Busting the “High Thread Count” Myth
If you’re like most people, you hear “quality sheets” and you think “high thread count.” That can be true... or false. And it’s definitely not the whole picture.
Say you’re buying a car. Imagine basing that decision solely on the car’s gas mileage, without knowing the make, model, year, or size of the car. Crazy, right? That is exactly what’s happening in the sheet industry. Too often consumers reach for the highest thread count without considering the quality of the cotton, or the size of the yarn, or whether it’s single-, double-, or triple-ply. And don’t get us started on organic cotton versus the traditionally grown, chemically-treated stuff.
It’s not your fault! The bedding industry has a vested interest in keeping the consumer uninformed. That way companies can make sheets as cheaply as possible, crank up the thread count, and give an illusion of quality while raking in profit.
Give us two minutes, and you will be a (rare) educated sheet consumer!
What is thread count?
Thread count is just a measure of how many threads are in one square inch. Both the vertical (warp) and horizontal (weft) weave of the fabric are counted up to determine the thread count. You should be suspicious of any thread count above 400—read on to find out why.
Does thread count matter?
Thread count does matter, to a point. Thread count should be in a range of normalcy. If the count is below 180, you’d be able to lift it up to the light and see tiny holes. That’s no good.
On the flip side, unbelievably high thread counts are a marketing trap. A 1,000 thread count sheet is almost certainly of worse quality than one with a 300 thread count. In order to achieve a very high thread count, manufacturers inflate their threads using multiple-ply yarn (where many individual threads are twisted around each other). Cheap, multi-ply threads jam-packed together result in heavier, scratchier, and less durable bedding.
Normal sheets reside somewhere between 180 and 400 thread count.
What, besides thread count, should I look for in sheets?
Look at the diameter of the yarn, and the ply of the threads. Meaning: How fine are the yarns themselves, and how many are twisted together? Single-ply thread means that there is only one strand of yarn per thread. Two-ply means that two strands of yarn were twisted together in each thread.
How does the ply affect thread count?
Ply is often a better indicator of the quality of bedding than the thread count itself because it explains exactly how the thread count was achieved.
Ply refers to the number of yarns in each thread in a given piece of fabric. Single-ply thread means that there is only one strand of yarn per thread. Two-ply means that two strands of yarn were twisted together in each thread.
Avoid a ply greater than two. Rather than pay extra to source quality threads, many manufacturers inflate their thread counts by using cheaper multiple-ply yarns. So a 600 thread count sheet often means 200 three-ply.
What is the single most important indicator of quality in sheets?
Thread count is not as important as the quality of the cotton threads. Organic cotton is softer and safer than conventionally grown cotton, so if you want to sleep on natural, healthy, high-quality sheets, look for long-staple organic cotton. And you can’t have organic cotton sheets that are more than 400 thread count.
It all starts with the diameter of the yarn. Yarns are given a number to represent how fine or thick they are—the higher the number, the finer the yarn. Cheap sheets use thicker, courser yarns such as size 30 or 40. And some high-end sheets made of conventionally grown cotton use yarns that are insanely fine, size 100 or above. Harsh pesticides and chemicals make the cotton sturdier, so it can be spun into those intensely fine yarns.
We think the best sheets start with 60 and 80 yarns—just about the finest you can get using organic cotton—and we’ve found a thread count sweet spot at 300-360.
What is the thread count for Boll & Branch sheets?
After many (many!) weave trials, in which we tested the diameter of the yarn, the ply, and the thread count, we found perfection with these formulas.
For our Signature Soft fabric, we use fine yarn (size 60) in a single ply, with a 300 thread count (195 vertical threads plus 110 horizontal threads equal 305; we say 300 to be conservative).
For our new Percale Sheets, we wanted to achieve a similar weight to our Signature Soft, but with a more crisp structure. We got that by using an even finer yarn (size 80) in a double ply, to equal a 360 count (110 vertical threads plus 70 horizontal threads equals 180 2-ply yarn; multiply for 2 to equal 360).
Wait, your Percale Sheets have a higher thread count than your Signature Soft? Does that mean percale is a higher-quality fabric?
The two fabrics are equally great. Their thread counts help the fabrics achieve their unique characteristics—soft and drapey for Signature Soft, cool and crisp for Percale.
Signature Soft uses one-ply of fine yarn, while Percale uses two-ply of extra-fine yarn. Think of Signature Soft as made up of single strands of spaghetti, while Percale is made of two twisted strands of angel hair. You need more strands of angel hair than spaghetti to fill the same bowl, right? That explains why our Percale Sheets have a slightly higher thread count (360) than our Signature Soft Sheets (300) while having a similar weight.