit less simple.

So What Is Thread Count?

If you look up “thread count definition,” you’ll find it’s a count of the number of threads per square inch of fabric. So a fabric with a thread count of 250 should have 125 threads woven horizontally and 125 threads woven vertically per square inch.

Sounds pretty straight forward, right? Not so fast.

There are plenty of ways for companies to boost their thread count through creative math, so it’s come to mean very little in terms of quality. In fact, almost all of the really high thread count sheets you’ll find on the market today are boosting their numbers with multi-ply yarns or other tricks.

What is Multi-ply yarn?

A single ply yarn is made up of one long thread. A multi-ply yarn is made of two, three, or even four or five threads twisted together. Unfortunately, this allows some companies to use cheaper multi-ply yarns and count each individual thread.

Remember our 250 thread count example above? Using the same exact weave, with a cheaper multi-ply yarn, some manufacturers could list a 500, 750, 1000, or 1250 thread count fabric! But it’s not going to be nearly as good quality as the single ply fabric with the lower number.

Why does thread count matter?

The truth is, ideal thread count needs to be taken into account with the quality of cotton, single ply vs. multi ply cotton, and the type of weave. If you're a fan of a heavier sheet, you might be a fan of our 600 thread count Virtuoso. If you prefer something a bit light weight and crisp, even a 200 thread count like our Boutique sheeting will have you in sleep heaven.

But really, it depends a lot on other factors. The type of weave and quality of the cotton or other materials used makes a much bigger difference than the thread count number. That said, be suspicious of anything with a thread count higher than 600. It’s most likely been inflated in an effort to charge more for lower quality sheeting.

So You Shouldn’t Buy Those 1000 Thread Count Sheets?

No, probably not. Anything with a thread count nearing (or above) 1000 thread count is almost certain to be significantly lower quality than sheets with a more reasonable number. Most fabrics with a thread count over 600 are a sign of deceptive marketing tactics at work.

What Should You Look for in Sheets?

If you must measure thread count, look for something in the 400-600 thread count range, and remember to be certain that they’re single ply. But really, there are much better ways of choosing fine quality sheets.

Firstly, you’ll want to look at what the fibers are made of. We believe fine cotton sheets to be the best, both in terms of comfort and ease of care. There’s a reason cotton has been spun into sheeting for thousands of years.

Next, you’ll want to choose a weave that feels right to you. The most common for fine sheets are sateen and percale. Check out our guide to the differences between percale and sateen for more details.

Finally, check to see if the fabric is made from long staple cotton. This refers to the length of the individual cotton fibers that were spun together to make each thread. Longer cotton fibers create stronger, smoother threads, and tend to last longer.

In the end, the best way to determine which sheeting is the right choice for you is to sleep on it. Different people sleep better with different weaves, weights, and textures of sheeting, so choose something that feels luxurious against your skin, and enjoy it!