Buying guide: The truth about thread count
Is there anything better than sliding into a bed laden with good quality sheets? At the end of the day, I can't wait to stretch out under my fresh, soft covers and nestle my face into a good cotton-covered pillow. We spend a third of our lives in bed so quality sheets are key, but how do you get quality for your money? There's no doubt that most consumers believe the higher the thread count, the better the quality, but this isn't entirely true. With the help and expertise of Joanna Goodman, owner of Au Lit Fine Linens, we expose the truth about thread count and what it takes to find quality bed sheets.
What is thread count, really?
Simply put, thread count is the number of threads woven into one square inch of fabric. This number is based on the threads woven horizontally ("weft") and vertically ("warp"). Extra threads can also be woven into the weft threads to increase the thread count. These added threads are called "picks" and are added in the overall count, which is how some sheets end up having thread counts in the thousands. This is why the idea that high counts equal better quality isn't really accurate. Consider this: Joanna says most weavers will say the maximum number of threads that can be woven into one square inch of fabric is 500 to 600. Though the number is arguable and, according to Joanna, "depends on the mill you deal with," it gives you an idea of where the line is between single-ply, unpicked weaves and ones that add threads here and there to bump up the count.
What to look for when buying sheets
Joanna lists three things to look for on the label: if it's Egyptian cotton, where it's woven and, lastly, the thread count. While thread count is a bit misunderstood, the buzz around Egyptian cotton is true. "The very best cotton in the world is grown in Egypt. So Egyptian cotton will be of a better quality," Joanna says. She also recommends pima cotton, which is grown in America, "though not quite as exceptional as Egyptian." When it comes to weaving, however, she swears by the Italians as being the "master weavers of the world" due to their "long tradition of weaving" and use of the best Egyptian cotton. Be sure the label says 100% or pure Egyptian cotton though, otherwise it may only contain a small percentage of the good stuff. As for the thread count, look for a minimum of 200. From there, it's all about preference!
What to avoid when buying sheets
Joanna's one key piece of advice is to watch out for extremely low priced, high thread count sheet sets. A complete sheet set with a high thread count for $100 or less is probably not the dream bargain you think it is. As Joanna believes, "you always get what you pay for." The price tag for bed linens will vary depending on the sheet size and what items you're buying, such as a duvet cover, sheet sets, or pillowcases. "A superior quality 200 thread count queen set (including flat, fitted, two pillowcases), made of Egyptian cotton and woven in Europe, could retail reasonably for about $150-$250," says Joanna.
What do you prefer?
After going through the quality checklist, go with what feels best for you. If you're looking for a durable linen, Joanna recommends any percale from thread count 200 to 800. Percale is any cotton woven with a 200 thread count or higher and will be more durable than a cotton satin of the same thread count. It's also less likely to pill than cotton satin because it has a denser weave. Love the feel of a cotton button down shirt? Joanna advises a crisp, dense 200 thread count percale. Prefer a silkier sheet? Go for a 300 to 600 cotton satin. If you want lighter sheets, Joanna says, a 400 thread count sheet can be soft and light, while an 800 percale would be soft and dense. The higher the thread count, the more likely multiple-ply thread is used or picks are added, making the fabric denser and heavier.
Now you know that quality is not just about the number, so don't let numbers rule your bed! Remember what to look for on the label and be wary of too-low prices for supposedly high quality items. Beyond that, go with what you prefer. Get a good feel of the sheets before buying. Whether you're unzipping the packaging or lying down on a display bed, make sure the fabric feels good against your skin and soon you'll be having sweet dreams!
Find out how to keep your new linens crisp and clean with our tips to whiter-than-white sheets.
Getting and staying organized isn't easy. If you're struggling to conquer clutter once and for all, our simple 99 organizing tips should help get you started.
We know, we know: getting organized at home can be easier vowed than done. But even if you’re short on time (and budget), there are dozens of ways you can get your house in order. Here are 99 of our favourite low-cost organizing tips; many of them are environmentally friendly, too!
A stunning kitchen design that proves open display may require more organization, but it's so beautiful it's worth it!
1 Use old baby-food jars to hold spices. Stash them in a drawer upside down so this recycling trick looks sleek, not cheap.
2 Store all your instruction manuals in one binder in the kitchen or pantry.
3 Collect your takeout menus in a binder. Or stuff them into a Ziploc bag and stash 'em – where else? – in the fridge or cupboard.
