If you're in the market for luxury bedding, you naturally want to purchase the best sheet set for your money. And higher thread count is commonly used to signify quality fabric, particularly when it comes to cotton and bamboo sheets. But thread count is just one measure of quality; so much more goes into making luxury sheets. Unfortunately, many unscrupulous linen companies misrepresent thread count and the quality of their sheets to exploit consumers who don't know any better.
Fine Linen and Bath is here to help. As a leading online retailer of luxury linen, we've built a reputation for complete transparency and adherence to the highest ethical standards. We always want our clients to know exactly what they're purchasing and be confident they're getting the best value. This includes understanding how thread count works in luxury bedding, and learning some tips to avoid being victimized by dishonest “luxury” sheet sellers.
What is Thread Count?
Thread count is the number of threads per square inch of a given fabric. It's calculated by adding the number of horizontal threads (the weft) to the number of vertical threads (the warp). If a fabric has 100 horizontal threads and 100 vertical threads, the total thread count is 200. While many luxury sheets feature high-thread-count fabric, thread count alone is NOT a good indicator that a sheet set is high quality.
Five Things to Watch Out For When Buying Luxury Sheets
Protect yourself from falling prey to disreputable sheet manufacturers by following these five important guidelines.
1. If the Price Seems too Good to Be True, It Is
We're going to make a pretty strong statement here, but we stand behind it: you will NOT find the world's finest luxury linens at budget prices in big box stores, warehouse stores, or on Internet deal sites. These linens may be of passable quality, and the price will certainly be attractive. But they are decidedly not the same quality as the linens you'll find at a specialty retailer or department store. Do your homework, and research price points for luxury linen; this will help you recognize when you see a price that is simply “too good to be true.” You'll also be able to spot when a high quality sheet set goes on sale, which happens several times a year depending on the brand and retailer.
Don't purchase on price alone. The best quality sheets are not likely to be found at discount retailers.
2. Fiber Quality Matters (Even More than Thread Count)
Luxury linen experts will tell you: the quality of the fiber is probably more important to the feel and performance of a set of sheets than thread count. When it comes to cotton, look for Egyptian cotton sheets or Pima cotton sheets; these are made with long staple cotton (LS) or extra long staple cotton (ELS), two of the finer yarns. These will be softer, stronger, and more durable.
Some of the world's finest linen manufacturers deliberately choose NOT to focus on thread count, opting instead to educate their clients about fiber and fabric quality. The famous Italian luxury linen manufacturer, SFERRA, offers the following example that puts the thread count/fiber quality debate in perspective:
Imagine that you have an opportunity to weave fabric using any one of the five "yarns" shown below:
- The first "yarn" is a threaded steel bar,
- The second is an unstable brass chain
- The third is a coarse hemp rope
- The fourth is a rigid polypropylene rope, and
- The fifth is a soft, fluffy strand of cotton.
If you were to weave different fabrics using each of these yarns at a fixed thread count, say 200, which bed sheet would you rather sleep on? Probably the soft, fluffy cotton. What if you increase the thread count of the hemp rope fabric to 400? What if you increase the thread count of the steel bar fabric to 600? You probably would still rather sleep on the 200 thread count percale sateen sheet using the soft, fluffy cotton yarns; even though the thread count is significantly lower, it will be the softer sheet.
The quality of fiber makes a bigger impact on the comfort, beauty, and durability of a sheet set than thread count. A lower thread count sheet of higher quality fiber is more comfortable than a higher thread count sheet of lower quality fiber. Learn as much as you can about the quality of the cotton; look for long-staple or extra-long-staple cotton.
3. Manufacturing Matters: Read the Label
After assessing the quality of the fiber, take a look at the label to determine quality of craftsmanship. Who makes the sheet set? Do you recognize the manufacturer? Is the country of origin clearly labeled?
Spinning, weaving, and finishing fabric are skills that take years to acquire; indeed, they are often handed down through generations of textile artisans. At Fine Linen and Bath, we believe that the European methods of linen manufacturing are superior to those used elsewhere in the world. The weavers of Italy and Portugal pride themselves on adhering to the highest standards to create fabric of the finest texture, strength, stability, and softness. Their machines are well-maintained, and the linens are not mass produced, with many made to order.
The brand name and reputation of the manufacturer are very important; look for bed linens made from well-known European and a handful of U.S. manufacturers, with Portuguese and Italian the most desirable.
4. Don't Fall for the Ply Trick
Disreputable companies will falsely inflate their thread count of their sheets by using multi ply thread (thread made from multiple strands of yarn woven together). Here's an example of how that works: they will claim a thread count of 600 for a sheet set made of three-ply yarn woven to a 200 thread count thickness.
This cheats you in two ways: first, you are not getting anywhere near 600 thread count. Second, single ply yarn is a single strand made from strong long-staple cotton fibers. Fabric woven with a single ply yarn is light and breathable for fine, durable, bedding. A multiple-ply yarn, which is made from two or more strands, results in thick sheets that may restrict airflow. These sheets are actually of lesser quality.
This practice is highly unethical; for the past two decades, the Federal Trade Commission has cracked down and warned consumers about this type of deceptive thread count labeling.
Sheets made of multi-ply thread are not high-quality and the thread count may also be inflated. Avoid these.
5. Bright Colors Can Be a Red Flag for Inflated Thread Count
While there are always exceptions, as a general rule you should be suspicious of ultra-high thread count sheets in bright, strong colors. The dyeing process itself is not great for the integrity of fine fabric. To be sure, technology is always improving. But a quick look at the highest quality sheets from any fine linen manufacturer will show that the color choices most often narrow to white, ivory, and possibly some muted pastels at the top of the range. Of course, the other reason for this is the costliness of these luxury sheets; companies want to manufacture them in the most versatile colors.
If you see ultra-high thread count sheets in bright, saturated colors, do a little research to be sure they are genuine.
Armed with this information, you can now move forward shopping for luxury sheets with confidence. Most importantly, you will want to choose the right sheet set for your individual tastes and desires. For example, if you love the clean, crisp feel of hotel sheets, a set of cool cotton percale weave sheets may be for you. On the other hand, if you like a softer, warmer sheet, you may opt for a luxurious cotton sateen weave. To learn more about the difference between percale sheets and sateen sheets read this artcle.