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What Is Thread Count and Does It Really Matter?

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Woman Laying Under Sheets

If you are like most us you have probably looked at new sheets and wondered ‘what is thread count’ and ‘how much does it really matter’?

We’ve been there and done that so you can be assured that you are not alone in your thinking. That is why we have put together this guide to give an overview of what thread count is and what you should be aware of.

We had always been under the impression that the higher the thread count automatically made it a better bed sheet. As we began to learn more about thread count numbers we realized that a higher thread count is not necessarily better. There are other factors involved in the manufacturing process that play into the quality of the bedsheet.

What Is Thread Count?

The technical definition for thread count is the number of threads woven together in a square inch of material. This includes threads on the length and width of the material. Lengthwise being referred to as the warp and widthwise being referred to as the weft. You would just add the total number of threads together to get your thread count. For example, if you had 200 warp threads and 200 weft threads your thread count would be 400.

Does a Higher Thread Count Automatically Make It Better?

The short answer to this is no, not necessarily. Even though the bedding industry is regulated consumers should still educate themselves before buying bed sheets. It’s actually unfortunate that something like thread count can’t just be taken at face value, but it really can’t.

According to Consumer Reports, there is more to the story than just the rated thread count of the sheets you are buying. Based on their testing they are seeing very mixed results when it comes to the actual quality of bed sheets compared to the price you are paying and the advertised thread count.

When it really comes down to thread count you should start being suspicious when you are looking at anything over 400 threads per inch. The reality is that some manufacturers are inflating their thread count numbers by using creative math. This day and age that is probably not hard to believe, but it’s still not right.

Consumers are under the impression that the higher the thread count the better, more comfortable, and longer-lasting the bedsheet. That’s what I had thought at least. But there are companies that are actually counting each fiber that makes up each thread. These individual fibers are called plies. So, for example, a single thread could be made up of 4 plies twisted together. An honest manufacturer should still count that as one single thread. However, there are some that will call that 4 threads. So you can see how that would easily inflate the thread count numbers for their sheets. 

Consumer Reports actually caught a manufacturer in the act. It was a sheet set from Bed Bath and Beyond where the stated thread count was 1,200 but a lab count came in at 416 thread count. Obviously a large difference. In the end Bed, Bath, and Beyond was sued for misrepresenting thread count so this is definitely a real issue within the industry.

Is Thread Count Important?

Yes, the thread count is still important when determining what sheets to buy. But it is also not the only factor that can and should be considered. Some other things to consider would be the quality of the actual yarn that is being used and where that material comes from. 

If you see a thread count that seems very low then you should be aware that it’s not going to be top quality. It has to be rougher because there are voids in the sheets because the threads are not tightly knit together. Or the yarn that is used is very thick and won’t feel as nice to lay on. 

On the other hand, we mentioned that if you see very high thread counts it should make you suspicious. A general rule of thumb would be to use the 400 thread count mark as a threshold. If you are seeing thread counts higher than 400 then you should look more closely at the product. Our recommendation is to look for something in the 200-400 range for the best results. That will ensure you are getting enough thread count for a nice, soft feel but not too much where you are being price gouged for something false.

How To Find the Perfect Bed Sheets

Look at the thread count – Yes, it’s still important. Look for something in the 200-400 thread count range. This is what we have found to give the best combination of softness and price. Anything less is towards the low end of the quality spectrum. Anything more is probably overkill or the thread count numbers are inflated.

Determine material – This is more of a personal preference but based on our research and testing, we prefer 100% cotton sheets. Ideally towards the 400 thread count range if we can find them for the right price.

Determine the correct size for your mattress – This may sound simplistic, and maybe it is, but you need to make sure your sheets are going to fit your mattress. It sounds simple but it is important. You have to pay attention to the size of your mattress but you should also know the thickness of your mattress. If your mattress is thicker than most then you could easily get sheets that you thought would fit but actually won’t.

Where is material sourced from and where are the sheets made – Investigating the source of the material is something that most people don’t do when they are searching for new bedsheets. It may or may not be important to you but it is something to consider. You may also want to look into whether the material has any organic certifications. 

Do they feel right for you – Sheets won’t feel any better than when they are brand new in the package. Once you start washing them they start to change. High-quality sheets will fade much slower over time than low-quality sheets. But if they don’t feel right for you when they are new then they may not be what you are looking for.

Final Thoughts

As with many things in life, thread count can be a little bit more complicated than it needs to be. If everyone would follow the same set of rules then it would be much more straightforward. Unfortunately, that is not always the case. 

In a nutshell, thread count is still an important metric when researching bed sheets. Something on the very low end is something you will probably want to shy away from. They will not be soft and they won’t last as long. On the other hand, they should be much cheaper so you have to take that into consideration.

If you see thread counts over the 400 range then pay close attention. It’s entirely possible that the company is using some funny math to gain an advertising advantage. It may cost you more and you may not be getting what you are paying for.