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The Importance of Thread Count in Bed Linens

November 30 2010

You spend one-third of your life between the sheets. What can make your sleeping experience more enjoyable? Buying better quality sheets is one answer. You can go for a higher thread count, but there is more you need to know. 

Thread count in bed linens is only about the number of threads per square inch of fabric.  The thread count consists of vertical threads or warp, and horizontal threads or weft. Thread count also includes one or two-ply yarns (single thread or two threads coiled together), and whether there are multiple yarns (picks) inserted in the weft. 

For the best quality weave, a single ply with a single pick can get up to about 400 thread count.  Any count higher will have two-ply and/or multi-picks, which will be more durable. But what about the feel? Is there a perceptible difference between sheets with 300-thread count or 400-thread count or higher?

The comfort value over 300-thread count can be negligible when taken alone; that’s when other factors begin to matter more, such as the origin and qualityof the fibers.

Cotton sheets are the most widely available, and have the greatest variety of quality.  Long staple cotton is the highest quality due to the long length of the cotton fiber, which yields a stronger, finer yarn.  The longest staple cottons are Egyptian extra-long staple and Pima (aka Supima) cottons. 

Other fibers used in linens are silk, cotton and silk blends, modal and linen, and man-made fibers.  Since cotton and linen wick away moisture, they are the most comfortable of bed linens. 

The yarn size is important to the feel of fine quality linens.  A lighter, supple fabric will have a higher yarn size.  Look for sheets with yarn size between 40 and 100.  Higher sizes may be available, but up to 120 will be rare and very expensive.  Finer yarns create higher thread counts. 

A final factor in the quality and comfort of linens is the finishing.  Fabric yarns are singed to burn off little fuzzy bits that can roll into little pills later. You may have sweaters or other clothing that have pilled, so you know how unsightly and uncomfortable pilling can be.  Fabrics can also be carded and combed to clean, straighten and align the fibers.  Mercerizing cotton is a process that strengthens, smoothes, and gives a supple hand to the fabric that also allows it to accept dye better.

Generally, lower thread counts mean lesser quality and wear, with the exception of flannel, which should be lower count in order to be soft enough.  However, any thread count over the mid 300s may not be more comfortable because of trade descriptions that allow a two-ply thread to be counted twice, so don’t be fooled.   In linens manufactured in the United States, you won’t find higher thread counts than the low 300s. 

When you combine the fabric choice, construction, yarn size and the finish, you can choose the best quality linens for you.  They may not have the highest thread count.  The hand or feel of the sheets will tell you what is right for you.