If you’ve been shopping for a set of sheets, you know how hard it can be to make a decision based on the label information. Many companies claim to be selling 1800 thread count sheets for $25. Or worse, you see other product descriptions using the same photos, but they want over $100 for their 1800 thread count sheets. It’s hard to know what a realistic thread count is.
When it comes down to it, does thread count matter? What are the hallmarks of quality sheets? Do you really lose anything when you buy sheets with a lower thread count? Read on to learn whether high thread count sheets are a smart buy at any price.
What Is a Good Thread Count for Sheets?
A good thread count for a sheet set is anything above 200. Percale sheets have a thread count between 180 and 200. This thread count is for your standard sheet and about as low as you’d want to go. Look for the highest quality percale sheets you can, so you get closer to the 200 thread count. This is likely the thread count most people grew up with. These sheets will be soft, but won’t feel silky. They shouldn’t feel rough. Sheets in this thread count range will have the shortest longevity. They will wear out faster, but you should still get several years of use out of them.
What Is the Best Thread Count for Sheets?
The best thread count for sheets is 250 to 300. Fabric of this density is known as sateen. Don’t confuse a sateen weave with a satin weave. They aren’t the same fabric. Sateen is all cotton. Sometimes you may see rayon or a rayon-blend listed as sateen. This can still be considered sateen, but perhaps not in the classical sense.
The higher thread count of sateen sheets is enough to combine extra softness with increased durability. This thread count range is a great value for the money. It has solid midline quality and should have a midline price too. The best sheets are nice enough to feel like a small luxury without breaking the bank.
What Thread Count Equates to High-Quality Sheets?
Sheets with thread counts of 300 to 400 are high-quality sheets. Consumer advocates warn against sheets claiming to have a higher thread count than 400. Thread counts start getting iffy after this point due to dishonest marketers.
It becomes difficult to determine whether you’re actually getting a higher thread count or simply a higher price tag. If you trust the source, 400 to 600 thread count could make for a very luxurious sheet set. Otherwise, the safest bet is to stick within the 400 count range from brands you trust.
Does a High Thread Count Make the Softest Sheets?
No, it doesn’t. It can even mean the opposite. Pervasive marketing gimmicks have taught you to equate a high thread count with luxuriously soft bedding. This, however, is not the case. You’ve been misled in the name of profit. A high thread count does not equal softness. It’s more accurate to say a high thread count equals density.
High thread count sheets are expensive because more goes into making them. You’re getting more fabric for the money (provided the thread count is accurate). Sheets this dense and heavy are less breathable. This means you’ll sleep hotter. It can take many washes for this quality of sheet to become soft and feel luxurious, but they will be extra durable. Once broken in, high thread count sheets will feel amazing. But be aware it could take you quite a while to get there.
Look to the Fabric Instead
The material is a greater indicator of softness than thread count. If you want super soft sheets, look for what the sheets are made of. Common materials are cotton, Pima (or Supima cotton), Egyptian cotton, polyester, spandex, and microfiber. Choose a high-quality material first and worry about the sheet thread count later. If you’re buying Egyptian cotton sheets, you’re already getting the softest cotton there is. Thread count is secondary to the fabric.
Most sheets are made of some kind of cotton. There are three main types of cotton: American Upland, Pima (or Supima), and Egyptian. Many tags aren’t any more specific than 100% cotton. If this is the only designation on the label, it’s likely American Upland. American Upland cotton can be anywhere from short-staple to fairly long staple. The staple refers to the length of the cotton fibers. Pima is long-staple cotton that is very soft. Egyptian cotton possesses an extra-long staple. Egyptian is the ultimate in plushly-soft, supple cotton.
Microfiber is a synthetic yarn which is ultra-fine. It’s generally a blend of other fibers, usually polyester and nylon. These kinds of fibers make microfiber a petroleum-based material. Microfiber sheets are very soft and tend to get even softer in the wash. If you prefer all-natural fabrics next to your skin, you may want to stay away from microfiber sheets.
What Does Thread Count Mean?
