Subscriber Kathy C. suggested that we write about buying new sheets because she had just spent a significant amount of time trying to sort out different thread counts and what they mean.
Contrary to what we’ve been led to believe by the marketers, the highest thread count is not always the best. Thread count refers to the number of horizontal and vertical threads per square inch. Usually, the higher the thread count, the softer the sheet, but there is a maximum number of threads that can be used in a square inch of fabric! Sheets with higher thread counts should wear well, and soften over time. The best sheets should have thread counts between 200 – 800. Once in a while you’ll see a thread count of over 1,000 and the price will be astronomical. That’s unusually high and one should be suspicious. There are tricks to inflating thread counts that do not improve the quality of the sheet and sometimes even detract from the excellence.
Professionals say not to assume that a low thread count means low quality. There are 200 thread count sheets made by very good manufacturers that feel as luxurious as the highest thread count sheets. Consumer Reports hired a textile lab to count the threads in a $280 queen sheet set that was being sold as having a 1200 thread count. The lab found just 416 threads per square inch, not 1200. The Federal Trade Commission has issued a warning to consumers about deception and misleading information regarding overstated thread counts in sheets.
Cotton is the most popular fabric for most linens, including sheets and shirts. What matters more than thread count is the type of cotton used. With cotton, the length of the fiber is what indicates quality. The highest thread count is meaningless if the quality of the threads isn’t high. The highest quality cotton is Egyptian. It is luxurious, durable and long- lasting. Pima cotton comes in second but if you want pima cotton be certain that’s what you’re getting.. If the sheet says it’s 100% cotton, do not assume it’s pima cotton. It probably is American upland cotton that has a rougher feel and is less expensive.
The terms, like sateen and percale, refer to the weave. Sateen is very soft and percale is thinner and crisper. Cotton jersey is knit rather than woven. One is not better than the other, it’s a matter of personal taste.
Bottom line: Buy sheets with thread counts higher than 200, but a count over 800 is probably deceptive. The most important decision to make is what type of cotton weave you like and the best way to know is to simply run your hand over it. It’s all in the feel!
Taking care of your sheets can be just as important as choosing them. See our article on Earth Friendly Laundry Products and Methods.