Misconceptions about high thread count

11 July 2011

There is a lot of false information out there surrounding what constitutes a quality set of bedding sheets. The biggest trickery is that the higher the thread count, the nicer the sheets. Wrong. Contrary to most advertisings, there are many contributors outside of thread count that affect the quality of your sheets.

In fact, Sferra, the world's leading linens company who first started the use of thread count as a measurement of the value of sheets is now doing away with it. Jennifer Mark's article in Home Textiles Today states, "As the thread count wars and dubious marketing claims rendered thread count distinctions largely meaningless, [Paul] Hooker (President of Sferra) became an outspoken advocate for dropping thread count labels. My phrase is: 'We birthed it, now we're killing it,' he said with a laugh."

So if thread count doesn't mean much anymore, what do you look for when shopping for sheets? The first thing to consider is the ply. Ply is the amount of individual yarns used in a thread while thread count is the number of threads contained in a square inch of material. A frequent practice of linen manufacturers has been to twist yarns together and use a multi ply yarn to up their thread count. For example, a sheet set advertised as 1000 thread count material using multiple ply threads can be more like a 250 thread count single ply sheet set even though it technically has more threads per square inch. This is because the yarns used to produce added ply are often shorter fibers sometimes referred to as discard-grade fibers.

In response to this misleading custom of linen producers, the Federal Trade Commission has ruled that plied yarn counts as only one thread when pertaining to thread count. While this has helped in creating a formal definition for thread count, the confusion does not end there. Now you might think that increased thread count means increased quality so long as the sheets are single ply. Wrong again.

Now that the market is concentrating more on singly ply sheets, manufacturers have come up with yet another deceptive strategy for cutting costs. By adding "picks" in the weft of a fabric (up to 8) producers are able to get a higher thread count per square inch even though it is actually diluting the quality. Sheets with multiple picks in the weft tend to have a courser texture. Linen manufacturers typically only have the capabilities to produce sheets with thread counts up to 400-600 that are singly ply and single pick. So, if a brand has single ply sheets with a very large thread count, that is a good sign that the sheets actually contain picks.

While there are many misleading brands and confusing advertisements surrounding bedding products, there are great sheets out there to be had if you know what to look for.