Higher thread count doesn't guarantee better sheets

There's no need to pay high prices for a higher thread count

Published: September 13, 2013 12:30 PM

A mantra at Consumer Reports is that high-priced products aren't necessarily higher performing. The same can be said of sheets with high thread counts. Despite the notion that more is better, in our past sheet tests we confirmed that a higher thread count doesn't guarantee better sheets. To uncover the truth behind this misleading marketing gotcha, we talked to our experts.

Thread count is the number of vertical and horizontal threads per square inch. Not long ago, sheets typically had thread counts of 120 with 60 horizontal and 60 vertical threads. In the 1960's, a sheet with a 180 thread count was considered a luxury.  "Now you see 1,000 thread count sheets but you just can't get that many threads on a loom," says Pat Slaven, a textile expert at Consumer Reports.

To get that higher number, manufacturers use thinner strands of fabric twisted together as if they were one. Then they double, triple or even quadruple the thread count to make the number more attractive to the consumer. "It ups the count but doesn't give you a better sheet," says Slaven. "The sweet spot is 400."

In Consumer Reports last sheet tests, our top-scoring percale sheet had a thread count of only 280. They were strong, shrank little, and easily fit mattresses up to 17 inches thick, even after we washed and dried them five times.

Spending money on sheets that have more than a 400 thread count is not necessary, says Slaven. Instead, focus on the fabric the sheets are made of. Combed cotton, Egyptian cotton or Pima cotton are the best choices. Read the labels closely. If you like soft sheets, choose a sateen but if you prefer crisp sheets, try percale. And keep in mind that selecting sheets by how they feel in the store can be misleading because manufacturers add hand enhancers, silicone softeners, that wash out after the first trip to a laundry. That's why it's important to keep the receipt and return the sheets if you don't like how they feel after they've been washed.

To prevent your sheets from pilling, wash them separately from your towels because the short fibers in towels can attach to the smooth surface of the sheets. And use a good laundry detergent. Tide Ultra plus Bleach Vivid White + Bright HE, 23 cents per load, topped our laundry detergent Ratings. It was excellent overall, even in cool water. If you prefer single-use detergents, our top-performing pods were Kirkland Signature Ultra Clean Pacs from Costco, 14 cents per load, and Tide Pods, 22 cents per load.

For more on shopping for sheets, see Pat Slaven's appearance earlier this summer on ABC News. She can also show you how to fold a fitted sheet, a task that confounds many. And don't miss our mattress Ratings, including six recommended mattresses.

—Izabela Rutkowski

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