Sheet Care

What’s the best thread count for sheets?

What’s the best thread count for sheets?

There are things we do really well in New Zealand. By really well I mean ‘best anywhere’, like coffee. Most of the rest of the world thinks Starbucks’ is the best coffee in the world; we know they’re wrong. No-one makes a latte or flat white like we get here.

However, there are things we’re not quite so flash at, or fake news we have been told so many times we take it as a fact. In the bedding world this myth is thread count. In New Zealand, the myth is that thread count is simple – the higher the number, the better. After all bigger is always better. Unfortunately, it’s not that simple.

What does thread count mean?

What is thread count? To quote the How Stuff Works website: “Thread count means the number of threads woven together in a square inch. You count both lengthwise and widthwise. So 100 lengthwise threads woven with 100 widthwise threads produce a thread count of 200”.

Thread count has become the sales pitch for marketing luxury sheets. The story is the more threads, the softer the fabric.

But that's not always the case. According to Consumer Reports, 200 is a good thread count. A thread count of 400 may be softer, but anything above 400 will likely only provide a higher price tag [source: Consumer Reports].

To get a sense of the type of fabric various thread counts produce, consider that a thread count of 150 (75 threads one way, 75 the other) produces muslin, which feels a little rough, certainly not silken. Good-quality sheets come in at 180, and anything above 200 is considered better quality [source: Linenplace].

So how are counts such as 800 or 1,200, which some manufacturers claim, even possible? How could you fit that many threads into a single inch? The short answer is, you can't. "Some manufacturers use creative math to boost thread count," explains Consumer Reports [source: Consumer Reports].

The manufacturer counts not just each thread, but each fibre (called plies) that make up each thread. A single thread might be four plies twisted together; one manufacturer will call that one thread, while another will call that four threads. [source: Consumer Reports].

To untangle this inconsistency, Consumer Reports hired an independent textile lab to count threads in a $280 queen sheet set with a manufacturer-stated thread count of 1,200. The lab counted 416 threads per inch, just 35% of what was claimed. This resulted in a prosecution and out-of-court settlement in 2008. [source: Consumer Reports].

At the January 2020 Heimtextil in Frankfurt, (Europe’s biggest textile fair), I said to one of the Directors of Pakistan’s largest cotton mill that a 1200 or even 1600 thread count was not unusual in New Zealand. His comment was “Why would they want rubbish fabric like that?”.

Why you don’t need to pursue the highest thread count

A good quality fabric (Turkish, Pima, Egyptian Cotton, or Tencel Cotton) between 200 and 400 thread count will be soft, comfortable, luxurious and reasonably priced.

With thread counts of over 400, the difference in quality will not increase at the same rate as the quoted thread count and price.