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Just say "No" to Thread Count Seduction

Updated: Apr 20, 2021

We all love a 'deal'. Me included. But, when it comes to bedding, I've learned the hard way that sheets and pillow cases aren't a great place to try and save money. You've heard the adage that we spend a third of our lives in bed, so don't cheap out on a mattress. Well, to go cheap on the bedding you put on that mattress doesn't make any sense either.

Stores - both brick and mortar, and online - are filled with high thread-count bedding. At one time, the hype of 1,000 thread-count linens were targeted at high-end consumers, but now you can find them everywhere. And, at 'bargain' prices. There's another adage: You can't get 'something' for nothing.

First, you should understand what 'thread count' means. It's the number of threads that fit in one square inch - combining the horizontal threads ('weft') with vertical threads ('warp'). The numbers range from 150 (often for children's bedding) to 1,000 or more (usually in silk or satin). But, only so many threads can fit on a loom. So, what gives? Silk, for example, is a smaller, finer thread and so more can fit on a loom. Cotton, however, is thicker, and experts say that roughly 400 to 600 threads is ideal. The 1,000 thread-count products are a marketing ploy. The fabric of those 1,000 thread count sheets is more fragile and susceptible to rips, pills and snags. They don't last.

Oh, and some advertising will talk about various 'ply' threads. That means, for example, 2 or 3 threads twisted together. As in 2-ply. Twisting inferior threads together doesn't make them stronger or more durable. It only allows the manufacturer to claim a higher 'thread count'. And, again, that doesn't always equate to quality or durability.

Most of us prefer cotton for its cool, comfortable, durable qualities. But, which kind of cotton is best? Long-staple cotton is what you should look for. It has a longer, silkier and more durable fiber compared to its shorter cousin. There are different varieties of long-staple cotton, with Egyptian, perhaps, being the best known. There are also Giza 45, Pima and Supima.

There is a very limited supply of real long-staple Egyptian cotton, so unless you're paying top dollar for sheets advertising this type of cotton, beware. The sheets probably only have a very small percentage of authentic Egyptian cotton and are mostly an inferior type cotton. For myself, I look for the Supima long-staple cotton. Bed linens that I've had for 15 and 20 years, made from this type, have brilliantly stood the test of time.

There is another choice in bed linens to consider: Percale or Sateen? This comes down to personal choice and the climate you live in. Percale and Sateen refer to the type of weave used in each. They're both very high quality, but have different characteristics. I prefer Sateen because it's naturally wrinkle-resistant due to the tighter weave. It also has a wonderful, full-bodied 'drape' and is somewhat 'heavier'. Sateen - as you might expect since it sounds similar to satin - is 'silkier' without the high price and fragile quality of satin. And, since we have actual winter where I live, it's warmer. Percale, on the other hand, is crisp and cool. My mother always bought Percale for the beds when I was growing up in south Florida. Percale is good for those who sleep 'hot'.

Percale weave is pretty straightforward, being a one-over and one-under weave. Sateen has vertical warp (vertical) threads floating over multiple weft (horizontal) threads. This is why Sateen fabric has a more lustrous, elegant appearance and smoother touch.

Whichever kind of sheets you buy, always wash them before putting them on the bed. Although they look nice, clean and crisp right out of the package, they still have chemical residues from the manufacturing process, and 'sizing' to keep them looking nice until they get to your home. Nothing bad will happen if you skip the wash, unless you have sensitive skin. Then, you could have a problem with 'contact dermatitis'. That happened to me once, and once was enough.

Washing sheets doesn't require a lot of hot water or bleaches. Even with white bedding. In fact, I don't recommend bleach in the wash unless it's absolutely necessary. Bleaching weakens fibers, and shortens the lifespan of fabrics. So, for most bed linens, a cool water wash is best, and a medium heat in the dryer. I'll usually take my sheets out and lay them over the guest room bed to finish drying. But, then I live in the driest state in the country. If you live in a humid place, you'll let them dry completely in the dryer. Oh, and another thing: good sheets will get softer and better over time. That's why I hang on to some that I know I've had for over 20 years.

So, you might wonder what bed linens I prefer. For at least the last 20 years, I've bought the Macy's Hotel Collection 680 thread-count Supima Cotton. In January, during the annual 'white sale'. I've tried sheets from other stores/online vendors, and nothing quite comes close. The fitted sheets aren't taut enough. They're a little too 'scratchy'. A bit too 'wrinkly'. I just bought a new set yesterday - online - to replace the oldest ones that were showing their advanced age. I figure I'll easily get a decade - or more! - of good use out of the new ones.

Oh, and what about microfiber fabrics? Microfiber industry spokespersons will tell you that it's environmentally sustainable simply because no fertilizers were used to 'grow' them. Hog. Wash. Those microfibers are polluting our oceans and lakes, ending up in aquatic life and ... us.

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