What Is a Good Thread Count for Sheets?

By: Kathy Price-Robinson  | 
A set of luxury sheets
These sheets from Dreamsleep Studio were included in the Emmy Awards gift baskets. The label reads 618 thread count, but are they really that different from 400 thread count?
Frazer Harrison/Getty Images

­You might suspect thread count is simply a marketing ploy to make Egyptian cotton sheets sound more luxurious. But it's really a scientific term, with strict federal standards on how those threads are counted­. So, what is a good thread count for sheets?

Technically, thread count means the number of threads woven together in a square inch. You count both lengthwise (warp) and widthwise (weft) threads. 100 lengthwise threads woven with 100 widthwise threads produce a thread count of 200.­


Thread count has become a buzzword. The assumption is generally that the more threads you weave together, the softer and finer the fabric. But that's not always the case. For instance, a thread count of 200 is good and 400 is softer. Anything above 400, though, will likely only provide a higher price tag.

How Is a Higher Thread Count Possible?

­So how are counts such as 800 or 1,200, which some manufacturers claim, even possible? How could you fit that many threads into a single inch? The short answer is you can't. Some manufacturers use creative math to boost thread count.

In the spirit of free enterprise and competition, manufacturers battle to calculate their tread counts high, higher and highest. They count not just each thread, but each fiber (called plies) that make up each thread. So, a single thread might be four plies twisted together; one manufacturer will call that one thread, while another manufacturer will call that four threads.


To get to the bottom of this issue, Consumer Reports had an independent textile lab count the threads in a set of $280 queen sheets with a manufacturer-stated thread count of 1,200. The independent lab only counted 416 threads per inch — just 35 percent of what the manufacturer claimed.

The Federal Trade Commission even got involved in the fracas, thanks to a request made by the Textile Bedding Committee of the National Textile Association. Bed, Bath & Beyond got sued for misrepresenting thread count and, without admitting any wrongdoing, settled the suit in 2008 by offering refunds, gift cards and discounts.

But thread count is really only part of the puzzle as to whether or not you'll enjoy your nap on your sheets. What about the quality of threads and not just quantity? And what's the big deal with Egyptian cotton anyway? Are you getting sleepy? Don't nod off just yet.


Thread Quantity or Quality?

Cotton thread
The longer the fibers, the sturdier the fabric.
Cris Bouroncle/AFP/Getty Images

A ­high thread count doesn't mean much if the threads being counted aren't high-quality. The quality of cotton sheets depends on several factors, including fiber quality, yarn size, finishing, thread count and construction. A fabric with a thread count of 200 high-quality fibers can have a better hand — feeling to the touch — than a thread count of 400 inferior-quality fibers or twisted threads.

In the world of cotton, the length of the fiber is an indication of quality. In Egyptian cotton, the fibers — also called staples — are longer than in other types of cotton. Longer staples equal a stronger thread and more durable fabric.


A process called carding, where smaller fibers get worked out, leaving the longer fibers behind, increases the quality of raw cotton fibers. And combing, another process, removes even more small fibers. After that, the clean cotton fibers get spun into threads and woven into fabrics.

The fabric then goes through two processes: singeing and mercerizing. The singeing process burns off fuzz that might develop later into piling on sheets and take away the smooth feel. Mercerizing is a process done under pressure to increase strength and to help it accept dye.


The Bottom Line

With increased consumer awareness, the halcyon days of bloated thread counts may be coming to an end. When choosing sheets, you may want to look for a thread count between 200 and 400. Experts generally agree that paying more for a higher thread count than that is a waste of money. With this in mind, you're all set to find the best bed sheets.


Thread Count FAQ

What does “thread count” mean?
Thread count refers to the number of vertical and horizontal threads in one square inch. For example, if you have 50 threads woven horizontally and 50 threads vertically, the total thread count is 100. Usually, this is used when talking about sheets, which become softer as the thread count increases.
What is considered a good-quality sheet?
High-quality sheets have a greater number of finer threads woven together, which ultimately increases both fabric quality and price. A sheet should be at least 200 thread count to be considered good quality — a count typical of cotton sheets. Higher thread count sheets range from 300 to 800 and up, but 300 to 500 are common ranges for sheets made from Egyptian cotton, sateen, and bamboo.
Is Egyptian cotton good for sheets?
Yes, if you want super-soft, premium-quality sheets, Egyptian cotton is a great choice. Egyptian cotton sheets commonly range in thread count from 300 to 400 and are known for being luxurious, breathable, comfortable and long-lasting.
What thread count sheets do luxury hotels use?
Luxury sheets have no limits on thread count or price. Most hotels use sheets with a thread count of 250 while high-end hotels use sheets with a 300 thread count. Some luxury hotels even use sheets of 600 or 800 thread counts, but it varies from hotel to hotel. While you might assume the more spent, the better the sheets are — that's only true to a certain point.
What is the best thread count for sheets to stay cool?
Thread count actually has very little to do with staying cool while you sleep; material is way more important. Lightweight fabrics like bamboo, linen, and some cotton blends are all great choices if you tend to sweat overnight. Some brands specifically offer options for breathable, cooling bed sheets.

Lots More Information

Related HowStuffWorks Articles

More Great Links

  • "Beyond Thread Count." Yves Delorme. http://www.yvesdelorme.com/pages/detail/id_13/n_beyond_thread_count/
  • National Textile Association. http://www.nationaltextile.org/
  • Federal Trade Commission: http://www.ftc.gov/os/statutes/textile/letters/natltextileassn.pdf
  • "Some thread counts are bogus," Consumer Reports. January 2008. http://www.consumerreports.org/cro/home-garden/bed-bath/bedroom/sheets/sheets-805/thread-counts/index.htm
  • "The Truth About Thread Count." Linenplace.http://www.linenplace.com/product_guide/truth_about_thread_count.html