Not all sheets are created equal.
While shopping for bed sheets, you would have hard-pressed to not see the words “thread count” on the packaging
The higher the thread count, the pricier the product. However, not all is what it seems.
From ancient times to today, sellers have artificially inflated their numbers and cunning manufacturers find loopholes to label their products with popular words like “diet” or “eco-friendly”.
Knowledge is power, and the more you know, the less you’ll get taken for a ride.
So what does high thread count bedding mean?
Thread count technically means the number of threads in every square inch of the fabric.
The more threads a fabric has, the softer, more luxurious it would be, or so you’d think.
The weaving of yarn is done in a crisscross pattern. The vertical strands of the pattern are known as warp weave, and the horizontal strands are referred to as weft weave.
The total sum of the warp weave and weft weave is known as thread count.
For example, if a fabric has 125 warp, or vertical, weaves and 125 weft, or horizontal weaves, the thread count would be the sum of them both at 250.
The thread count generally indicates the fineness, and hence, softness, the fabric has.
If the thread count of the fabric is higher, the weave is tighter, and hence, the fabric turns out to be finer.
While thread counts were traditionally used to determine the quality of the product, this is sadly no longer so.
Cunning manufacturers have found numerous imaginative ways to artificially inflate the thread count by nifty little tricks.
What is a ply?
A “ply” is a fiber that can be combined into a single thread.
For example, 2-ply means a thread is made up of 2 smaller fibers twisted together. Hence, a 2-ply, 200 thread count sheet is, in fact, only 100 threads.
A 4-ply sheet with a 200 thread count is, in fact, only 50 individual threads!
That can explain why supposedly higher thread count sheets feel inferior to those with a lower count.
While one manufacturer can call a 4-ply fabric weaved with a single thread, others can call it four threads.
Thread counts only matter when you are talking about 1-ply. Multi-ply yarns are smaller and less durable compared to single-ply threads.
Fabrics with a thread count above 600 generally use either two-ply or multi-ply yarns.
Manufacturers can sell fabrics and call it a 2-ply 600 thread when it is actually a single-ply 300 thread.
In addition, to further confuse things, manufacturers can use lower-quality fabrics with thinner threads.
The softness of the fabric depends on the quality of the material. Egyptian cotton and Pima cotton are known to be the softest cotton blends.
A "basic quality" bedding of linen has a thread count of 132 to 144.
A "good quality" bedding of linen has a thread count of 180 to 220. A "great quality" bedding of linen has a thread count beyond 300.
An "excellent quality" bedding of linen has a thread count beyond 400.
A "luxury quality" bedding of linen has a thread count beyond 500.
Quality of Linen
A high thread count generally refers to fabrics having a thread count of 400-500. Fabrics with a thread count beyond 1000 are known as the fabrics having the highest thread count.
In fabrics with a high thread count, the number of strands present per square inch is also more.
They are more breathable, cozy, and airy. These fabrics are also heavier as they have more than a single ply.
High thread count fabrics will suit people living in cooler climates as they tend to be thicker.
What other factors affect the softness of the bedding?
Good bedding doesn’t have to have an insanely high thread count, as we have seen from how this number is derived and how loopholes can be found.
Generally, good-quality bedding can have single-ply cotton with a thread count between 180 to 300.
In addition to thread count, other factors can influence how the sheet feels.
Egyptian and Pima cotton sheets are popularly used for high thread count cotton bed sheets.
They are breathable, durable, and give a more crisp feel.
Other fabrics like microfiber or polyester don’t have as much breathability and comfort.
Other soft bedding materials include Tencel and bamboo.
Tencel is made from the pulp of the eucalyptus tree, while bamboo is made from, well, bamboo!
Both fabrics are incredibly soft, breathable, antimicrobial and antibacterial, and will make an excellent choice for bedding.
Always buy organic when you can though! Bamboo sheets often are treated with chemicals like carbon disulfide and caustic soda, both toxic chemicals that pose a health risk.
Other factors affecting the quality of the finished product include:
- Grade and quality of cotton
- Type and nature of fabric weaving
- Manufacturing and finishing process
- Sewing quality
- Quality of dyes and pigments
- Any extra decorations
What About Silk?
Silk is an ancient fabric used for thousands of years. First produced by the Chinese, they continue to dominate the silk trade as the market leader, with India being a distant second.
Silk has its own unit of measurement for determining quality. The Japanese “momme”, pronounced “moh-mee”, broadly refers to the weight of the silk.
The higher the momme, the higher the quality of silk is.
Silk factories adjust the density and yarn count to control the weight, or momme, of the finished fabric.
An average momme would be around 16, and a high-quality momme set will be approximately 22.
30 momme is considered of luxury quality. These sets can sell for over £1,000!
While shopping for sheets can be intimidating, a little knowledge goes a long way to understanding what these numbers are, what they mean, and how much extra to shell out for them.
Going shopping? Check out our in-depth guide on finding your perfect bed set here!