Thread count lie: Choosing bedsheets and the optimum 400TC

Thread count lie: Choosing bedsheets and the optimum 400TC

Posted by Vin Li Yap on

You walk into a department store’s bedding and bed sheet department. Rows and rows of bed sheets greet you, most with a 70-80% discount tag on them, boasting 1000 – 5000 thread counts. If you’ve ever bought a set of expensive, poor quality sheets, you’ll understand our frustration. They appear soft, but after a couple of washes, they start to pill and fall apart. We ourselves got extremely frustrated – why are we limited to these?



When we think about the best sheets in the market, we always think thread count. More often than not, consumers pride themselves at purchasing high thread count bed sheets despite the high prices (yes, our friends and families included). The idea is that behind the higher the number, the better the quality of the sheets. It has become a buzz word whenever you think and talk about luxury bed sheets.

After a year of speaking to suppliers and comparing tonnes of linen, we’ve come to this conclusion: Thread count matters – but only to a certain extent. Beyond that, its all a marketing gimmick.


So what else actually matters?


  • Type of material – cotton vs tencel vs polyester vs microfibers (more on this next time)
  • Quality of the cotton fibre – perhaps the most important trait of them all – short vs long vs extra-long staple cotton fibres. The longer the staple, the stronger the fabric and thread
  • Oeko-Tex® certified – needs to be free of harmful chemicals
  • Yarn count – different from the thread count, a yarn count suggests how soft a material is
  • Weave – a percale weave gives a crisp cool feeling while a sateen weave gives us a smooth buttery touch

Now if you’re not one for research, don’t forget! Just skip ahead and buy the sheets we designed ourselves with many smart features you won’t find in other sheets! Just click here. Otherwise, lets dive deeper below…


So what does the thread count number mean for bed sheets?


Let’s first look at how thread count is calculated: take a square inch of fabric, then count the number of threads that go across it vertically and multiply that by the horizontal threads. In the simplified example below, the thread count would be 15 x 15 = 225 thread count sheet.



The higher the number is, the softer, denser and and smoother it is, to a certain extent. After all, your skin is in contact with more cotton fibres. Now this all makes sense to us: higher thread count = better quality. But what about those 1500 – 5000 thread count sheets with the crazy price tags? What are they made of?

We ran this past our manufacturers. Within a 1 inch cloth, there is only so much fibres you can fit into that area. It is impossible to squeeze more strands of fabric above 400 thread counts within that 1 inch even if they wanted to, unless they start to twist fabric together! The conclusion was there were 2 ways of getting 500 – 5000 thread count sheets.


Method 1 to get high thread counts: Using poorer quality cotton fibres

In order to inflate the thread count, those 500- 1500 thread count sheets usually 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.

For example, take the same exact cloth example above – but this time, in order to get a higher thread count sheet, manufacturers weave 2 cotton threads together, the sheet magically becomes a 30 x 30 = 900 thread count sheet!



Unless the same type and thread of cotton fibres are used, thread counts are essentially a marketing gimmick and a math trick. Manufacturers often make sheets with more than 400 thread count using cheaper and weaker cotton that would require extra plies to stay together which results in lower quality fabrics and a rougher sleep experience.


Method 2: Using the same high quality cotton fibres

We aren’t saying that every bed sheet set out that that claims to have high thread count is using poor quality cotton. There are the rare exceptions where high quality cotton fibres are used.

We ourselves managed to get our hands on ‘true’ 800 thread count sheets, where although the cotton strands were weaved together, they were still high quality cotton fibres. To be honest, we couldn’t tell the difference in smoothness or luxury between the 800 thread count sheets and the 400 thread count sheets. Except that it was thick – so thick that it was very VERY hot. It also costs twice as much as the 400 thread count sheets – and honestly, we wouldn’t bother with them.

All Kapas Living bed sheets and bedding sets are 400 thread count sheets, making them one of the softest sheets in the market. Get a bit better acquainted with thread count so you’ll get the best bang for your buck.


What does the research say on the optimal thread count?

According to the study done by Consumer Reports in a past sheet test, they found that higher thread count doesn’t necessarily mean better sheet quality.

In their research, they found that high thread count numbers result from twisting together thinner strands of cotton in the bed sheets. Pat Slaven, a textile expert at Consumer Reports says “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”.


"The sweet spot is 400 thread counts"



We are essentially keeping the thread count to an optimal to ensure that good air circulation and you feel cool throughout the night – admit it, no one likes waking up sweaty!


What really matters?

In the world of cotton, we realise if we have to pick one thing, the biggest factor determining a great sleep is the type of cotton. It doesn’t matter where its from (Egyptian cotton, Supima cotton, Indian cotton – none of this matters). The only thing that matters is the strength and length of the cotton fibres. The longer the fibres, the longer it will last and the smoother your sheets will be. We listed the length of cotton staples below:

  • Short staple cotton fibres = 29mm
  • Long-staple cotton = 32mm
  • Extra-long staple cotton = >34mm

If its the length of the staple is not on the packaging, and all it says its 100% cotton, its safe to assume its made from short-staple cotton. We at Kapas however, are proud to say that our cotton is 37mm extra-long staple cotton – superior to even long-staple cotton and will last you a long time, is super soft to the touch and airy.

The article by Business Insider also quotes that quality bed sheets are ones that become improve with every wash – something we are sure of after about 5 washes!



Instead of focusing on just the thread count, consider also the other makeup of the sheets. Before buying your sheets, research the brand’s fibre length, weave and fabric treatment to ensure it suits your needs. The best way to keep your sheets nice, crisps and long lasting is to avoid washing them with other laundry materials to avoid pilling resulting in rough bed sheet surfaces.


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