What you need to know about thread count

One selling point of sheets that is easily quantifiable is the thread count. It would seem to the consumer that the higher the thread count, the softer the sheets. Unfortunately, manufacturers of sheets take advantage of this assumption and often inflate the thread counts of sheets. According to TLC Home, in 2008, Bed Bath and Beyond was sued for misrepresenting thread count to consumers.

What is thread count?

Thread count is simply the number of threads it takes, both vertically and horizontally, to weave a square inch of fabric. The likely conclusion is that higher the thread count, the softer  and more comfortable the fabric. However, if two or more threads are plied together to make a single strand, each ply can count as a thread. This inflates the thread count without creating a softer, more quality fabric, according to Home-Ec 101.  Both TLC Home and Home-Ec 101 suggest that 180 is a soft thread count, 200-400 is softer and higher quality, and numbers like 1,000 are likely a higher price without any significant improvement in feel.

So when buying sheets, what does create a higher value?

1)  Organic cotton creates a higher price tag because it is much more difficult to grow than conventional cotton. Because organic cotton is grown without the use of harmful chemicals and pesticides, it is a healthy choice for bedding.

2)  The type of thread and weave also creates higher value. According to Consumer Reports, Egyptian cotton and pima cotton have longer threads and will not pill as easily.

3)  Cotton is a softer fabric, while a blended fabric of cotton and polyester tends to have a more crisp feel.

4)  It is also important to make sure the sheets fit your bed. Consumer Reports  indicates that many sheets they tested did not fit the advertised size of bed. It is necessary to measure your bed before you purchase sheets in order to be sure they will fit. You may have to order custom made sheets, but sheets that fit your bed are worth the cost.

5) And, of course, higher thread counts, to a point, do create more value.

It is a good idea to be an informed consumer to get the best sheet at the best value. Don’t be fooled by inflated thread counts, or even feel of the sheet in the store, as it is likely to change as you wash your sheets. Know what kind of weave, and types of cotton or other materials best fit your needs.


Photo “Bundles of cotton thread” Courtesy of Nic McPhee

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