Thread count explained – what's the best thread count for sheets?

What exactly is thread count? What thread count should you be looking out for? What is the difference in thread count? We've covered all your burning thread count questions right here...

Bedroom with white sheet and grey buttonback headboard with lake view
(Image credit: The White Company )

So you are buying sheets, you are deciding on fabrics and colors and patterns and all the fun stuff and that jargony word thread count keeps popping up. Now we probably all have a basic idea of what thread count means – you want high-quality sheets you want a high thread count, yes? Well, actually not always. 

We've got a scientific as homeware gets and unpicked the myth (with the help of experts) of thread counts. What exactly is thread count, what's the best thread count and does thread count even matter? Just keep scrolling for all the answers and plenty of tips on what in fact you should be looking for when buying the best sheets... 

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What exactly is thread count?

Let's start at the begin, what is thread count? 

'The thread count of a duvet refers to how many cotton threads are in a square inch of the material.' explains Farah Arshad, Head of Design at DUSK.com. 'This number is worked out by counting the number of horizontal and vertical threads within the fabric. Generally speaking, the higher the thread count, the higher the quality of the material, but this may mean bed linen is higher maintenance.'

Thread counts range from as little as 180 to over 1,000 and prices do tend to go up the higher the thread count. But really, there are only so many threads you can fit into a square inch of fabric and that amount does depend on the thickness of the yarn, so most sheets tend to naturally be around 200 - 400 thread count. 

Grey and white layered bedding in a scandi bedroom

(Image credit: Lapuan Kankurit)

However, the marketing of high thread count = high quality means that many manufacturers want those high numbers on their products. This is where it gets a bit more... sneaky and this is why thread counts aren't always the best thing to focus on when buying your sheets.

'Thread count has been given a hugely exaggerated importance in the world of bedding and as a result it holds a perceived value of better quality. The truth is that a higher thread count doesn’t always mean quality bedding - it’s the quality of the threads (not the number of threads) which counts.' explains Jo James, founder of Bedfolk.

'In reality, it’s only possible to fit a limited number of threads in this space. The exact number depends on the thickness of the yarn but it’s usually a count of around 300-400. To get around this, manufacturers commonly wrap individual cotton yarns around each other to create plait-like threads called a multi-ply yarn.'

Multi-ply yarn is a way for brands and manufacturers can create high thread count sheets that are technically above the limit that would naturally fit in per square inch by wrapping yarns around each other (think of a french braid).

Now there's nothing wrong with multi-ply sheets, but they tend to produce heavy and thick sheets and single-ply sheets are lighter and more breathable.

What is the best thread count then? Does it even matter?

You have probably got the gist now that the 'best' thread count is often marketed as being the highest thread count, so anything above 400. But that high number doesn't mean it's actually the best it just means you are getting a denser, heavier sheet. And yes, these high thread count and multi-ply sheets do tend to have that more luxe, hotel feel to them. 

However, what if you don't like thick, heavy sheets? Or what if this bid for a high thread count has resulted in a course feeling sheet? That would mean a high thread count wouldn't be the best. So basically, it comes down to personal taste when choosing the best thread count. A 200 thread count set might not be considered 'luxury' but it can still be great quality and have a light and airy feel to it which you may prefer. 

Pale green bedroom with panelling

(Image credit: Veronica Rodriguez)

As a rule of thumb, we would say a good sheet would be above 200 thread count if you are after something quality. 'Anything below 200 will feel rougher and you will be able to see the weave in the fabric' explains Molly Freshwater, creative director of Secret Linen Store. This is a thread count that's the most common with cotton sheets and there are plenty of price points too so even if you are on a budget a 200 thread count sheet is easily achievable. Plus, look out for that multi-ply yarn, and avoid if you don't like a dense sheet.

This is a thread count that's the most common with cotton sheets and there are plenty of price points too so even if you are on a budget a 200 thread count sheet is easily achievable. Plus, look out for that multi-ply yarn, and avoid if you don't like a dense sheet.

Instead, opt for single-ply as 'only very fine, high-quality threads can be used without the plait-like wrapping. explains Jo James. 'Single-ply threads make the most breathable, soft and durable cotton sheets. As a rule, a thread count of 200 or more can be used to make luxury bedding and you should meet anything over 400 with a healthy dose of skepticism as it likely involves multiply, rather than single-ply yarns.'

So what makes for the best sheets then?

A high thread count can certainly equal great quality, hotel-style sheets but it's not the be-all and end-all. In fact, thread count has very little to do with the most important things you look for when buying sheets – breathability and softness. This is determined by what your sheets are actually made from. 

What you need to be looking at when buying sheets, perhaps even more so than thread count is material. It's the quality of the yarn used to create your sheets, not the number of threads, that will determine the quality. You can have the highest thread count going but if that material is poor quality it won't make much difference. And vice versa, a low thread count sheet made from high-quality material can still be an amazing product. 

Pink and cream cozy bedroom

(Image credit: Neptune)

For example, linen – 'when choosing 100% Linen, as the yarns are thicker and slubby, we don't talk about thread count with regards to quality. The quality of 100% linen is dictated by its weight, not threads per square inch.' explains Molly. The same goes for bamboo, which is such a lovely light, breathable material for sheets. It could have the same thread count as say a cotton sheet but the feeling would be totally different. 

'To invest in the best, it’s important to look at the raw materials (go for 100% natural), the manufacturing process of the sheets, and the expertise of the makers.' advises Jo.

'If you are choosing cotton bedding, look for long-staple cotton rather than short-staple. Short staple is typically used in fabrics where softness and durability is not so important; it can feel rough and is prone to bobbling. Long-staple fibres are typically used in single-ply sheets which are always going to offer the softest and most breathable fabrics.'

So lessons learned here? Thread count, while a good measure of your sheets density, means very little else. The key things to look at when buying sheets are the material, how it feels, how breathable is it and what fabric suits you best. 

Hebe Hatton
Hebe Hatton

Hebe joined the Real Homes team in early 2018 as Staff Writer. As a renter, she is always looking for creative ways to make her flat feel like home. She loves boho and 70's style and is a big fan of Instagram as a source of interiors inspiration.