4 Use a cardboard six-pack container to carry condiments from kitchen to deck in BBQ-casual style.
5 Keep a tray or basket on the kitchen counter where kids can drop off permission slips and adults can put mail requiring immediate action. A second tray can handle lower-priority paperwork.
6 Don’t waste time constantly topping up cereal-sized food storage containers with dog or cat kibble. Use a metal trashcan to store one bag at a time in rodent-proof style.
7 Use a recharging station to keep your cell phone, MP3 player and other portable device cords untangled and your gadgets fully charged.
8 Can’t find fresh garlic or onions? Keep them in clean knee-high nylons. Hang in a cool, dry place.
9 Post a sheet of paper on the fridge and note groceries and supplies needing replenishing. On grocery day, just grab the sheet and go.
10 Reduce spoilage of fruits and veggies by “rotating” your crops. Put new ones underneath ones that were already in your crisper.
11 Use small jam jars to hold cotton swabs, balls and other essentials inside your bathroom vanity drawers.
12 Use an old wooden stepladder to hold bath and hand towels.
13 Cut the amount of time you spend going from linen closet to bathroom by installing extra towel storage via a hotel-style double towel bar.
14 And a stash of bath towels rolled inside a basket helps, too.
15 Store kids’ bath toys in a fine-laundry bag. Hang from the faucet 'til fully drained.
16 Use a shower organizer and just the basics: mild shampoo, conditioner and a body wash.
17 Stash extra shower products in plastic caddies – one per family member.
18 Keep cleaning products in a caddy, too.
19 Post a sheet of paper in the bathroom and note bathroom supplies that need replenishing. On grocery day, just grab the sheet and go.
20 Assign teens and tweens their “own” towel sets by colour. Sorting laundry becomes super-easy and sharing-aversive kids are content.
21 For the living room or family room, get an ottoman or bench with hidden storage under the seat.
22 Large woven or wooden baskets stash clutter effectively, so stock up.
23 Got kids? Get large tubs that can be used to deploy toys – and quickly move them out of living spaces when company’s coming.
24 Don’t hold on to magazines. Just rip out any pages you want to keep for future reference, keep in a file folder, then recycle the rest.
25 Toss dirty socks into mesh fine-laundry bags. Orphaned socks will be a thing of the past.
26 Dollar store plastic caddies are perfect for grouping cleaning products upright in cabinets – no tipping!
27 Recycle old plastic shopping bags. Store them in an empty Kleenex box ‘til you need them.
28 Store batteries in plastic berry baskets until you’re ready to drop them off at the recycling centre.
29 Ditto for compact fluorescent bulbs and orchard fruit baskets.
30 Big, busy family? Paint one entire wall in your mudroom in chalkboard paint so everyone can easily leave messages for one another.
31 Keep one basket per person in your mudroom or front entrance, so everyone knows where to drop off/find their personal on-the-go essentials like keys, bags, homework etc.
32 Designate a back-to-car zone by your entranceway, and put anything there that requires returning to the trunk – i.e. reusable grocery bags, empties – so the next person to use the car will remember to bring them.
33 Remove the front and back from a picture frame and string rows of wire across the centre. Hang it or lean it against the wall and hook earrings onto each wire.
34 For easy jewellery storage, use an old dressmaker’s dolly to hang necklaces and hook earrings into.
35 Shopaholics can put those pretty boutique bags to use by hanging them on the wall or arranging them on a shelf, where they can store scarves and belts.
36 Do a card run – birthdays, holidays, new baby etc. – once a year and store cards in a file tote.
37 Use ice cube trays to hold clips, erasers and other desk-drawer essentials.
38 Use an old wooden stepladder to hold books.
39 Use white address label stickers to label what each cord in a power bar is for.
40 Paint an oversized canvas in one bold colour and hang it from the wall. Pin a rotating collection of your kids’ artwork on it.
41 Post a sheet of paper on your bulletin board and note office supplies that need replenishing.
42 Use a canvas over-the-door shoe organizer to organize small kids toys and art supplies.
43 Those ubiquitous Danish butter cookie tins can be both an art project and art storage unit for kids. First let your child decoupage it. Then use it to hold crayons and pastels.
44 Post those novelty basketball rings above anything you want your kids to slam dunk stuff into rather than the floor: garbage cans, laundry baskets, etc.
