The Truth About Thread Count

The packaging on your sheet set proudly proclaims ‘1000 TC’. You’re excited, eagerly clasping the package as you purchase and squeal at the prospect of unbridled luxury when you open it.

You caress the fabric, expecting the reputed softness . . . And all you feel is the same texture as your everyday, 250 TC duvet.

Huh? What the? The pack clearly states ‘1000 TC’. What’s going on?

Thread counts are a tricky measuring tool. In the good old days, fabric was processed as single ply, or a single thread of yarn in the weave. So a thread count could be relied on to be an accurate count of the number of threads in a piece of fabric.

Then, marketing ploys took over as manufacturers realised people would pay premium rates for high quality fabric, especially with items like sheets.

Marketing ploy 1:

On what size of fabric is the thread count based? A 2.54 cm square (1 square inch) or 3.162 cm square (10 square centimetres)? Without a legal requirement to make this statement on the packaging, the thread count figure is already looking less reliable.

Marketing ploy 2:

The thread count is further thrown out by the threads in both directions being counted. This is in contrast to weavers who use a ‘pick by centimetre’ count to categorise fabric in one direction only.

Marketing ploy 3:

Fabric can be single-ply or multi-ply. Single ply fabric is simply one strand of yarn per thread. Multi-ply is when 2, 4 or more strands of yarn are twisted together to form a thread. This means that each strand of the yarn is counted, not the number of threads. So, a 250 TC single-ply sheet has the same number of threads as a 1000 TC 4-ply sheet. It also means, though, that the 250 TC single-ply sheet is more durable and smoother than a 1000 TC 4-ply sheet as the twisting of the yarn weakens the integrity of the fibre.

Marketing ploy 4:

The manufacturing process prior to weaving also impacts the quality and softness of the fabric. How ‘clean’ (chemical free) was the process? How ‘clean’ is the yarn? What about storage? Claiming a product as being Egyptian cotton tends to make us forget to consider such basic questions.

Marketing ploy 5:

This is probably the most insidious ploy. Do you even know that the cotton is Egyptian and not just a regular cotton? Some manufacturers will twist cheaper fibres, discard grade and shorter yarns together to artificially lengthen the fibre, mimicking the longer thread of Egyptian cotton. Unfortunately, this twisting weakens the already poorer quality fibre, meaning a weaker weave, coarser feel, pilling and extremely reduced durability.

So, why do manufacturers of sheeting stoop to such ploys? Simple. Cheaper production costs for a product they can easily market as premium.

Okay, so there are issues with cheaper quality sheeting. You shrug and figure that 4 sets of cheaper quality sheets are better than one set of high quality sheets.

Think again. The economics are simple. One set of cheaper quality sheets, no matter what the proclaimed thread count is, will last usually less than a year. However, true Egyptian cotton sheets typically last around 50 years, much longer than the cheapies and saving you heaps of dollars in the process.

Considering that genuine Egyptian cotton accounts for only 4% of the world’s cotton market, the recent flood of ‘ Egyptian cotton’ bedding into the marketplace cannot be trusted. This is largely due to the marketing ploys listed above.

Sadly, bedding claiming to be made of Egyptian cotton does not necessarily mean you are getting the high quality product the label used to mean.

The natural length of cotton fibre is crucial in understanding the quality, strength and durability of your new bedding. Sure, some manufacturers will state their product is long yarn but it’s not a particularly meaningful term as its relative only to the yarns used, not the yarns expected.

Look for any fine print or even bold proclamations on the number of plys or directly question the manufacturer on it. Any ply other than single-ply should be ruled out. Bigger is definitely not better when it comes to fabric ply.

It’s always a good idea to be buyer aware. Hopefully this information on thread counts for your sheets has been of help in you making a quality decision.