Fabric is made up of threads crossing each other horizontally and vertically. Warp threads run vertically. Weft or fill threads run horizontally. Together they form the weave we know as fabric. Thread count is an accounting of how many threads are in one square inch of fabric. A sheet with a 200 thread count, for instance, will have 100 vertical threads and 100 horizontal threads per inch.
It stands to reason, the more threads in a square inch of fabric, the denser the fabric will be. When a fabric is denser, there’s less space between threads. When there’s less space, the fabric is less breathable because air can’t pass through as freely. The fabric will also be heavier and stiffer.
If the thread count is 1000, it means 500 threads are running vertically and 500 threads are running horizontally. This is a lot of threads. Fabric this dense would mean you’d need to “break-in” your sheets. They’d be heavy and durable but would take a long time to become enjoyable.
Our bedding experts have compiled some answers to questions often asked about sheets and thread count.
What Is a Respectable Thread Count for Microfiber Sheets?
A good thread count for microfiber sheets is anywhere between 200 and 800. Microfiber is known for its softness and sheets from this material tend to get softer every time they’re washed. If you see thread counts of 800 or more, the manufacturer likely inflated the thread count.
For instance, some manufacturers online claim to sell microfiber sheets with an 1800 thread count. A true thread count so high would be very stiff and may never soften to a luxurious-feeling sheet. Almost no one would want to sleep on that. How does this happen?
Some manufacturers count their threads in a misleading way. They may count 3-ply threads as three threads instead of one thread. This would mean they labeled sheets with a 200 thread count as 600 thread count sheets. There would be an obvious difference between 200 and 800 count sheets. Sheets with an 800 thread count would be very stiff and would take a significant number of washings to become soft.
What Are the Most Comfortable Bed Sheets?
Comfortable is going to mean something different for everybody. That said, most everyone likes sheets that are soft and breathable. Contrary to what you’ve been taught by marketers, the most breathable sheets will not have a high thread count. The most breathable sheets will be around 200 thread count.
The idea of comfortable may change with the seasons. Comfort may also depend on where you live or whether you’re a hot sleeper.
You could use lightweight percale sheets in the summer to enjoy a cooler night’s sleep in hot weather. In winter, you may want to switch to denser sateen or microfiber sheets. Since denser sheets are not as breathable, you’ll stay warmer during the cold weather season.
A hot sleeper will likely want percale sheets year-round. The lower thread count of percale allows more air to pass through. You’ll sleep cooler and the more open weave will dry faster. This means you stay drier while sleeping.
What Should I Look for When Buying Bed Sheets?
To make it as simple as possible, let’s narrow it down to three essential qualities. When shopping for your everyday bed sheets, look for:
- A good fit. Measure your mattress, along with any mattress covers or toppers, to make sure the pocket of the fitted sheet is deep enough to cover it all.
- Quality fabric. Look for 100% cotton. Softer cottons will say Pima (or Supima) cotton or Egyptian cotton. Microfiber is a valid choice too if you’re looking for super soft sheets at a bargain price.
- Your preferred thread count. Most product descriptions these days include the thread count. If it doesn’t, look to the fabric type for hints, such as percale or sateen. But remember: thread count isn’t everything.
Are Microfiber or Cotton Sheets Better?
It depends on the season and what you’re looking for. Microfiber sheets are known for their softness, but they have a tighter weave and sleep hotter than cotton. If you want to be warmer or desire a super-soft experience, you’ll likely be very happy with microfiber. Choose cotton if you sleep hot or have night sweats.
So, What’s a Good Thread Count for Sheets?
As you have learned, the quality of a sheet set is determined by much more than the number of threads from which it’s woven. But, if you’re going to count, 300 to 400 is a sweet spot. (But there’s nothing wrong with the standard sheet, which comes in at about 200.) You also now know the secret to softness is in the kind of fabric used to make the sheets.
You’re a savvy shopper who will not be fooled by sketchy marketers trying to separate you from your hard-earned cash. You have all the tools to find your next sheet set for a good night’s sleep.