Part 4 – How thread count works

Thread count (TC) is probably the most misunderstood quality indicator. We all assume that a higher TC means better quality. But TC simply tells us how many threads are in the sheet, it doesn't much about the quality of each thread. And it's cotton quality which mostly determines how amazing sheets feel and how long they last.

As discussed elswhere in this guide, 1000TC sheets made from high-quality cotton cost $1,300+ NZD so price is probably a better indicator of quality. Although TC doesn't reveal much about cotton quality, it hugely affects temperature so let's look at how it works.

THREAD-COUNT OBSESSED

By using multi-ply yarns and multiple insertions, a dazzling TC can be achieved using cheaper cotton. This makes TC a confusing way to judge quality. And there's a lot of confusing language out there which often compounds TC myths. Here's a typical example...

'...higher thread counts are not only more durable but also smoother to the touch.'

High thread count sheets use the sateen weave which is smoother than percale, so the smoothness is mostly because of the weave, not the super high thread count.

The 'more durable' statement is not always true, it all depends on the cotton which makes price a better way to judge what you're buying. Here's why.

YOU GET WHAT YOU PAY FOR

Let's imagine you're comparing two sets of cotton sheets that both cost $250 NZD a set. One set is 1000TC and other is 250TC. Most assume the 1000TC set is higher quality.

But the 1000TC set contains four times the threads and much more cotton. So to make the 1000TC sheet for $250, cotton quality, manufacturing quality, worker conditions, chemical recycling and much more have to be compromised.

While many don't care about third-world workers or the environment, cotton and manufacturing quality will hugely affect the quality you buy.

To be clear, not all high thread count sheets use bad cotton but most don't use the best cotton like we all assume. As discussed, when 1000TC sheets are made from the very best cotton, they cost upwards to $1,000 a set. This is because using rare, sought-after and expensive raw materials in a recipe which consumes four times the cotton, results in an eye-watering price.

A BETTER WAY TO THINK ABOUT THREAD COUNT

Although TC doesn't tell us much about quality, it hugely affects the temperature of the sheets.

The higher the TC = the hotter the sheet
The lower the TC = the cooler the sheet

As discussed earlier, the Sateen weave is hotter than Percale but the Sateen weave can also be woven to a higher TC, which is why it's used to make high TC sheets. But this makes high TC sheets doubly hot. They combine two heat making attributes, a high TC with the Sateen weave, making high TC sheets some of the hottest sheet you can buy (and even hotter when made from synthetics).

Sateen Weave + High TC = Very hot sheets!

That's why we recommend high TC sheets for cold sleepers or winter months.

CHECKLISTS

Cold sleepers

  • Cotton or synthetics
  • Multi-ply yarns (trap more heat and maintain hotter temperatures)
  • Sateen weave (softer and hotter)
  • Higher thread counts (trap more heat)

Hot sleepers

  • Cotton or linen
  • Single-ply yarns (breathe better and maintain cooler temperatures)
  • Percale weave (cooler and crisper)
  • Lower thread counts (cooler, breathe better)

Hot & Cold sleepers in the same bed

  • Cotton or linen, then use layers
  • Single-ply yarns (breathe better and maintain cooler temperatures)
  • Percale weave (cooler and crisper) then use layers
  • Lower thread counts (cooler, breathe better)
  • The cold sleeper uses layers to get warmer

NEXT > 5 CARING FOR YOUR ULTIMATE SHEETS