Thread count refers to the number of threads that are in one square inch area of fabric.
The higher the thread count, usually the better the quality, durability, and most importantly, the comfort level.
Low thread count cotton linens tend to pill (small balls of cotton fibers that are formed on the sheet) and have to be replaced far sooner than a higher thread count sheet would due to lower durability.
Linens that are constructed with 100% cotton, and with a thread count measuring at least 250 to 300 or higher are almost always softer, more luxurious, and of higher durability than sheets of a lower thread count.
On the downside, these linens can be more expensive, but if the goal is to cover the bed with soft, luxurious linens, a high thread count must be on the radar.
Cotton Sheet Types
Of the types of cotton available on the market, there are two types that should be at the top of the list if you are seeking quality linens. Since cotton is graded by the lengths of its fibers, the types of cotton are grouped according to their fiber length.
Widely considered to be the highest quality cotton sheets, Pima cotton and Egyptian cotton are made up of 100% cotton fibers that consist of long staples of cotton fiber. This promotes softness as well as breathability, resulting in a high-quality cotton fabric.
Pima cotton is an extra-long staple, or ELS, cotton that is grown in the southwestern United States as well as in Peru and Australia. With a fiber length ranging from 35 to 38 mm, Pima cotton gets softer with every wash and will feel silky and smooth to the touch. American grown cotton will feature a SuPima certification from the SuPima Association of America, verifying that the cotton was grown and produced within the United States.
A growing trend in both Egyptian and Pima cotton is organic bedding. Though these fabrics will have the same quality of softness and durability, organic sheets are grown organically and are typically not dyed or at the very least colored using natural, non-toxic dyes.
As the name suggests, Egyptian cotton is imported and will range in thread count from 200 to 800. Similar to Pima cotton, Egyptian cotton typically has a fiber length ranging from 32 to 38 mm, allowing for durability and breathability. While all Pima cotton is ELS, not all Egyptian cotton is made up of extra-long staples. Though high in quality, Egyptian cotton prices can be relatively high due to it being imported, but the long durability helps to justify the higher price tag.
It can be difficult to differentiate cotton types when comparing Pima and Egyptian cotton of a similar thread count due to their vast similarities. When shopping for sheets, make sure you can feel the sheets before you purchase and make note of both the thread count as well as other labeling items such as ELS.
Cotton sheets can come in a variety of blends and finishes, here are a few options:
- Percale – Can range from a 50% cotton/50% polyester blend to a 100% cotton makeup, to another type of blend in any ratio. Percale has a thread count of 200 or higher and has a tight weave, more so than the typical bed sheet.
- Sateen – Feeling similar to silk and resembling satin in its appearance, sateen’s threads have a lustrous sheen due to the mercerization process. The drawback is a decrease in durability, but with that comes a very soft sheet.
- Jersey – This knit cotton blend fabric is a great option for usage during the warm months and provides a snug fit to the mattress due to its elasticity.
Softening Your Cotton Sheets
New sheets typically have chemicals added during or immediately after manufacturing to prevent the sheets from feeling soft before their first wash.
The following are a few steps to help you soften up your sheets after you buy them.
- Remove from packaging and place them in the washing machine with 1 cup of baking soda.
Wash in warm water on a regular cycle without detergent as it tends to lock in the chemicals you are trying to remove from your new sheets.
- Add a cup of white vinegar to the rinse cycle and set the temperature to cold.
- Remove the sheets from the washer and hang them up to dry in the sun. Natural drying is beneficial to soften them up when new.
- After they are dry, wash once again with regular detergent and water temperature.
- Dry in the drying machine.
High-quality cotton sheets will get softer with every wash. If durability and softness are important to you, cotton sheets with a high thread count should make long-lasting comfortable linens.
For more information, check out our blog and be sure to read our manifesto, Setting the Table, to find out who we are and what makes Austin Linen Service so different from our competition.