45 For preschoolers too young to use hangers with ease, install a low bar in the closet and simply drape dresses and pants across it to keep them wrinkle-free and easily accessible.
46 Have your child plan their wardrobe one school week at a time. Store outfits within five stacking cubbies or on five combination hangers (hangers with a bar and clips to hold pants as well as a top) to streamline their morning routine.
47 Keep sheet sets organized by folding and storing the fitted sheet, flat sheet and pillowcase inside the second pillowcase.
48 If you don’t want to buy stacking shoeboxes, recycle the cardboard boxes your shoes came in by cutting out a panel at one end for visibility and ventilation.
49 Install a closet organization system: it’ll pay itself off with time and aggravation saved!
50 A well-lit wardrobe is easier to keep organized. Install a Solatube, skylight or adequate artificial light for your needs.
51 Don’t limit closet storage to hangers. Hang hooks on the door for frequently used items.
52 Tackle that kitchen junk drawer problem head on. Today. Purge, edit and keep things in place with a drawer organizer.
53 Are you a piler, not filer? That’s fine, just keep piles of paperwork organized by using folders and write-on clips.
54 Recycle leftover gift-wrap ribbons by using them to tie up extra electrical and other cords in your utility closet.
55 Dedicated tie, belt and scarf holders are closet must-haves.
56 Upgrade your address book for a classic Rolodex. They’re retro-chic and easy to keep updated.
57 Buy a framed corkboard, hang it in the kitchen and pin up favourite recipes, clipped from magazines.
58 Make space by putting your CDs in organizers, by genre. Recycle the jewel cases or put them into storage in the attic.
59 Or, purge your CD clutter once and for all by having your CDs converted to digital files at riptopia.com. Sell or donate the used CDs.
60 Buy a hotel-style hairdryer that can be installed on the wall to save space, time and energy in a small bathroom.
61 A pot-lid holder puts the vertical space behind a cabinet door to good use.
62 A wrap-organizer does the same, creating the perfect spot for plastic wrap, aluminum foil and waxed paper.
63 Organize vanity essentials on a vintage tray. Très organized and très chic.
64 Use an extra wine rack to hold rolled-up magazines.
65 Use cutlery trays in your drawers, but to save even more time, stash everyday flatware in a countertop caddy.
66 Shrink-wrap out of season clothes, blankets and duvets to save space while storing.
67 You’ll never fit sheets back into those reusable vinyl zip pouches they were sold in, but you can stash cloth napkins in them. Use one pouch per set and label the quantity with a Sharpie.
68 Buy 10 pairs of the same gym socks, to minimize sorting.
69 Do the same for your hubby.
70 Do the same for his dress socks if he can get away with always wearing the same black ones during fall/winter at least.
71 Stash kids’ art supplies on a lazy Susan so everything is easily accessible.
72 Organize household bills in an accordion file with month-by-month pockets.
73 Hold onto paint chips, fabric swatches and brochures from your last redecorating session. You never know when you’ll need to reference them. Store them in an accordion file.
74 On your mudroom wall, hammer in two nails, then string wire between them. Provide clothes pegs and have your kids hang their wet mittens and gloves to dry overnight.
75 Banish tiny piles of coins and start saving in style. Get a designer piggy bank and keep it by the entranceway, laundry or kitchen—wherever you’d like to dump your change.
76 Tired of that circa-90s cast-iron pot rack? Move it from the kitchen to the garage or potting shed and use it to keep garden tools organized.
77 Get – and use – a garden hose caddy.
78 Edit your hangers. Choose: wire, plastic or wood and unify the hangers in every closet.
79 Use pillboxes to stash your earrings and rings when traveling.
80 Use a soda-can dispenser in the fridge so you can access your pop easily without tipping.
81 Use a wall-mounted broom and mop holder, or tie ribbon loops on the end of poles and hang them from hooks in your closet, garage or utility closet.
82 Make a party kit. Stash napkins, extra glassware and plates, votive candles and holders, extra vases, cocktail picks and other necessities in an old wine crate and pull it out pre-party or pre-holiday entertaining so you don’t waste valuable cupboard space.
83 Use a binder to store all medical records and information for everyone in your family, including each pet. Use dividers for each family member and include plastic pouches or expandable pockets to contain receipts and tiny record cards.
