Bed sheets are on sale again. But before you rush out and grab the first one with the highest thread count, even if it was 50% off its usual price, do yourself a favour and shop around.
Last weekend, while I was shopping at House, a home and kitchenware store, I heard a woman gasp: "It’s Egyptian Percale, now only $48. The original price was $190!” The savvy shopper in me took over. I turned around and reached out for the same set of 300-thread count queen-sized sheets, pulled open the clear plastic packaging and smoothed my fingers over the cloth. Not bad, considering the big discount, brand and texture. But alarm bells started ringing in my head: “Is this really Egyptian cotton?”
Flashing back to an interview CHOICE had with a CSIRO textile scientist about thread count, Egyptian cotton really refers to the cotton species gossypium barbadense, which produces around three to four percent of world production of this fibre. Egypt produces only a small proportion of this fibre, along with the USA, China, India, Sudan, India, Australia and Israel. He said it’s true that Egypt produces some of the highest quality cotton but they do not generally find their way into high street retailers and added that “too much of a good thing” is when too many threads are squeezed in per 10 square cm such that they are “stiff”.
I moved on to Aldi, where a set of 365-thread count sheets were going for $47.95, then to Target – 1000 thread count for $80 – and finally to Kmart, where 500 threads of cotton sateen or “feather touch” cotton was going for $60. How? What to buy? It’s the savvy shopper’s classic dilemma: it’s when you’re doing the math in your head while you’re assessing if a product is worthy of parting you from your hard-earned cash. So I stuck to my under $70 budget for a queen-sized, considered the thread count by how the fabric felt and sidelined the marketing hype found in buzz words such as Egyptian, percale and sateen (which can handy for bragging to your friends what a good bargain deal you scored). This process, of course, includes the almost infallible bed sheets “touch test”.
One more thing: remember to launder the sheets before using, for you can bet your bottom dollar they were thumbed through before purchase, even if you grabbed the ones stacked behind the first displayed on the shelf. If you’d like to share some tips on how to buy good bed sheets with other sheet shoppers, feel free to post your comments.