Hotel Sheets vs Retail Sheets

Hotel Sheets vs Retail Sheets

Hotels generally use a sheet recipe which prioritises quality over thread count. Confused? Read on.


  • Hotels generally get decent quality for a good price by using a low thread count.
  • Less threads means less cotton, and less cotton often means better quality for the same money.
  • The resulting sheet is usually finer, crisper and cooler to sleep in (like ours) hence 'cool and crisp'.
  • Cool and crisp sheets aren't soft/thick/hot like retail high thread count sateen sheets.
  • Most popular: The classic Hotel Sheet. The 100% cotton sheet used by hotels in Europe. 
  • The best: The Egyptian Hotel Sheet. 100% long-staple Egyptian cotton, DNA tested to verify authenticity.
  • Get Free NZ shipping (no minimums) and a 60 night trial.
  • Use and wash sheets for up to 60 nights and return if not happy. We donate the returns.
  • See good and bad reviews from genuine customers to get a sense of what our sheets feel like.

More detail? Read on...

Hotel Sheets vs Retail Sheets

Why hotel sheets?

Hotels and shops aim for reasonably priced sheets but take different approaches. Commercial sheets generally prioritise quality for a reasonable price. But retailers have spent a good 20 years prioritising thread count for a reasonable price, then inferring (or outright saying) that a higher thread count means better quality.

Retailers prioritise thread count

The problem with prioritising thread count is that thread count by itself doesn't determine quality. Cotton, yarn and manufacturing determine quality. But when you trade on thread count, you have the option of selling mediocre (or even bad) cotton with impressive thread-counts. This is why the US Federal Trade Commission feels that high thread count sheets can mislead consumers.

But a bigger problem with prioritising thread count is that it's almost impossible to make high-quality, high thread count sheets affordable. Why?

High quality cotton is rare, sought-after and expensive (like DNA tested Egyptian cotton). And the more threads used, the more cotton used, and the more cotton used, the more expensive the sheet. So when 1000TC sheets are made from really great cotton, they often retail for $600-$900 NZD. And when made from the very best cotton, they can retail for $1200-$2000 NZD per set. No joke!

So if you're trying to sell reasonably priced high thread-count sheets (as many retailers are), you have little choice but to compromise the quality to get the price down. And that's what many retailers have often sold, medium to low-quality cotton, dressed-up in a high thread-count. In fact, a certain American retailer (also in New Zealand) was sued over 1000TC sheets back in 2005, making this old news overseas.

Fake bargains

Some retailers also use a sales tactic, often dubbed 'fake bargains' by media, which makes determining quality via price confusing. For example, when The Hotel Sheet has a sale, we're discounting the retail price which hurts. We hope to make up the difference by selling many more sets.

But some retailers use a pricing strategy where they might import sheets worth say $160 but price them at $400 instead. Then after six months, have a 60%-off sale which creates a false impression that you're buying a set of $400 sheets for $160. When in reality, those sheets were probably only worth $160 to begin with. The above prices are obviously examples to help illustrate how fake bargains works in practice.

You may have heard The Commerce Commission criticising retailers for these types of tactics. But for the purposes of this article, fake bargains makes it confusing to determine quality using price. Especially when the sheets on sale have an impressive thread count.

Low thread count sheets at retail are often bad

Adding to the confusion, is the fact that in our experience, many of the low thread count sheets at retail can look pretty bad. You can often see bad cotton coming out of the yarn, even through the packet. 

This has helped reinforce a myth that low thread count is bad. In our experience, low thread count sheets at retail look fairly bad but they don't have to be. And that's where hotel sheets come in; they're good quality, low thread count sheets. 

So why does the commercial world generally use a low thread?

Commercial sheets prioritise quality

The commercial world wants decent quality but at a decent price. And because good cotton isn't cheap, anyone wanting affordable quality still has to use good cotton, just less of it. And the only way to use less cotton is by using less threads.

So by using a lower thread count (typically 250TC in NZ which equals 200TC USA), commercial sheets generally offer better bang for buck because less threads means less cotton, which means better cotton for the same money.

The Classic Hotel Sheet

Sets of The Classic Hotel Sheet start from $227

But I like the feel of high thread count sheets?

Firstly, low thread count sheets in the shops seem pretty bad in our experience, so it's little wonder many consumers prefer the feel of high thread count sheets. Secondly, the softer, silkier feel of high thread count sheets is mainly due to the type of weave used to make them, not the thread count itself.

Most sheets over 400TC in New Zealand use the Sateen weave, which is softer and silkier. So most of what you're feeling is actually the sateen weave.

