01.Thread count is marketing spin
Have you ever wondered what’s in your 400 thread count sheets? Or why your 350 thread count sheets feel coarser than those with a lower thread count? CHOICE has discovered this popular marketing term carries little credibility, since canny manufacturers effectively “double count” the threads to claim a premium product.
Thread count refers to the total number of threads on a piece of fabric. The common belief is that the higher the thread count, the higher the quality of fabric. In reality, it is a ploy used by manufacturers to segment their products and charge consumers a premium for products with a high thread count – some as high as 1000.
Please note: this information was current as of February 2009 but is still a useful guide to today's market.
The area size of the fabric in which the thread count is claimed varies according to the standard of measurement used. For example, the number of threads in one square inch (a 2.54cm square) would be significantly less than the number of threads in 10 square centimetres (a 3.162cm square).
Short of using a magnifying glass and needle to count the threads, there’s no way to be sure of the quantity or quality of the fibres claimed on the packaging. Since there is no legal requirement for manufacturers to state how they counted the threads, the term is almost meaningless.
Threads are counted in both directions to make up the total thread count. Dr Stuart Gordon, an expert in cotton at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) told CHOICE: “Weavers use picks per centimetre to specify a fabric, with one pick being one thread in one direction. However, ‘thread count’ for bed sheet buyers is defined as the number of threads per 10 square centimetres in both directions to achieve a higher number.”
Furthermore, if 250 two-ply threads are used, the thread count doubles to 500, but the threads used for this high thread count sheet may be coarser than those with a lower thread count. This is why two different brands of 1000 thread count sheets may feel different.
The softness of a fabric also depends on how the threads are spun or treated before being woven into sheets. If coarser threads are used, a high thread count bed sheet may feel coarser than one with a lower thread count, but still has finer threads. As such, you may sometimes be unable to tell the difference between Egyptian cotton and high quality normal cotton.
Terms such as “percale” and “sateen” describe how cotton is woven (see below). Throw in adjectives like “luxury”, “smooth” and “soft”, and the high thread count hype is sold. Thread count alone should not determine if the quality of your sheets. A quick feel of the product is your best guide.
Percale refers to closely woven fabric (one vertical thread woven over one horizontal thread).
Sateen refers to a fabric construction where the vertical thread is woven over a number of horizontal threads to increase fabric strength and durability.
“Egyptian” cotton comes from a species of cotton known as Gossypium barbadense. It is not always found in Egypt. Less than 5% of the world’s cotton is from the plant, which can be found in Egypt, Australia, China, India, USA, Sudan, and Israel. Threads spun from this type of cotton are finer than others.