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The Thread Count Fallacy: A Marketing Dream

Posted on 06 August 2015

We spend a third of our lives between the covers, so it’s little wonder we seek bedsheets that are comfy, high quality and built to last for many years.  For the last few decades, ‘thread count’ has played a pivotal role in influencing a consumer’s buying decision, with the theory being, a larger thread count equating to a softer, luxurious and more expensive sheet.  Most of us accept this as fact and don’t bother to question it. 

 But you should.  And here’s why… 

To break it down, thread count is measured as the number of vertical (warp) and horizontal (weft) threads that can be woven into one square inch of fabric by simply adding them together.  With bedding textiles, the reality is only so many pieces of thread can fit into a square inch, with that number maxing out at about 400.  

So how do manufacturers achieve 1000+ thread counts? They get creative! 

The most common way to beef up thread count is to factor in a fabric’s ply.  A ply is created when single threads are twisted together (think of a rope like structure).  When two strands of thread are twisted together it’s 2-ply… when three strands are twisted, its 3-ply etc.  This is where manufacturers might decide to count each of these strands of thread individually, resulting in a doubled or tripled thread count - and therefore reflecting it in the price.  Now here’s the kicker:  an inflated thread count does not necessarily mean a superior quality of sheet, especially if the manufacturer uses thinner threads.  This can actually result in a shorter lifespan of the sheet, making it heavier, stiff and uncomfortable.

Therefore in a quality product, incremental comfort of thread counts over 300 are almost negligible.  In fact a true 300 thread count can feel softer and more comfortable than a ply inflated 1000 thread count.  In this case, a customer gets a product with an impressive thread count but most likely feels no better than a sheet with a lower thread count.  With no formal regulation existing, thread count has become an important marketing tool for companies to use to distinguish themselves from competition, knowing all too well that consumers will be lured and impressed by a high number on the packaging.

So if thread count is distorted, then what should you look for when shopping for sheets?

FIBRE QUALITY: Make sure you’re buying 100% long fibre fabrics such as cotton or pure linen.  Long fibre fabrics are superior because they create stronger and finer yarns.  The fibre used in pure linen sheets are derived from the middle of the flax plant, so it will be naturally thicker and more durable than the cotton bols from the cotton plant.

FINISH:  The final cloth needs to be singed and mercerized.  Singing burns off the tiny fuzz that can later develop into pilling, while mercerizing is a treatment that increases textile strength, luster and affinity for dye.

FEEL: Simply play with the sheet between your fingers and rub it against your skin.  This should be your greatest indicator for determining the best sheet to buy.  Remember a higher thread count does not equate to increased comfort.

FINAL THOUGHTS: 

  • Seven out of eight sheets have exaggerated thread count - often by three to five times the true number.
  • Leading authorities have determined that thread count alone is not an indicator of quality.
  • Most luxury European sheet manufacturers don’t list thread count at all, recognizing how little it matters.
  • Pure linen sheets which maxes out at about a 180 threadcount can be far more softer and comfortable than a high thread count cotton sheet.  Thread count is not an indication of quality, as pure linen fabric has a much lower thread count but is considered by many to be a far superior fabric quality.

 

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