However, no matter the quality, Sateen is usually weaker (all things being equal), sheds more (often referred to as pilling by consumers although technically, it's not pilling) and is hotter to sleep in.

And because people think higher thread counts are better, many struggling with heat at night don't realise they're buying some of the hottest cotton sheets available.

And this is an area where thread count plays an important role; heat at night. Put simply;

The higher the thread count, the hotter the sheet.
The lower the thread count, the cooler the sheet.

One final note on high thread count sheets; depending on the cotton, yarn and weaving, a high thread count can improve general wear issues with the weaker Sateen weave. Issues like shedding and general longevity can be improved with good cotton, yarn and weaving because good cotton, yarn and weaving is the foundation for quality bedding - no matter the thread count. However, you pay a higher price because more threads means more cotton, which means a higher price.

This is why commercial sheets generally avoid the weaker sateen weave and instead opt for the stronger percale weave. It allows them to use less threads which means less cotton, and less cotton means they get decent quality for a good price.

So where does that leave us? Well, if you're cold at night, a quality, high thread count Sateen sheet could be your perfect sheet.

But if you're hot at night, it's almost the worst sheet you could buy.

What do hotel sheets feel like?

A good hotel sheet feels beautifully crisp, primarily because of the percale weave used to make them but also because of manufacturing quality. If you've ever slipped into a hotel bed and loved the crisp feel of the sheets, what you're generally feeling is a good quality, low thread count percale sheet - typically 250 threads in NZ.

Commercial sheets generally use the percale weave because all things being equal, it's stronger, sheds less and lasts longer than sateen. The percale weave is also an open weave that releases heat and circulates air. By contrast, the sateen weave is a closed weave that traps heat. For more on weaves, see our article; Percale vs Sateen.

One last note about the classic hotel sheet recipe; the resulting sheet is usually finer than most expect. This can be disconcerting, especially if you're used to thick (and hot), high thread count sheets. But rest assured, the sheet is strong despite being fine. While finer sheets are super fast to dry and press, the benefit to a consumer is that they're the coolest cotton sheets you can buy.

The Classic Hotel Sheet

Sets of The Classic Hotel Sheet start from $227

But I thought hotel sheets use synthetics?

Our 100% cotton hotel sheet is one of the top-selling commercial sheets for our manufacturer in Portugal, and is used in hotels throughout Portugal and Europe. It's true that most five-star hotels use sheets which contain at least 50% polyester, especially in our part of the world. And as the star rating goes down, the amount of polyester goes up - motels often use 100% polyester for example.

While polyester makes sheets last longer (and makes them thicker), the polyester feels slippery as it wears which many people dislike. And even a little polyester makes sheets hotter which hotel air conditioning tends to counteract.

But when you pay more for a higher-end suite, or in hotter climates like Portugal, some European hotels provide higher quality amenity like cotton sheets. In fact, we've stayed in European four star hotels that used 100% cotton sheets. And that's the hotel sheet we sell; a cool and crisp, 100% cotton European hotel sheet.

My head hurts!

We realise that was a lot of information so to sum up:

  • Thread count has almost nothing to do with quality
  • The higher the thread count, the hotter the sheet
  • The lower the thread count, the cooler the sheet
  • Hotels prioritise quality for a decent price
  • Hotel sheets generally feel crisp and when made from 100% cotton, are cooler
  • Most retail sheets feel soft/silky and are generally thicker/hotter to sleep in

If you love your sheets, that's all that matters so who cares what we or anyone else says! But if you've had a confusing retail experience or are hot at night, we hope this article helped.

If you'd like help figuring out which sheets are right for you, check out our ultimate guide to getting sheets you'll love (a work in progress). Or click the chat icon bottom right, we'll get back to you ASAP.

What to buy

  • Most popularThe classic Hotel Sheet. The 100% cotton sheet used by hotels in Portugal and Europe. 
  • The bestThe Egyptian Hotel Sheet. 100% long-staple Egyptian cotton, DNA tested to verify authenticity.
  • Use and wash sheets for up to 60 nights and return if not happy. We donate returns to the Women's Refuge.
  • See good and bad reviews from genuine customers to get a sense of what our sheets feel like.
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We are not trained textile experts, we're just you're average hot sleepers who wanted to understand why some sheets were making us hotter. All opinions are our own and are based on sleep testing, wash testing and lab testing bedding, as well as working with textile experts and high-quality European manufacturers for over a decade. If you spot mistakes or incorrect information, let us know, we're always learning.