There are few pleasures in life more enjoyable than the feeling of soft, sumptuous sheets against our skin. In more recent times we’ve been encouraged to believe that the higher the thread count the better the quality of sheets, and that higher numbers meant more luxury and softness. This was not always the case, however. The metric only emerged in the early 2000s as a marketing term and isn’t really the best indicator of quality when it comes to bedding. Thread count is irrelevant if the raw materials are not right — but we’ll get to that soon.
Put simply, thread count refers to the number of threads woven into a square inch of fabric that is calculated by adding together the number of vertical (warp) and horizontal (weft) threads. Only so many threads can fit into a specific space. With bedding, that number maxes out around 400 threads per square inch. Yet, as you may have noticed, it’s not unusual for sheets to have a much higher thread count.
Unfortunately, this number is open to manipulation, which is most commonly done by counting the individual strands of yarn that are twisted together to create each thread in the fabric (the ply). Bed linen produced from two-ply fabric entwines two strands of yarn per thread, therefore allowing the thread count to be recorded as double what it actually is, and with triple-ply fabrics, threefold.
This is an issue not only because it’s misleading, but also because multi-ply threads are a group of weaker cotton fibres twisted together to create false strength. The end product is likely to feel more like a tablecloth than soft, inviting bed linen. The heavy, stiff fabric offers limited breathability which can cause the body to overheat, making for a restless and uncomfortable night’s sleep. The cheaper cotton will also pill heavily on the sleeping surface creating a scratchy, abrasive sheet that irritates the skin.
As seen in the diagram, the thread count on the left has been created by using 3-ply cotton and then multiplying that by the actual thread count. The image on the right shows a true thread count, created using single-ply cotton. This true thread count is only made possible when using long staple cotton which, once spun, creates strong yarn that’s still fine, soft and breathable. In other words, the kind of cotton you want in your sheets
Now we’ve covered the basics, here’s a simple guide so you know what to look for when you’re searching for the best sheets.
While there is no official “ideal” thread count for sheets, by following our simple guide below, you’ll be able to choose the best option for you that is both high quality and provides a restful and enjoyable sleep experience.
Egyptian cotton is renowned the world over, grown under careful conditions and washed and combed with precision to ensure it’s soft yet durable. To guarantee you get the best possible quality, choose only 100% Egyptian cotton with Gold Seal certification as it’s common to find blends containing lower quality fibres – sometimes with only 1% Egyptian cotton, but still calling themselves “Egyptian sheets”.
The length of the fibres (also called staple) found in your sheets will help determine their strength and longevity. Egyptian cotton has extra-long fibres making it ideal for bed linen. The length of the staple can dramatically reduce the risk of pilling, ensuring your bedding looks fresh and pristine, wash after wash.
The country in which bed linen is produced can also affect the overall quality of the final product. Portugal in particular, has a reputation for producing the best textiles. Using skills that have been honed and passed on over the decades, these artisans produce some of the finest sheets money can buy.
Myth aside, the ideal range for soft bed sheets falls between 200-450 threads per square inch. Bed linen with a higher count should be considered cautiously as it is unlikely to be a true representation of thread count.