84 Stash awkward, easy-to-misplace necessities (extra hairbrushes, lint roller) in decorative reusable tote bags. Hang them off a doorknob in every room.
85 Burn digital images to CD once a month so you’ll never lose them if your computer (gasp!) crashes. Or print them ASAP!
86 Store photos in archival-quality, acid-free boxes until you have time to organize them in albums.
87 Get a heavy-duty paper shredder for peace of mind – and efficient shredding without risk of overheating.
88 Place your shredder where you intercept daily mail. If that’s the kitchen, so be it.
89 Put a small plastic caddy in your gym bag so you can manage hair care and skincare products without dropping anything. Excess water will just drain out.
90 Stop losing lock combinations and computer passwords once and for all. Jot everyone’s codes and combinations down in a notebook and store it in your family’s fireproof lockbox.
91 Store reusable shopping bags one inside the other.
92 Always keep one cute, foldable shopping tote in each of your heavy-rotation purses so you’re never caught without.
93 Avoid the last-minute drugstore run by always having a kit of your favourite travel-sized toiletries (and common OTC meds like allergy pills) packed and waiting in your suitcase.
94 Get a gift-wrap organizer and stock up on a year’s worth of wrap and ribbons, or ready-to-fill bags and tissue.
95 If perishables regularly go to waste in your fridge, start planning weekly dinner menus. Just buy ingredients for those meals, plus lunch basics. Post the menu on your fridge so you’re on track.
96 Mount a magnetized knife rack to a wall in your utility closet or basement, to keep your most commonly used screwdrivers and wrenches handy, not buried in the toolbox.
97 Donate your battery-powered emergency flashlights and stock up on windup models so you never have to worry about replacing batteries.
98 Stop stressing over the emergency preparedness kit the Canadian government recommends all families have. Just make one and get on with your life. Visit getprepared.ca to learn what to put in it. Stash it in a rolling suitcase so it’s mobile in case you have to be, too.
99 Plan a closet clean-out once per season. Less mess makes staying organized a lot easier.
The 10 dirtiest things in your house
Keep your house healthy and clean by learning how to eradicate germs.
What are the 10 dirtiest, grimiest, germiest, stinkiest, grossest things in your home? We spoke to cleaning expert Anne, from Toronto-based Homestead Maid to get the lowdown on the most common, worst-offending messes in Canadian homes.
Here's the thing: Not all these trouble spots are obvious. In fact, many look clean. The good news is it doesn't take a lot of elbow grease – or harsh chemical cleaners – to ensure they truly are clean.
Here's what to look out for and how to get it squeaky clean.
"When it comes to dirt and germs, first and foremost are the actual rags, sponges and scrub brushes you clean with," says Anne. Cleaning 411: • Run sponges through the dishwasher, or microwave them on high for a couple of minutes. • Nylon and stainless-steel scouring pads and brushes can go in the dishwasher. • Rinse, wring out and hang dry kitchen rags after use; launder them either every couple days or when they begin to smell. • Always toss rags into the laundry after they've been used to mop up spills from raw meat.
Don't just clean the toilet bowl and seat. The real mess is usually on the rim, toilet base and surrounding floor. "Especially when you have small children – or men – in the household," says Anne. Cleaning 411: • Always wipe down the toilet rim and base when cleaning the toilet. • Wipe or mop the floor around the toilet base as needed or at least weekly.
"All kinds of food debris gets caught in the drain and causes bad smells," says Anne. Left to build up too long, clogs can develop. Cleaning 411: • Pour a cup of baking soda down the drain followed by a cup of white vinegar, let sit for a minute, then pour a kettle of boiling water down the drain, for an inexpensive, eco-friendly once-a-week disinfecting/deodorizing treatment.
If you leave it dirty, you risk your pet ingesting spoiled food. You may also attract ants, roaches or mice. Cleaning 411: • Promptly wipe up spilled food or water. • Wash bowls regularly. • Protect flooring by placing bowls on a washable placemat or charger plate.
After all, where does kitty step right after she's done her business in her loo? Cleaning 411: • Vacuum, then wipe down/mop with vinegar and hot water. • Alternatively, lay a washable car mat by the litter box. Wash with hot water and dish detergent as needed.
"This actually depends on how vigilantly people in the home wash their hands," says Anne. Cleaning 411: • If you have small kids, wipe down knobs as needed or weekly (use a rag and hot soapy water or wet wipes). • Otherwise, wipe down knobs whenever you clean your baseboards (more frequently on bathroom doorknobs).
