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Thread Count FAQ: Myths & Facts

When it comes to bedding, there’s one number that gets tossed around a lot – thread count. For many, a high thread count is the go-to indicator of quality. But what does thread count really mean? And more importantly — how much does it really matter? We’ve put together a few frequently asked questions – and answers – about this mysterious metric.

How does thread count work?

Thread count is a simple measurement calculated by adding the total number of horizontal and vertical threads woven into one square inch of a fabric. In other words, it’s a measure of the density of the fabric. Simple enough, right? In fact, it gets a bit complicated because regulators allow manufacturers to use double- or triple-ply threads (threads made of two or three often lower-quality strands twisted together) and count each of those threads twice or even three times. This means that 200 thread count sheets made of three-ply threads can be marketed as 600-thread count.

When does thread count matter?

Thread count can make a difference in how a fabric feels and how it wears – and problems can arise when thread count is low – and also when it’s high. Below a certain threshold, you’re going to notice that sheets feel skimpy and rough. Higher thread counts – up to a certain point – feel silkier, smoother, and more substantial. Because thread count impacts feel and durability, it’s going to be more important for bedding you’re in closer contact with and launder more frequently – like sheets and pillowcases – and less important for things like duvets or towels. But when you’re shopping for those silky-feeling high thread count sheets, beware of manufacturers using multi-ply thread for unscrupulous thread counting.

What’s the highest possible thread count?

You may see sheets with thread counts well over 1,000 on store shelves, but this is likely due to manipulative marketing. Keep in mind that there are only so many threads that can physically fit into a square inch of fabric. But in an effort to inflate thread count, some manufacturers will spin low-quality fibers into very thin thread, thereby squeezing more of them into each square inch of fabric. This usually decreases durability without increasing comfort.

Are there any issues with higher thread counts?

Exaggerated thread counts may seem harmless. However, they can actually lower fabric quality. For example, if cheap, weak fibers are used to make a sheet set, they may feel coarse and be more prone to wear. If an inflated thread count comes from a tighter weave, less air will be able to pass through, making the fabric less breathable and less comfortable.

What’s a good thread count for bedding?

Basic sheets have a thread count that starts around 150, and anything above a thread count of 200 will yield the smoother, softer feel that makes bedding a dream. The sweet spot for cotton sheets woven of an extra-long staple cotton like pima or Egyptian cotton, which produces a finer thread, is generally 400 to 600, with some luxury options edging up a bit higher.

Is thread count the most important factor in choosing sheets?

As you might have guessed, thread count is not the most important factor when choosing sheets. Because manufacturers can manipulate the thread count using multiple-ply threads or using thinner, weaker fibers, thread count doesn’t mean as much as you might think. It’s more important to look for the quality of the cotton itself. Upland or blended cottons aren’t going to be as soft or durable as a pure extra-long staple cotton like pima cotton or Egyptian cotton. So when you’re choosing bedding, your best bet it to look for a proven pure pima cotton, like Wamsutta’s PimaCott lines, and pick the thread count and weave that feels best on your skin.