What Does Thread Count Mean?

Dear Home Ec 101,

What exactly does thread count mean? If I’m buying sheets is it true that I should buy the highest thread count I can?



Heather says:

This is the non-technical explanation. I could start throwing around words like warp and weft, but there’s no need just to get the general idea. Fabric is made by weaving threads, in the case of sheets usually, cotton or  linen, to create a sheet of material. The thicker and often coarser the thread the fewer are needed per square inch to create the cloth. It is the count of threads per inch that we refer to as the thread count.

If two ply thread is used, that means each thread is made of one two threads, one twisted around the other, the thread count is doubled, even though the actual number of woven threads remains the same.

Higher thread counts, up to the 400 thread count range typically mean a softer and more supple fabric, but it isn’t the only indicator. The type of material and how it is treated can also have an effect, flannel for example has a relatively low thread count, but a very soft feel. When looking for sheets, look for anything in the 180 thread count and your sheets will have a nice feel. Anything over 500 is likely to be a marketing stunt where the company weaving the sheets has used some creative math. That creative math probably extends to the pricing, too.

When you choose your sheets, judge partially on thread count and partially on the feel of the actual sheets. For what’s it worth, I’ve been able to get some wonderful, high thread count sheets from Overstock.com, just keep your eyes open. I know I don’t particularly care that my sheets aren’t in this year’s must have color.

What I would like to know is why they only seem to make the stupid character sheets my kids love with a thread count of oh, about 30? I’m exaggerating, of course, but their sheets feel like burlap. Putting the sheets on their beds gives me that nails on chalkboard feeling. First world problems, right?

Good luck on your sheet buying venture.

P.S. I’m out of town for the BlogWorld Expo conference through Monday. Posting may not be as consistent as usual, but will return to normal.

Send your household questions to helpme@home-ec101.com.


  1. mcm on November 22, 2010 at 10:12 pm

    I do feel thread count does mean alot . I have Egyptian cotton sheets 800 thread count and they are the softest and coolest sheets. They were worth the money 100 times over.

  2. julie on October 13, 2010 at 2:49 pm

    have to say I'm a high thread count sheet snob LOL used "plain jane" cheap sheets forever and told hubby a few years ago I wanted some of the 300 thread count sheets for xmas-oh man I will never buy low thread count sheets again! love these-I mainly buy canopy (walmart) brand 300-400 and have even splurged on a 500 when I find them on sale…love them–oh yeah and I feel the same way about kiddie sheets–come on make a better quality CUTE character sheet would ya?! recently found out my son has sensory issues (asd) and am planning on getting him some flannel/fleece sheets when I get his new bedset later this year–he complains that the sheets make him itch….I do sooo wish they made better quality cute character sheets……

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