Thread count is something we’ve all heard of, and generally associate a higher count with quality fabric. However, this isn’t always the case.
In this thread count guide, we’ve explained the truth about thread count, how to identify quality bedding, and the additional factors that affect the softness of your sheets, duvet covers, and pillow case.
What does thread count mean?
There's a common misconception that the higher the thread count, the more luxurious your bed sheets are. But this isn’t wholly accurate, so ..let us explain how it really works!
Bed threads simply represent the number of combined horizontal and vertical threads that are woven into every square inch of fabric. So, the higher the thread count, the more threads there are within your fabric.
For instance, a 300 thread count bed sheet consists of 150 vertical and 150 horizontal threads. Straightforward, right?
However, as with most things in life, there is a capacity at which you cannot physically fit any more in to the available space (such as dogs and children in my house!). And this is the case with fabric thread – you can’t weave a fabric tighter than the fibres you’re using allow; which is what consumers often don’t realise, through no fault of their own.
What is a ply?
A “ply” is a fibre that can be combined into a single thread.
For example, 2-ply means a thread is made up of 2 smaller fibres twisted together. Hence, a 2-ply, 200 thread count sheet is, in fact, only 100 threads, while a 4-ply sheet with a 200 thread count is, in fact, only 50 individual threads! Essentially, manufacturers will often count every single ply when calculating a fabric’s thread count.
That can explain why supposedly higher thread count sheets sometimes feel inferior to those with a lower count.
Effectively, bed sheet thread count only matters when you are talking about 1-ply, with multi-ply yarns much smaller, less breathable, and less durable than single-ply threads.
If you twist two short fibres tightly enough so they become one longer fibre, your 300 thread count sheet can quickly become a 600 thread count sheet. Note, though, that the sheet isn't any better quality just because the thread count is significantly higher – it’s simply because it’s made from multiple-ply threads.
Bed sheet thread count explained
Diving straight into the question: when buying bedding, it’s important to appreciate that fabrics with a thread count above 600 generally use either two-ply or multi-ply yarns. While this doesn’t mean they’re necessarily low quality, it is quite misleading, as they’re not quite as luxurious as the number would lead you to believe; you’re not actually getting a 600 thread count sheet!
Additionally, manufacturers can sell fabrics and call it a 2-ply 600 thread when it is actually a single-ply 300 thread. To further confuse matters, manufacturers can use lower-quality fabrics with thinner threads, meaning thread count has now become a very loose indicator of quality rather than a hard and fast rule.
How does ply impact thread count?
If you are looking for a more reliable measure for luxury bedding quality, then ply would be the best starting point. If you imagine your bed sheets like a maths equation, then ply would be the denominator. Ply is the defining factor in how the actual thread count is derived: ADVERTISED THREAD COUNT ÷ PLY = ACTUAL THREAD COUNT
500 Thread Count ÷ 2-Ply = 250 Actual Thread Count
600 Thread Count ÷ 3-Ply = 200 Actual Thread Count
300 Thread Count ÷ 1-Ply = 300 Actual Thread Count
As you can see above, while the third example, at first, looks to offer the lowest quality, it actually boasts the highest true thread count. Always avoid multiple-ply wherever possible. It's usually an insincere attempt to falsely misrepresent the bed sheets as being better quality than they are. .
Of course it is more expensive to source higher quality single-ply threads, such as our TENCEL™. As such, unfortunately it's fairly standard practice in the bedding industry to boost thread counts by using inexpensive multiple-ply yarns.
Is higher thread count better?
A genuinely high thread count generally refers to fabrics with a thread count of 300-500. In fabrics with a high thread count, the tightly knit strands makes your bedding cosier, softer, and more luxurious. A higher thread count will also represent heavier bedding, so take this into account if you’re someone who prefers lighter sheets.
However, as we’ve alluded to above, while a high thread count can be a great indicator of quality bedding, a bigger number doesn’t always mean better, and you need to take the ply value into account when determining the true thread count of your sheets. For example, some manufacturers boast 1,000+ thread count bedding, but to fit that many threads within a single inch is near-impossible, suggesting that there’s creative manipulation at play.
The best thread count for sheets
So, with the above in mind, is there an answer to the question: ‘what is the best thread count for sheets?’. In short, no.
When shopping for new bed sheets, be aware of especially high thread counts; the chances are, any fabric exceeding 1,000 thread count is of lower quality than that with a more reasonable number. In fact, you can typically approach any bedding with a thread count over 600 with caution, as it’s likely two- or multi-ply.
If you must compare thread count, keep an eye out for sheets with a thread count between 300-500 (as long as they’re single ply!).
When does thread count equate to quality?
In an ideal world, if we were to assume all bedding is single ply, then we can reasonably use bed threads to determine overall quality and comfort. This is especially true if the fibres went through a process called carding.
Carding is crucial in cotton manufacturing, as it strips the fabric of the short and low-quality fibres, leaving the longer fibres behind. When spun, the long fibres subsequently create a much more durable and reliable material. But what thread count is good – and what bedding thread count is luxurious?
