Unraveling the Great Thread Count Myth

By Brit Kleinman  |  Jan 9, 2017
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After spending 18 months designing a sheet that improves the way we sleep, I discovered a few things about how the industry really works.

The way things are sold, and the way they work, don’t always match up.

I spent over a year designing the Casper sheets, and when it comes to making a product like sheets, there’s a lot of tension between fashion and function in the industry. A high thread count is a prime example. People are told that a big number corresponds with a a soft and luxurious sheet, and many companies produce 1,000 thread count sheets and higher to meet the demand, yet much of it is a myth. A high thread count doesn’t necessarily equal a better sheet. It equals a denser sheet. The perfect thread count, for the best sleep, is far lower than what’s typically found in the ‘Home’ aisle.

A lot of sheets are made the same way. Typically, a company approaches a vendor with criteria that they think will drive sales — 1,000 thread count, anti-wrinkle — and places a bulk order. The anti-wrinkle treatments look great at first, but are full of chemicals that degrade over time. A high thread count sounds good, but looms have a cap on the number of vertical threads they can accommodate. Companies have to stuff fibers through the weave horizontally, or use fuzzy math, to create a textile with 800, 1,000, or more threads per square inch, with little positive impact on softness or comfort. Many sheets are like shiny red apples that are primarily engineered to catch our eye.

I designed a very different set because of the way Casper is set up. We look at products through the lens of how they impact our sleep. Using sensors and some specially-designed experiments, we found that the relative humidity under the covers can reach 80% during the night, depending on the person and the thread count (density) of the sheets they’re sleeping under. A high thread count meant sheets were less breathable, while the right thread count supported better airflow. After many rounds of feedback, we zeroed in on an optimal number of threads per square inch that helps the body to maintain a comfortable temperature throughout the night. But it wasn’t the only thing we did differently.

The filter of “better sleep” helped us cut through the noise in more ways than just thread count. I got to spend more time on things like the fiber, which rarely gets any love. A lot of sheets are made from a yarn that’s composed of short fibers. They stick up like grass, feel scratchy, and are generally used to reduce costs. A long fiber is what creates that feeling of softness as you pull a sheet up around your shoulders. We tested a range of fibers, both natural and man-made, and I selected one of the longest cotton fibers in the world for use in the Casper sheets. It complements their perfect thread count and gets softer and softer with use.

The result is a sheet set that’s engineered from the ingredient level. It’s designed to be crisp, natural, and support better rest. Unlike a lot of sheets, too, they improve over time. You can see how they came out here.

 — Brit is a senior designer at Casper. She takes an anthropological approach to design and is passionate about creating products with purposeful beauty.
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