Thread Count - Higher Doesn't Mean Better
So there we are, at the local superstore, in the bed sheets isle. The first thing people tend to look for is the thread count. We have been thought that the higher the better but I have some bad news for you. Thread count is just a marketing "lie", invented in the mid-90s by the linen retailers. It is easy to think about quality in terms of a number so it stuck with the people. It is a misconception that the quality of the bed sheets is determined by the number of threads per square inch.
Let's think about it for a moment, this means that there are more threads squeezed per square inch, which makes the fabric stronger but stiff and not breathable. Leading experts say that for anything above 400TC, one has to get creative how to count the threads. This is when manufacturers start using multi-ply yarn (twisting many thin low-quality yarns together) chasing higher numbers - note that it was the demand of the customers that started the whole high thread count, before that bed sheet fabric was at the most 450TC. So what the manufacturers do is take a low-quality cotton to make the multi-ply yarn - because you really can't see the difference.
So what is a good thread count? It doesn't matter really as long as it is not higher than 450. What you should be looking for is the thread quality, not the count.
Cotton Quality - The True Measure Of Quality
Not all cotton is created equal – and what determines the quality is the so-called staple or the length of the fiber. The longer the staple the softer and higher quality the cotton is. And this kind of cotton never makes it to the higher thread counts - it is simply a waste of beautiful material. So how do you know if the cotton, in fact, is a long staple? By the price. Cheap bed sheets are definitely not using this kind simply because high-grade cotton is expensive.
Egyptian Cotton - Get It If You Can Afford It
How about the world famous Egyptian Cotton? It is wonderful, truly superb quality and also very very expensive. As it turns out about 90% of the Egyptian cotton sold in the USA is fake. We know this because the amount of Egyptian cotton sold is much higher than the amount produced - don't forget it comes from a small country that simply produces little quantity. So if you see “affordable” Egyptian cotton sheets – be aware. And again it is by the price you know it is real Egyptian cotton. It should cost in times more than the regular high-quality cotton items.
Weave - A Personal Preference
Percale is one over, one under weave which makes lighter airier fabric.
Sateen is one under, three over which makes a buttery soft and lustrous fabric.
It is a personal choice. Are you a more casual effortless person? Then choose percale. Are you more elegant and love a little luxury, then sateen if for you.
Where is it made - Location, Location, Location
Now is time to turn the label and see where it is made. Weavers are not the same all over the world. A 200TC fabric made in Italy will not be the same as 1000TC made in Pakistan. It is the skill, the tradition, the attention to detail that make all the difference. And it becomes obvious when you see pieces of fabric from around the world and compare them side by side.
As a general rule, weavers in Italy and France are the best in the world but prices are also the highest. A set can cost you over $600 at least. Then comes Portugal offering best quality and price combination.
Craftsmanship - Important For Truly Longlasting Bedding
By now we have great soft fabric and it is time to pay attention to the craftsmanship - how is it stitched.
Are there any hanging threads?
Is the elastic nice and strong?
Does the elastic go all around?
Are the seams straight and beautiful?
And last but not least, does it come from a factory that pays fair wages and has proper working conditions?
Some of this is obvious, some not so much. In general, European companies have to comply with so many rules and standards, strictly enforced by the European Union. So it is safe to say that Made in Europe means quality - in every aspect. Also, some of these European weavers have been in business for generations and they really care about their product - as our manufacturer said to me once "the way we make things here is different". And it really shows.
Toxic Chemical - What Are You Breathing For 8 Hours A Night
People don't realize that the textile industry is very heavy on chemicals. And the cheap bed sheets are guaranteed to have lots of them because it is harder and more expensive to make soft long lasting fabric without chemicals. The worst part is that we are breathing them night after night. The skin is our largest organ and it absorbs a huge amount of everything it touches.
So how do we know if our bed sheets are toxic? Is buying organic cotton the way to go? Unfortunately "organic" means that the plant has been grown without pesticides. But the real problem comes during the processing of the cotton and there are many many chemicals involved.
Put it this way, if no chemicals are used we will only have burlap rough fabric.
The question is, are these chemicals toxic and how they have been disposed of. The textile industry is, unfortunately, the least regulated. There are some certifications that a manufacturer can get, the most common of which is Oeko-Tex, but many are falsified. It requires some digging to find out if the certificate is real.
So to put it in practical terms - choose a reputable brand and pay a little more. It is expensive to produce quality non-toxic fabric and not harm the environment and the people involved.
So to sum up, forget about the thread count and choose bed sheets that cost at least $150 for a set from a reputable smaller honest brand who care about their product.
If you want non-toxic, ethically produced, well-crafted product, choose made in Europe.
Bed sheets are an investment but good quality will last you for many years and they will become better after each wash - remember the bedlinens of your grandmother? Back then people used to buy less but invest in quality products. I am a firm believer that this is the only way we should shop.
Life is more special when we surround ourselves with meaningful products.
So spend a little more for truly sweet dreams...