In this article I’m going to unravel and demystify thread count.
Many people have an understanding of what thread count means and they use this as a principal criteria when selecting their bed linens.
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What is Thread Count?
Simply thread count is counting the number of threads contained in one square inch of fabric. Thread count is determined by multiplying the warp threads of a fabric times the weft threads.
However I’m going to talk to you about why thread count is not that important.
To begin with, keep in mind that all cotton is not created equal.
I like to use my hamburger analogy. There are hamburgers that you can purchase at McDonald’s for a dollar and then there are hamburgers that you can purchase for $20 at a fine restaurant that are made from Kobe beef.
I’m sure you would agree that they’re all hamburger, they are all beef, but there are significant differences in the overall quality of the product.
The same is true for cotton.
Cotton is available in a variety of different species. Some of the more popular ones include pima, supima, upland cotton and of course Egyptian cotton.
However within those various species, there are also numerous grades.
Cotton is graded based on a variety of different criteria, all of which include
- length of fiber
- the diameter of a cotton fiber
- the tensile strength of the fiber
- the color
As well keep in mind that a product may be labeled Egyptian cotton and may contain as little as 10% Egyptian cotton. It could be a very poor grade of Egyptian cotton.
This helps to explain why you can have a 200 thread count sheet produced from a very good quality Egyptian cotton that will feel nicer to the hand or touch than a thousand thread count sheet made from a substandard grade of cotton.
Not only can you feel the difference but you can see the difference as well!
Here you will see a magnifying image of a textile that is produced from a good grade of Egyptian cotton and one produced from a lesser grade of cotton.
On the left is a magnified photo of an Italian woven fabric. You’ll notice the consistency in the yarn appearance, diameter and weave.
This product is simply some of the finest textile woven anywhere in the world. These characteristics that are visible result in an exceptional feel in the fabric. As well as improved durability in life of the textile.
Fabric on the right is a magnified photo of a 400 thread count sheet that was made in China and sold in a big-box store. Notice the variation in the thread or yarn diameter.
The weave is inconsistent and you can actually see the distortion that these inconsistencies produce in the surface of the fabric.
As well notice the nubs found in the lower left quadrant of this image. These nubs represent future pills. As the fabric wears, these yarns will unravel and become loose threads that will eventually knot together and become little balls, which are referred to as pills.
Back to thread count.
Thread count is a consideration but it should only be a consideration when all other factors are equal.
What I mean by this is that if you were to evaluate the feel a 600 thread count sheet produced from, let’s say, a hundred percent Egyptian cotton, 70 grade, to a two hundred thread count sheet produced from the same quality and grade of cotton, you would find superior characteristics in 600 thread count sheet.
How to Buy Good Sheets
A common question I quite often get asked is how do I buy good sheets. What do I look for?
Something that’s been promoted commercially for a very long time is higher the thread count, better quality the sheets.
Is this true? Yes and no.
As I said, the thread count is quite simply the number of threads that run vertically and horizontally in a square.
Only problem is that this is not an international standard.
For example, the European standard size is one square inch and the Australian standard size is 10 centimeters square.
In European size we have 250 thread count and in the Australian size we have a 312 thread count.
Same material, just labeled differently. You have to be careful where it comes from.
Second thing to consider is the size of the thread, because it’s still going to go in that same little square.
If someone buys 2500 thread count, you’ll find they have to thin the threads, make them a bit skinnier, so it comes almost like see-through. It’s not as strong. You’re looking for optimizing it. So you want the perfect size thread, but the perfect size thread count.
Generally, good quality sheets are between 500 and 700 thread count. When you go to the sateen weave, a good thread count is anywhere from 700 to a 1000.
Once you go up over that, I’m always a little bit skeptical on how they’re marketing, because there is no international sizes. If you go under that, below 400, you’re not going to have a good product.
The general rule of thumb is higher the thread count, the softer and better it will wear. Also you’ll end up with less shrinkage. When you’re going to those low thread counts, you’re gonna get shrinkage.
When you’re going up over the thousand, you’re getting a skinnier thread.
So look between 400 and 1000 thread count when you’re shopping and you should do okay.
How to Know if Egyptian Cotton Sheets are a Fake?
Did you know that 90% of Egyptian cotton sheets are fakes?
How to know a sheet is made from 100% Egyptian cotton?
Make sure they’re certified by the Cotton Egyptian Association. They are the Association that tries to keep fakes out of the market.
And there are two things besides that.
Number one, do they wrinkle?
These are 100% cotton sheets, they’re not gonna be completely smooth and wrinkle-free. If you want that, you’re gonna have to add in some polyester and some other fabrics.
Another way that companies will try to make their sheets wrinkle-free is they soak them in formaldehyde, which is actually a carcinogen and personally I don’t want my face sleeping against a pillowcase that has been soaked in a carcinogen.
Another thing that fakes do is they inflate the thread count. They use fillers to trick you to think that these are luxurious sheets . They’ll even put something to make them smooth and soft but then you wash them and they start to degrade and pill.
More important than the thread count, it’s important to note the type of cotton that is used.
Number two is the cost!
You’re not gonna find this quality of sheets for a cheap price. If you find a sheet set that says they’re Egyptian cotton, they might have some in them, but if it’s $50, it is definitely a fake.
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Alex P. Davis has a BA in Interior Design from The New York School of Interior Design and 10 years of experience expertly designing sophisticated interiors.