"“Basic quality" bedding of linen has a thread count of 132 to 144, "good quality" bedding has a thread count of 180 to 220, "great quality" fabric has a thread count beyond 300, and "excellent quality" linen has a thread count beyond 400. Meanwhile, at the upper end of the spectrum, the best thread count for bedding comes in beyond 500.
To give you a clear idea of when you might need a higher thread count, we’ve outlined which room in your home each type of bedding would be best-suited to, ranging from the master bedroom suite to the guest room you use for overflow storage!
QUALITY OF LINEN
What other factors affect the softness of the bedding?
Good bedding doesn’t need to have an insanely high thread count, as we have seen from how this number is derived and how manufacturing loopholes can be found.
In fact, generally, good-quality bedding can be single-ply cotton with a thread count between 180 to 300.
In addition to thread count, though, other factors can influence how the sheet feels. For example:
- Grade and quality of cotton
Having a quality cotton or fabric is what produces a quality sheet, not the thread count. While it’s true that Egyptian cotton sheets do typically have a higher thread count than traditional cotton, this isn’t what makes the material such a luxury. Instead, it’s the long staple cotton sourced on the banks of the Nile that provides the silky softness, rather than the tight weave.
The same can be said for Tencel (made from the pulp of the eucalyptus tree) and bamboo bedding, which are both incredibly soft, breathable, antimicrobial and antibacterial. Where possible, avoid short staple cotton, or you’ll endure a significant lack of softness and durability.
- Type and nature of fabric weaving
When comparing bedding, take note of the weave of the fabric. Fine sheets will often come with a sateen weave (one yarn under, three yarns over) or percale pattern (one under, one over). This produces a crisp finish for a comfortable night’s sleep. If you’re looking for true luxury, look for bedding that’s been woven by a manufacturer with a strong history of unrivalled standards and expertise.
- Manufacturing and finishing process
Where possible, always buy organic, and from a sustainable manufacturer that’s committed to providing safe and environmentally-friendly bedding. After all, the alternative is sleeping on bedding that was are treated with chemicals like carbon disulphide and caustic soda, both of which are toxic and pose a risk to your health!
At Ethical Bedding, our eucalyptus silk is sourced using 95% less water than in traditional cotton production, while all trees are grown in non-farmable, biodiverse forests and all production waste is reused at another stage.
- Sewing quality
Of course, picking top-quality fabric is one thing, but ensuring your bedding is woven and sewn to an exceptional standard is something you absolutely shouldn’t overlook – and something that can instantly improve comfort if done well. As a rule of thumb, if you can count five stitches within 1cm, you can be confident that the bedding was sewn with care, rather than rushed through a machine.
- Quality of dyes and pigments
A shocking number of manufacturers are guilty of using toxic bleaches and pigments to dye their bedding, which are harmful to both you and the environment. But not only this; the harmful dyes can have an impact on overall comfort as you’re trying to get to sleep at night, potentially exacerbating or even causing skin problems.
Ethical Bedding Company thread count
Our luxury bedding is made exclusively with 300 thread count single-ply TENCEL™. We use a sateen weave to create an even more luxurious feel, in addition to the inherent natural qualities of our Eucalyptus fibre.
As above, quality fabric will give you quality bed sheets, and you won’t find bedding much silkier than those made from eucalyptus. And if you’re on the lookout for new bedding that combines a great quality thread count with soft, natural materials, our ultimate bed sheet bundle might be just what you’re looking for – you can even get 10% off with our exclusive code SILKY10.
You might be wondering why we don't offer more options? Well, after vigorous user testing for softness, feel and durability, we believe we’ have finally found what constitutes the best overall offering for a bed sheet. It's that simple!.
Thread count frequently asked questions
To round off the article, we’ve answered some of the most common questions asked by our customers about thread count, further explaining what the number really means.
How do you calculate thread count?
Thread count is the combined value of the number of vertical and horizontal threads within each square inch of fabric. For instance, if there are 150 horizontal threads and 150 vertical threads, the fabric will have a thread count of 300.
What is the highest possible thread count?
Some manufacturers will claim thread counts of 1,000+, but their bedding won’t be any better quality than a single-ply 500 thread count sheet. Treat bedding that claims to have an extraordinarily high thread count with caution, as it’s likely multi-ply, and so of lower quality.
What’s the best thread count to stay cool?
It may come as a surprise, but keeping cool at night has little to do with your bed threads. Instead, it’s all to do with the type of material you choose, with bamboo, linen, and light cotton blends particularly ideal for keeping cool in a heatwave. Keep an eye out for breathable, moisture-wicking sheets, for a comfortable night’s sleep, even in the summer heat.
To conclude: bed sheet thread count typically doesn’t matter, and definitely isn’t always a true indicator of material quality.
Ethical Bedding sheets are 300 thread count, but the bamboo and eucalyptus we use is second to none in terms of softness and silkiness. Why not try it out for yourself with our luxurious sheets and pillowcases, duvets and pillows, or mattress protectors. Or for even more interesting insight from our sleep experts, head on over to our blog.