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 aim for reasonably priced sheets but take different approaches. Commercial sheets generally prioritise quality for a reasonable price, while retailers generally prioritise thread count for a reasonable price, then 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. The quality of the cotton, yarn and manufacturing is what determines quality, while weave-types determine the feel of sheets (silky or crisp).

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. 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 actually cost $600-$900 NZD. And when made from the very best cotton, 1000TC sheets cost $1300-$1400 NZD per set. No joke.

So if you're trying to sell high thread count sheet sets for for an affordable price, you have little choice but to compromise the quality somewhere to make them affordable. And that's what shops often sell, medium to low-quality high thread count sheets.

Some retailers use a pricing strategy

Some retailers use a pricing strategy which makes determining quality more confusing. For example, when The Hotel Sheet has a sale, we're discounting the retail price which kind of 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 that have a recommended retail price of say $160 but price them at $400 instead. Then after six months they might have a 60%-off sale. This creates a false impression that you're buying a $400 set of sheets for just $160 when in reality, those sheets were probably only worth $160 RRP to begin with.

You may have heard The Commerce Commission criticising retailers for sales tactics but for the purposes of this article, these kinds of sales tactics can make quality and price more difficult to understand.

Low thread count sheets at retail are often bad

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

This has helped give rise to the myth that low thread count is bad. In our experience, low thread count sheets in retail stores are bad but they don't have to be. And that's where a hotel sheet comes in; it's a good quality, low thread count sheet. 

So why do commercial sheets generally use a low thread?

Commercial sheets prioritise quality

Hotels are looking for a reasonable level of quality but have 100s of beds so need that quality at a reasonable price. And because good cotton isn'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 NZ / 200TC USA), hotels get the quality they need at a more affordable price. Less threads, translates into less cotton, which translates into affordable quality.

The Classic Hotel Sheet

Sets of The Classic Hotel Sheet start from $217

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 consumers prefer the feel of high thread count sheets. Secondly, the softer, silkier feel of a high thread count is mainly due to the type of weave used to make them, not the thread count.

Most sheets above 500TC 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, sheds more (often referred to as pilling by consumers) and is 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 does play 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 and yarn construction, 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 and yarn because good cotton and yarn is the foundation for quality bedding, no matter the thread count. However, you pay a higher price.

This is why Hotels 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 the quality they need for a good price.

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, primarily because of the percale weave used to make them. 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.

Commercial sheets mainly use the percale weave because it's generally 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 used to make higher thread count sheets 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, 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 $217

But I thought hotel sheets use synthetics?

Our 100% cotton hotel sheet is the same sheet used in the suites of a global hotel chain in Portugal where all our bedding is made. It's true that most five-star hotel rooms use sheets which contain at least 50% polyester. 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, polyester feels slippery as it wears which many people hate. And then there's the extra heat, even a little polyester makes sheets 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
  • Hotel sheets generally feel crisp and when made from 100% cotton, are cooler
  • Most retail sheets feel soft/silky and are generally hotter

If you love your sheets, who cares what we or anyone else says, that's all that matters at the end of the day. But if you've had a confusing sheet experience or are hot at night, we hope this article has 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.

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