The Truth About Thread Count

Conventional wisdom dictates that when shopping for bedlinen, the higher the thread count, the better the quality of fabric. We’ve been led to believe this for years now, that the higher the numbers, the more luxurious the product is, and  we tend to accept this as gospel.  But pass this logic by any textile expert, and you’ll get a sceptically raised eyebrow because this assumption is wrong. As US based linen expert Julian Tomchin told The New York Times, “once you get beyond 400 threads per square inch, be suspicious.”

This suspicion led to a BBC investigation, carried out by Shirley Technologies which found major retailers including John Lewis stocking ‘1,000 thread count’ bed linen that only has a score of 400! Likewise Dunelm, House of Fraser & Debenhams were all found by Shirley Technology to be overestimating their figures.  So in essence, people were led to believe they were paying for a more premium product when in actual fact they were not!

By definition, thread count is simple: It’s the number of threads woven into one square inch of fabric — add the vertical ones (technically, the “warp”) to the horizontal ones (the “filling” or the "weft"). But in reality, it’s not nearly that straightforward. There are only so many pieces of thread that can fit into a specific space. With bedding, that number is usually around 400. That means manufacturers have to employ some creative license or gimmickry to land those 1,000-plus numbers.

One of the most common ways to do this is to factor in a fabric’s ply. (Each thread in a piece of fabric is made up of single strands twisted together. This is called ply. When two strands are twisted together, it’s two-ply fabric; with three strands, it’s three-ply; etc.).

Some manufacturers might decide to count each of the strands individually, making it easy to double or triple the thread count — and therefore, the price. But this has little effect on the actual quality of the bedlinens. Other manufacturers might use thinner threads to increase the thread count, which can shorten the linen’s lifespan without increasing comfort.

The very idea of thread count is a new construct. The first 1,000-plus thread count sheets hit the shelves in the early 2000s as a way for manufacturers to differentiate themselves from the competition. These sheets used very fine cotton, which resulted in a higher-ply — and higher thread count — material. The competition followed suit, even though labelling thread count prior to this was virtually unheard of. In the US there’s actually no mandate on how to determine thread count, just a voluntary standard that only threads are counted, regardless of ply. Manufacturers aren’t forced to comply. In fact, the Good Housekeeping Research Institute found a startling stat in their 2002 study:

But besides being deceptive, inflating thread count is just a waste of time. All leading authorities have determined that thread count alone is not an indicator of quality. A Consumer Report states, “Our latest tests again confirmed that higher thread count doesn’t guarantee better sheets.” Some of these practices are actually a detriment to quality, resulting in heavy sheets that don’t breathe well or feel stiff and uncomfortable".

The reality is that it’s not thread count but the quality and type of material that matter. That’s why at Hoxtonlinen we offer you only the highest calibre of fabrics to give you the best sheets ever, and a world-class sleep experience — of any thread count.

Find out more about how we make our sheets & why they feel so amazing