Hotel Sheets vs Retail Sheets

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

Hotel Sheets vs Retail Sheets

Why Hotel Sheets?

Hotels and shops both aim for reasonably priced sheets but take different approaches. Hotels generally prioritise quality, while retailers generally prioritise thread count and infer that a higher thread count means better quality.

Retailers prioritise thread count

The problem with the retail approach is that thread count doesn't determine quality. Cotton quality, yarn quality, manufacturing quality, and the weave-type affect sheets much more than thread count. While thread count used to be a reliable way to judge quality, in the modern era, we can make terrible high thread count sheets, we can also make fantastic low thread count sheets.

But a bigger problem with prioritising thread count is that it's almost impossible to make really great high thread count sheets affordable. Why? High quality cotton is rare, sought-after and expensive. And the more threads used, the more cotton used, and the more cotton used, the more expensive the sheet. For example, when 1000TC sheets are made from really great cotton, they actually cost $600-$900 NZD, and when made from the very best cotton, they cost $1300-$1400 NZD per set. No joke.

So if you're trying to sell high thread count sheets for a reasonable price (and stay in business), you have little choice but to compromise the quality to make them affordable. And that's what shops often sell, medium to low-quality, high thread count sheets.

To make matters worse, many low thread count sheets at retail also look pretty bad. You can often see cotton coming off the yarn, even through the packet. This has given rise to a myth that low thread count is bad. In our experience, low thread count sheets at retail are bad but they don't have to be and that's what hotels generally use; good quality but low thread count sheets. Why?

Hotels prioritise quality

Hotels don't usually compromise quality for many reasons but hotels also have 100s of beds. Therefore, hotels need quality for a reasonable price. And because good cotton ain't cheap, hotels looking for quality have little choice but to use less cotton. And that means fewer threads.

So by using a lower thread count (typically 250TC), hotels get the quality they need for an affordable price. And that's why typical hotel sheets feel quite different to typical retail sheets, hotels wanting quality use a recipe which prioritises quality over thread count.

The Classic Hotel Sheet

Sets of The Classic Hotel Sheet start from $167

But I like the feel of high thread count sheets?

We hear you. Firstly, low thread count sheets in the shops are pretty bad in our experience, so it's little wonder consumers prefer the feel of high thread count sheets. Secondly, that softer, silkier feel of a higher thread count is mainly due to the type of weave used.

Most sheets above 500-600TC in New Zealand use the Sateen weave, which is softer and silkier. So most of what you're feeling in a high thread count sheet is actually the sateen weave.

However, no matter the quality, the Sateen weave is usually weaker (depending on the recipe), sheds more (often referred to as pilling by consumers) and is also much hotter. And because people think higher thread counts are better, many struggling with heat at night don't realise they're sleeping in some of the hottest cotton sheets available!

And this is an area where thread count plays a crucial 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 and yarn construction, a high thread count can improve general wear issues with the weaker Sateen weave. Issues like shedding, pilling and general longevity can all be improved with good cotton, good yarn, and a higher thread count (you pay a higher price though).

This is why Hotels generally avoid the weaker sateen weave and opt for the percale weave instead. It's stronger, sheds/pills less, is cooler and feels crisp (most people think crisp sheets feel cleaner at a hotel).

In the end, almost everything comes down to quality so we don't recommend lower thread count Sateen sheets unless made from amazing cotton.

So where does that leave us? Well, if you're cold at night, a good 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, partly because of the lower thread count but primarily because of the weave used. If you've ever slipped into a hotel bed and loved the feeling of those beautifully crisp sheets, what you're feeling is a good quality, low thread count percale sheet - typically 250 threads.

Hotels mostly use the percale weave because it's generally stronger, sheds/pills 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 which 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, 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 $167

But I thought hotel sheets use synthetics?

Our 100% cotton hotel sheet is made for a global hotel chain but is only used in some of their high-end suites in Portugal (it may also be used elsewhere). It's true that most five-star hotel rooms use sheets which contain 40-50% polyester. And as the star rating goes down, the amount of polyester goes up (motels often use 100% polyester).

While polyester makes sheets last longer, it feels slippery as it wears which many don't like. And even a little polyester makes the sheet a lot hotter, which hotel air conditioning tends to counteract.

But when you pay more for a room (like a high-end suite), some hotels provide higher quality amenity like cotton sheets. And that's the hotel sheet we sell; a cool and crisp, 100% cotton 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
  • High thread count sheets can be really bad
  • Low thread count sheets can be really good
  • Retailers prioritise thread count
  • Hotels prioritise quality
  • The higher the thread count, the hotter the sheet
  • The lower the thread count, the cooler the sheet

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 i progress). Or click the chat icon bottom right, we'll get back to you ASAP.

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