The Truth About Thread Count
When buying new sheets, what figure do you look at to gauge their quality? For most people, it's thread count. Higher thread count in bedding has been associated with luxury for a long time. But according to the experts, this is one bedding myth that needs to be busted.
Here's everything you need to know about thread count, why you shouldn't rely on it too heavily when choosing your sheets, and what to consider instead.
What does thread count mean?
Thread count refers to the number of threads woven per one square inch of fabric. The thread count includes both horizontal (weft) and vertical (warp) threads. For instance, if one inch of fabric has 150 horizontal and 150 vertical threads, the thread count number is 300. Thread count figures can range anywhere from 200 to 800 and even higher.
Is a higher thread count better?
"Thread count is sort of a mystery," says Mary Brennan, founder of House of Fine Design. "You kind of make the assumption that the higher the thread count, the softer the sheet—which to a degree is true—but that's not the only thing that matters."
First of all, it's important to note that thread count is only really relevant for cotton bedding. For cotton sheets, thread count number can range anywhere from 200 to 1,000. The problem is, you can only get so many threads onto the loom—and in order to increase thread quantity, some manufacturers sacrifice thread quality.
When you see sheets advertised as being 1,000 thread count, chances are that to get to that number the manufacturer used thinner yarns twisted together (often yarn that has been split so that it can be counted as two threads instead of one). You will often see bedding made from four-ply yarn marketed as 1,000 thread count when in reality it is 250 thread count. What's more, too many threads of fabric cramped together on a loom will make for a sheet that is not breathable and traps heat.
So what is the ideal thread count for cotton sheets? According to the National Sleep Foundation, the sweet spot for thread count in cotton sheets is between 200 and 400. That's the optimal number for coolness and breathability (and why we chose 300 thread count for Saatva's organic cotton sheets).
Keep in mind that thread count is not an indicator of quality in other sheet materials. Linen, for example, has much thicker threads, meaning you can't fit as many on a loom (the ideal thread count for linen sheets is 80 to 120). "Thread count is not important when it comes to linen sheets," says Brennan. "But the beauty of linen is that it's very strong and durable and gets softer over time."
On the opposite end, silk threads are very thin in comparison to cotton. The quality of both linen and silk sheets is measured based on weight rather than thread count.
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What should you look at besides thread count?
Now that you know that thread count is not the only (and not the most reliable) indicator of sheet quality, what can you rely on instead?
Ply refers to the number of fibers twisted together into a single thread. When it comes to ply, less is definitely better. Two-ply or other multi-ply yarns create fabrics that are coarser, heavier, and most important less durable. Go for a single-ply yarn.
Staple refers to the length of the cotton fiber. There are two main kinds of cotton: short staple (or American Upland) and long staple (Egyptian and Supima/Pima cotton are two kinds of long-staple cotton, both of which are favorites of Brennan's). Longer fibers tend to make a smoother, stronger, more durable fabric that is less prone to fraying and wrinkling. They're also harder to grow and so command a higher price. Organic cotton that is grown without harmful chemicals naturally produces plants that yield longer staple fibers.
Weave is another factor you will encounter when choosing sheets. Weave is not an indicator of quality, but it's worth paying attention to since different types of weave create fabrics with slightly different properties. Percale and sateen are the two most common types of weave. "Weave is a personal choice," says Brennan. Sateen is a one-yarn-under, three-yarn-over weave, while percale is a one-yarn-over, one-yarn-under weave. Both produce excellent fabrics—sateen is silkier and heavier, and percale is crisper, lighter, and more breathable.
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