Even though thread count is no longer a super important factor in determining fabric quality, the ply of the threads used is useful to know if you do continue to rely on that number. What most people don’t realize is that some manufacturers use the ply to manipulate the thread count, and therefore, raise the price of the product.
First, let’s define our terms. What is ply, and what is thread count?
Ply signifies the number of fibers that have been wound together to produce a single thread. You can have fabrics woven with single-ply threads, two-ply threads, etc.
Thread count is the number of threads woven into one square inch of fabric — the warp (vertical threads) plus the weft (horizontal threads).
Because more than one ply can make up a thread, many companies have decided to add up every single ply to determine the thread count of their fabric. So if you see a sheet set with a thread count of 800, it was probably woven with multi-ply threads that technically add up to 800 plies per square inch. However, this sheet set should be labeled by the number of actual multi-ply threads per square inch, rather than the number of individual plies. It’s what Julian Tomchin. a leading expert in the textiles industry, calls “creative counting.”
Tomchin warns consumers in a 2009 interview with the New York Times to look warily on high thread counts. “Once you get beyond 400 threads per square inch, be suspicious,” he says.
Typically, 400 threads is the highest number that will fit in a square inch. A multi-ply fabric with a thread count higher than 400 is probably made with very weak plies, which ultimately decreases the value of the material. They will break, pill, and eventually wear out much faster than a quality sheet set that is made with a thread count of 300.
Overall, a good sheet set is made with long-staple fibers — usually 100% cotton — and has been treated in a way that enhances durability and softness. The best sheets get softer with use, thanks to a quality finish.
When you shop for new sheets and you’re unfamiliar with the brand, it’s important to keep the ply in mind. Ultimately, though, it comes down to how the sheets feel to you. No matter what the thread count is, make sure that you enjoy the feel of the bedding you’re buying.