If you're thread-count obsessed and have come to believe that the fewer the threads, the worse your sleep experience will be, you'll save money by reading this article. When you shop for linens, you should focus more on "long staple cotton" -- Egyptian if you prefer exotic and Pima (or Supima) if you prefer domestic -- than high thread counts. If you're patriotic, Pima grows in the U.S., and if your sheets are made of it, you'll sleep like a baby regardless of the number of threads in the weave. The highest thread count is 1500, but that could change next week.
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Thread count is the number of horizontal and vertical threads that can be squeezed into 1 inch on any type of linen. Fact is, in 2011 you might find thread counts as low as 80 and as high as 1500, but that's just the latest thread count figure on a hierarchy that seems ever growing. Newer looms, better technology and the aforementioned obsession counts are driving that number higher. Ultimately, the thread count may climb so high, you might not get out of bed in the morning, wondering how you will earn enough to buy 3000-count sheets.
Positives of a High Thread Count
The linen industry has invested a lot to sell you new sheets more often than you may need them. You believe the myth that a high thread count (200 + for a good quality sheet) means you can expect softer fabric, a longer linen life and less pilling. All of this is true. That stated, a heavy dose of fabric softener and a gentle dryer cycle can soften a cheaper 300-count sheet so nicely that your body may not differentiate it from a sheet with a thread count in the thousands.
Negatives of a High Thread Count
Start with your checkbook. High-count equals high price. The yarn used to make these budget-busters is finer, which is how manufacturers can cram so many threads into a square inch. The costs are higher to make two-ply yarn which weaves a denser sheet and, since eight-ply yarns are becoming the norm, you can see how a manufacturer could cram 1,000 into an inch with no perceptible difference in the look or feel of the cloth. Add the import factor. Egyptian cotton is pricier, driving up the price of 1500-count sheets. And there's another price to pay: They wrinkle. But if you're spending £325 plus for 1500-count linens, you can probably afford to have someone iron them for you.
Accurate or Inaccurate Thread Count
"Good Housekeeping" magazine regularly unleashes investigative teams to report on the current state of linen thread counts. Researchers repeatedly catch manufacturers inflating the numbers. According to Kathleen Huddy, "Seven out of eight sheets tested by the Good Housekeeping Institute flunked thread count tests." One 1500-count sheet was actually 300 -- a decent number, but the consumer paid for five times more. Here's why things remain unclear: When eight-ply yarn is twisted together, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) calls that 1-count. Manufacturers count 8. It's a game that continues to be played. So far, it's the linen industry 8, the FTC 1.
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- ABC News: Good Morning America; The Truth Behind Thread Counts; 2006
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- Linen Place: The Truth About Thread Count; 2009
- iVillage: Sheets 101; Knowing Your Percale From Your Pima by Christy Ferer; 01/01/1999