Flow Counting Is Made of Lies
If you’ve ever bought sheets, you probably know that the phrase “thread count” refers to the number of threads per square inch, and it’s true. But you might assume that the higher the thread count, the smoother and “better” the sheets will be, which is absolutely not the case – at least not for most products on the market.
The whole concept of thread count is only useful for sheets made from a single layer of cotton fabric ; for any other material it is completely meaningless. To understand why, you need to know a bit about textiles, starting with what “single layer cotton” means. The “layer” of fabric refers to the number of individual strands (or “yarns”) twisted together to make each thread. A single-ply thread has one thread, a two-ply thread has two, and a three-ply thread has three; therefore, single-ply cotton sheets are made from single-ply cotton threads. This is where the number of threads comes into play: the thinner the threads, the more of them you can put into a woven fabric, and the smoother the fabric will be. But at some point it becomes impossible to make a single strand of cotton even thinner, which means there is a hard limit on the number of strands you can weave together. For single ply cotton, this limit is about 400-500 threads per square inch; If a 100% cotton bedding set lists a higher thread count, someone is lying to you.
For synthetic fabrics, the limit is much higher. In fact, some synthetic fabrics are made with extremely thin threads specifically to increase the number of threads for marketing purposes. In addition to being ultra-fine, many synthetic fabrics are also multi-layered, which some manufacturers use to further increase the thread count. For example, if you are using 3-ply filament, a set of 300 thread count sheets can suddenly become 900 thread count, which sounds much better on the label. (Thread count is not adjustable, so it’s allowed.) And that’s just the layer—if you take into account the many different types of synthetic weaves (such as “T-shirt” stretch sheets or so-called “microfiber”), the thread count can get even higher. This is why the vast majority of ultra-high thread count sheets are made from either polyester or a cotton/polyester blend.
Synthetic sheets aren’t necessarily bad—they’re generally more wrinkle-resistant than cotton, for one—but the way they’re made stretches the definition of “thread count” to the point of uselessness. You simply cannot use the advertised thread count as a point of comparison between different synthetic or blended fabrics because the numbers are fake. If you prefer your sheets to be a little more resistant to stretch and wrinkle, your best bet is to read a lot of reviews and ask friends and family for recommendations – too many differences to be limited to just marketing claims.
If you prefer cotton sheets, keep in mind that a high thread count does not always mean a higher quality product. Lightweight, airy cotton percale, for example, is usually somewhere in the 100-thread range—anything more is not up to the mark. Cotton satin is denser and smoother, with a thread count of 250 to 400.
Conclusion: If you don’t know what you’re looking for, thread counting is basically a pointless marketing tool, so don’t let them fool you. it really helps to know a little bit about what you really want so you can search for it.