March 14, 2011 - Marshall Coyle
How Important is Thread Count When Buying Sheets?
By Marshall Coyle “The Old Bed Guy”
Thread Count: Thread count refers to the number of threads, both vertical and horizontal, in a one-inch square of fabric. While fabrics are available with thread counts up to a thousand or even more, anything in excess of 400-450 is considered by most experts to be simply superfluous, conferring no benefit while adding to the cost.
Thread count is affected by a number of factors, including ply and thickness of the threads used. The ply of the fabric refers to how many threads are wrapped together into a single thread. Single-ply fabrics use threads on their own, while two-ply fabrics twist two pieces together into a stronger thread, as well as doubling the thread count of the fabric.
I personally love the clean soft buttery feel of my 400 thread count Prima cotton sheets from CharlesPRogers.com in our West Side New York apartment, and almost as much, the smooth crisp feel on our vacation beds, of the 300 thread count Charme sateen hotel sheets from Frette.com. The Rogers cost a whole lot less, but I got the Frette before the last financial crisis.
More Than Thread Count Counts: Advertisers trying to steer your decision towards their product have latched on to thread count as a simple, but false, reason to favor one sheet over another. This has resulted in a flood of poorly constructed linens with the emphasis on numbers instead of actual quality. Sheets can have a good thread count but be cut and sew so poorly, made with short staple cotton, or finished so poorly that the final product is a disappointment.
Cotton: The cotton plant is actually a bushy tree and there are around five hundred species growing worldwide but only four are used commercially. The seeds are protected by a soft and fibrous material that with much processing ends up as a textile. Climate and soil conditions are just as important for cotton as for wine. For many years, the finest cotton was grown along the banks of the Nile River in Egypt. Cotton from transplanted Egyptian seeds are now grown around the world, rarely producing the same high quality, but usually also sold as Egyptian Cotton. The best cotton has the longest and strongest fibers. The cotton fibers used to make threads are called “staples”.
Other notable quality designations are Prima, Sea Island, and Pima, all of which have extra long strong fibers. Many retailers now offer “organically grown” cotton which is grown without chemical pesticides or fertilizers.
Construction Counts: Once you have decided on the particular brand or thread count, understanding the way a sheet is constructed can be a comfort when making your decision. Checking out some of the factors requires professional skill, so you should try to deal with well established retailers.
When the thread count climbs above 450 to the square inch, the only way that the threads will fit is to make them thinner. The weak thin thread required for the above 450 count, virtually guarantees that your expensive new sheets may not last as long as you expected. The tightly spun cotton yarns can be woven using different techniques. Sateen weaves are shiny and silky. Percale has a soft finish like matte finish foundation or photo paper.
Size Matters: Almost invisible details such as the number of stitches per inch that were used to make the hems and pockets really matter. More and smaller hem stitches, unlike thread count, are always better.
Finish: Most department and specialty store linens have had chemical treatments applied when finishing. Some deal with shrinkage, many commercial major brands are processed or finished with one or more chemical agents. These chemicals may reduce shrinkage and wrinkles. Some well known sheets are coated with a chemical that gives a temporary smooth feel to sheets. Quality makers such as Porthault, Frette, and Charles P. Rogers use long staple cotton and few to no chemicals in their finishing processes.
Care: Always use the gentle cycle and rinse with cold water. Do not mix any polyester items with your fine cotton sheets because they can be rough and can make your sheets get tiny lumps or pills over time.
Avoid detergents with “Color Brightener” or” Whitener” and seek out products that are specifically designed for linens. You can avoid most of the drudge of ironing by setting your dryer for a gentle, warm cycle and remove the sheets and cases just before they become bone dry. If you have room to pull them flat while hanging, that is usually all that is necessary. If you invest in a steamer, your wrinkled sheets placed on your bed and steamed in five minutes or less will banish the wrinkles and save a lot of work.
If you apply lotions to your face before going to bed, consider getting a pillow protector or even a special pillow to protect your investment from discoloration from the dyes and caustics found in many products.
Take care of your fine linens and they will last for many years.