"In fact, everything you touch during and after changing baby and before hand-washing needs to be cleaned," says Anne. PRO TIP: Don't use harsh anti-bacterial cleaners in the nursery. Regular wet wipes – yes, the same ones you use during diaper changes! – are perfect for nursery spot-cleaning. Cleaning 411: • Wipe down the diaper pail exterior with a wet wipe, daily. • Clean the interior as per manufacturer instructions, or with hot soapy water as needed.
"People forget to clean the inside of the microwave, so it gets pretty dirty," says Anne. Cleaning 411: • Clean the interior surfaces with hot soapy water and a sponge (a nylon scrubber is also fine, but never use a harsh metal scouring pad); rinse and wipe dry. • If there's crusty food residue, run the microwave with a bowl of water or wet dishcloth for a couple of minutes. Steam softens dry food residue so it can be wiped clean.
Especially near the toilet. "It's the pee factor again," says Anne. Cleaning 411: • Hot vinegar-y water with a rag will clean and deodorize.
We tread on them daily, right? Cleaning 411: • Protect your floors (and children's health) by always removing shoes at the door to avoid trekking in dirt, pollution (yes, lead dust can travel in on shoes!), and germs. • Sweep or vacuum as required or at least weekly. • Mop up spills immediately, spot-clean dirty spots. • DON'T go overboard with harsh cleaning chemicals, says Anne. "A lot of flooring surfaces are very sensitive and hot water mixed with vinegar is safest for the finish. And always really wring out the mop so it's damp, not soaking wet," says Anne.
Victorian home gets a spacious kitchen facelift
Convenient storage solutions are at the heart of this Victorian home’s kitchen renovation.
Tara Ellis and Andrew Bell lived with the cramped and outdated kitchen in their semi-detached Victorian in Toronto for 12 years before deciding it was time to make some changes. Not only was the space aesthetically unpleasant, but it was also a pain in their backs – literally. “The existing countertop was installed below standard height. I’m six feet tall, and my husband is about as tall,” says Tara.
Since a few other rooms in the house weren’t terribly livable either, they called on designer Philippe Beauparlant to oversee a massive renovation. “As for the kitchen,” says Tara, “we wanted a better layout with lots of storage, and I’ve always loved a banquette.”
The planning process
“One of the challenges I noticed right away,” says Philippe, “was the kitchen’s poor connection to the backyard.” Specifically, the back door in the adjacent mud room opened onto a tall outdoor staircase. His solution was to move the inside stairs that led down to the basement to the back of the house, incorporating a lower landing area that’s level with the yard. This clever approach allowed for floor-to-ceiling storage on the landing. And with the back wall now completely clad in glass, natural light floods the kitchen.
The design decisions
While the couple loves a modern industrial feel, they also wanted to preserve the home’s character. That’s why Philippe chose a clean cabinet door profile and installed crown moulding that matches an existing one in the house. He also played up the heritage aspect by picking a traditional grey-green shade for the cabinetry. A splash of colour comes from mustard yellow pendant lights and tomato red handles on the Wolf range, which Tara tied together with two stools her mother calls “mustard and ketchup.”
“Everyone gravitates to the kitchen now because it’s so bright and airy in the day and cozy at night,” says Tara.
A dark, cluttered, uninviting kitchen.
Count on designer Philippe Beauparlant to solve the space crunch in this small kitchen.
“There’s a good mix of open and closed shelving,” says designer Philippe Beauparlant of the renovated kitchen. Walnut-veneered uppers open horizontally and provide access to all the items the homeowners use regularly but want out of sight. Only the most used dishes were designated for open shelving so they don’t gather dust.
The dining table was custom made from vintage table legs and a reclaimed-wood top stained to just the right grey-brown. The banquette’s vinyl fabric looks like leather but is easier to maintain.
The floor-to-ceiling cabinet on the landing houses coats and boots as well as sports equipment and seasonal items like patio cushions.
The cabinet on the left side of the range houses a pullout bin for recycling. The garbage and compost containers are located under the sink.
Tins and vases help declutter counters and spice up the area.
Crisp white jars and dishes keep the kitchen clean and simple.
Grey grout deliberately draws attention to the unique pattern of the white subway-tiled backsplash.