"High thread count"
These are just a few of the marketing phrases that sheet manufacturers use to sell customers on the luxury and quality of their products. But what do such phrases really mean — if anything? And are the same factors important to both retail and hotel buyers? In this article, we'll examine how sheeting is made and what features to look for to meet your needs.
IT ALL STARTS WITH THE YARN
Yarns — the strands that are woven into a fabric — make a fundamental difference to how well sheets look, feel and last. Even if a poor quality yarn is given high quality weaving and finishing treatments, the final product won't live up to your expectations.
There are three factors to consider when judging yarn: what fiber it's made of, the quality of that fiber and how it's formed into the yarn. Let's look at each of these components.
Fiber can come from a natural source such as cotton or be a manmade synthetic such as polyester. Each source brings different strengths and weaknesses to the finished textile. For this reason, we often see blends of two or more fibers to maximize the strengths and offset the weaknesses.
Cotton is the most common fiber found in sheet manufacturing, because it provides excellent softness, breathability and moisture absorption. On the other hand, it is not particularly strong, meaning that it is susceptible to wear and tear; also, it is prone to wrinkling.
Polyester offers superior strength and wrinkle resistance. Its drawback is that it is less breathable and traps body heat. Thus, polyester is often twisted together with cotton to create blended yarns (e.g. 60% cotton/ 40% polyester). The softness and coolness guests love are combined with the durability a hospitality business requires.
Marketing messages to retail customers promote 100% cotton sheets as being better than blends. The reality, though, is that very few people can actually feel the difference. Even at high end hotels, guests think they're sleeping on very expensive, pure cotton sheets, while very often these sheets are a good quality cotton/poly blend.
A relatively new option on the sheets market is microfiber — a 100% polyester monofilament with an ultra-fine yarn. Microfiber fabrics mimic the hand of silk for a very sleek look and feel without the price tag. Because the yarn diameter is so small, it makes extremely dense, durable (yet supple) weaves, as we'll discuss in the thread count section below.
Here's a look at our microfiber sheets:
Soft Wear Plus
Cotton is especially subject to a wide variation in quality. To give consumers some of idea of what they are getting, terms such as "combed" and "long staple" are used. Here's what they mean.
Combed cotton refers to the pre-spinning process of removing short threads, nubs and impurities — any little bits that would protrude from the surface of the yarn and make the finished textile feel less soft.
Long staple cotton has longer than average individual threads, which makes for a stronger yarn. This is a property of the cotton variety; Pima and Egyptian, cottons are known for their long staple. These types of cotton are mostly popular in retail, while the hospitality industry often uses Upland medium staple cotton. By blending medium staple cotton with polyester, the sheet gets extended life and durability while reducing cost.
THE GREAT THREAD COUNT DEBATE
Thread count: the number of threads (yarns) per square inch of textile, counting both the warp (vertical) and weft (horizontal) threads. In theory, a higher count indicates a smoother, more durable fabric — say, a crisp, tight percale rather than a loose, unstable gauze.
This concept has been pushed more heavily to retail sheet consumers than any other. Higher thread count = higher quality, they are told. However, as many consumers have found to their discomfort, there are many ways to cheat at this game and produce a high thread count sheet that isn’t a much better quality. Manufacturers often use these tricks to increase their profit margins and inflate perceived value of product.
THE DOUBLE-COUNTING CHEAT
When a fabric is woven with two-ply yarns, each yarn is supposed to count as one. However, some manufacturers count each ply within the yarn as one, thus doubling the advertised thread count. In this scenario, a sheet that's really 300 thread count is claimed to be 600 thread count.
THE UNFAIR COMPARISON
Because microfiber's yarn is so much smaller than a cotton yarn can possibly be, the textiles it's made with have with incredibly high thread counts. So comparing its thread count to cotton's is an inaccurate way to judge overall quality.
The optimum thread count, for feel-good, durability and value properties for hotels, is between 250 and 300. Anything over that will not improve customer experience enough to compensate for the increased cost.
WEAVING A DREAM SHEET
The final factor that contributes to textile quality is weave. The two best weaves used for sheets in the hospitality industry are percale and sateen. Neither is better than the other; it's a matter of personal preference.
Percale is woven with one yarn over, one yarn under. It is characterized by a matte finish, light weight and cool, crisp feel, a great choice for warm seasons/climates and hot sleepers. It is exceptionally long-wearing, getting softer with every wash without pilling.
Sateen weave is three yarns over, one yarn under — a more affordable and durable cousin of satin with a similar luster and silky-soft touch. More tightly woven than percale, it is naturally wrinkle-resistant, warmer and heavier, suitable for all-season comfort.
WE CAN HELP YOU CHOOSE YOUR IDEAL SHEETS
Textile quality, budget, guest demographics and even your local climate play a role in deciding which sheets are right for your hotel. Feel free to pick the brains of our T-Y Group and Harbor Linen experts when making your selections. With our wide selection of fiber content, thread count and weave, there's something for every need and taste. We're the hospitality industry's one-stop shop for the guest room and beyond.
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