Thread Count

by threadcount on December 7, 2009

Thread count has been the buzzword of the bedding world for yuppies and yuppie wannabes since the mid-1990s. If you are talking about sheets or bedding, there is no way to escape talking about thread count. But even the college educated may be a little bit confused as to what thread count really is.

I’ll try to break it down for you, but be forewarned, this is another term that has been co-opted by the luxury bedding industry and it doesn’t always mean the same thing. At its most basic level, thread count is a metric for measuring the quality of a fabric.

Thread Count = the number of vertical and horizontal threads in a one inch square.

To measure the thread count of a fabric, you first measure both the horizontal and vertical threads. If there are 100 horizontal threads and 100 vertical threads, your thread count equals 200.

This sounds simple enough, but thread count is affected by lots of things. Some threads are thicker than others. There are also single-ply and two-ply fabrics which further add to the confusion. Bedding constructed with finer threads allows more threads per square inch. This will give you a much smoother and softer fabric. This smooth, silky quality is the reason that thread count has become such an important concept. Once you’ve napped on luxurious high thread count Egyptian cotton sheets, you’ll never want to go back.

It’s important that thread count is not your only criteria for selecting sheets. Take into consideration the type of fabric and if it’s cotton, how the cotton is treated. The type of fabric plays just as important a role as the thread count. Here are a few other factors to take into consideration:

  • Finishing. After the fabric has been woven, it still needs to be finished. This is commonly accomplished through a two-step process known as singeing and mercerizing. This finishing process is important as it increases the strength and feel of the sheets as well as burning off a tiny layer of fuzz on the sheets that can later end up pilling. Low-end sheets sometime skip the singeing and mercerizing process altogether. This will greatly affect the comfort and durability of your bedding.
  • Fiber. While you can buy sheets made from all kinds of fabrics, 100% cotton is the old standby. Chances are, a significant percentage of your bedding will be made from cotton. It’s important to remember that even within the world of cotton, there are a lot of options and variety when it comes to quality. The highest quality is a long-staple cotton. This refers to the length of the fiber. If you’re looking for soft, smooth, durable sheets, the longer the fiber, the better. One of the highest quality cottons is long staple Egyptian cotton.
  • Construction. This part gets kind of mind-boggling and when you start to think about it, it’s easy to see why the simple concept of thread count has become the metric of choice for measuring the quality of luxury bedding. Construction factors in the number of warp and weft yarns, the number of picks in the weft, the ply of the yarns and a bunch of other factors.
  • Thread Count. One again this is just the number of threads per square inch of fabric.

In summary, when looking for sheets, make sure they are constructed with a nice fiber and a decent thread count. Run your hands over the sheets and makes sure they have been properly finished.

How high of a thread count do you really need?

Is there a magic number when it comes to thread count. Consumer Reports conducted a fairly extensive study about thread count. To summarize, they found that 200 thread count was a good baseline, but that after 400 thread count, the quality and softness of the sheets did not really improve all that much.

Consumer Reports also questioned whether the ultra-high thread counts like 800 or 1000 were even physically possible. “Some manufacturers use creative math to boost thread count,” the study concluded.

Thread count is such a marketing buzzword, that bedding manufacturers will bed over backwards to boost their count. By using a combination of the concepts mentioned above, manufacturers resort to tricks like counting individual fibers instead of just the threads. These are shady tactics devised to get you to feel great about paying more money for a physically impossible thread count.

I normally hover around a 400 thread count sheet. I bought some 400 thread count Egyptian cotton sheets at Target that are simply amazing and just get better the more that I wash them. More recently I picked up a 600 thread count set and they feel great, but not markedly better than the Egyptian cotton set.

So use thread count as a gauge, but also remember to take into account the quality of the fabric and the construction. Unfortunately, high thread count and an increased price do go hand in hand. Balance all these factors out and you will end up with a bedding set that perfectly meets your individual needs.


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