Cotton vs. Microfiber Sheets: What’s the Difference?

Good bed sheets are essential when it comes to getting comfortable sleep. Not only do bed sheets affect your comfort, but they also protect your bed sheets from stains, wear,…

Last Updated On December 4th, 2021
Cotton vs. Microfiber Sheets: What’s the Difference?

Good bed sheets are essential when it comes to getting comfortable sleep. Not only do bed sheets affect your comfort, but they also protect your bed sheets from stains, wear, and moisture. If you’ve spent a lot of money buying a great mattress, be sure to buy good sheets to help keep it clean.

Two popular types of bed sheets include cotton and microfiber. Cotton is a natural fiber harvested from cotton plants, while microfiber is made up of synthetic materials such as polyester or nylon.

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We break down the distinct differences between cotton and microfiber sheets so you get a better idea of which works better for you and your mattress.

What are Cotton Sheets?

Cotton is a durable fiber harvested from cotton plants. Civilizations have harvested and used cotton for thousands of years and even today, it’s one of the most popular fabrics.

Although it may not seem like it, cotton is a very versatile material. Based on how the cotton is treated after being harvested, it can either feel soft or rough and be durable or weak.

The best cotton sheets generally have longer staples, meaning the cotton fibers are longer and finer, yet still durable. Having such fine cotton means the fabric turns out softer. Some examples of long-staple cotton sheets include Egyptian or Pima cotton. These types of sheets generally have higher thread counts, meaning there is more cotton per square inch of fabric.

Cheaper cotton sheets feature short staples and the most common type is Upland cotton. Short-staple sheets generally feel coarse, scratchy, and are at a higher risk of pilling. Shorter-staple cotton is less fine and has a lower thread count than long-staple cotton.

Pros of Cotton Sheets

  • Available in countless varieties, both affordable and luxurious
  • Natural fabric
  • Good for people with allergies
  • Low maintenance
  • Durable
  • Breathable and moisture-resistant

Cons of Cotton Sheets

  • Potentially inflated thread counts
  • Some variations are expensive

What are Microfiber Sheets?

Microfiber bed sheets are composed of finely woven fibers made from wood pulp, polyester, or nylon polymers. They’re affordable and soft, yet they’re more durable than traditional polyester sheets. As a synthetic fabric, microfiber is less likely to wrinkle or shrink compared to all-natural fabrics like cotton.

Microfiber is measured by its denier, or each fiber’s thickness. A fabric’s denier must be less than 1 denier in diameter to be considered microfiber.

A microfiber sheets’ weave affects its durability and quality. Microfiber sheets with a flat weave are durable, resistant to stains, and repel moisture. Conversely, microfiber sheets with a waffle weave are highly absorbent and trap heat, which isn’t a reliable bed sheet.

Still, sleeping on microfiber is an all-around good choice if you want soft and smooth sheets, but don’t want to pay a high price. Good-quality microfiber sheets with a flat weave are good on a child’s bed in case of accidents.

Pros of Microfiber Sheets

  • Low maintenance
  • Flat, tightly woven microfiber is durable
  • Soft and lightweight

Cons of Microfiber Sheets

  • Absorbs moisture
  • Prone to stains
  • Staticky
  • Traps heat
  • Waffle-patterned microfiber is prone to moisture

How to Choose Between Cotton and Microfiber

Cotton-vs-Microfiber-Sheets

Choosing between cotton or microfiber might be a bit difficult. We recommend weighing the pros and cons between both types of sheets, but also considering their feel, durability, maintenance needs, and price.

Feel and Comfort

Cotton is known for its soft, fresh, and crisp feel, especially when you first start sleeping on a new sheet set. With every wash, cotton gets just a bit softer and softer. Based on the thread count of the cotton sheets, they’ll feel either softer or rougher. Higher thread counts typically feel softer, while lower thread counts feel rougher.

Microfiber has a smooth and slippery feel, similar to silk or satin. With this in mind, microfiber tends to trap more heat compared to cotton. The heat retention can be great if you live in a colder climate, or if it’s wintertime. Otherwise, it can get uncomfortable.

Durability

Cotton sheets with high thread counts generally last much longer than cotton sheets with lower thread counts. Lower thread counts tend to pill more, making them less comfortable, so you’ll need to replace them sooner. On the other hand, higher quality cotton gets softer with each wash without causing the cotton to wear down.

Microfiber sheets with a flat weave fare better long-term than microfiber sheets with a waffle weave. They can withstand frequent washes without deteriorating or pilling. Flat weaves are also less likely to wrinkle or shrink when washed and dried.

Maintenance

Both microfiber and cotton sheets are fairly easy to wash. Most of the time, both microfiber and cotton sheets are safe to toss in the washing machine and dryer on the warm water setting. Unless the sheets clearly state having other care needs, it’s safe to assume they’re machine washable. However, be sure to check the laundry care instructions first.

With this in mind, microfiber is more likely to feel staticky after being washed and dried. Microfiber with a waffle weave is also more likely to absorb moisture and it can be hard to remove stains. Some types of microfiber may also need to be washed on a low-temperature setting.

Price

Microfiber sheets and cotton sheets are both available in a wide range of price points, with affordable and luxurious variations. Still, microfiber sheet sets are cheaper on average than cotton sheets since they are synthetic.

FAQs

What cotton thread count is best?

Thread count refers to the number of threads within a square inch of fabric. Generally, a good thread count of cotton sheets is between 200 to 600 and the sheets will be soft, durable, and smooth.

When it comes to cotton sheets, some brands inflate their thread counts of the sheets to seem more luxurious. In reality, manufacturers layer thin, low-quality pieces of cotton. So while the thread count can be 800 or higher, it’s not a better quality sheet compared to thread counts between 200 to 600.

Do hotels use cotton or microfiber sheets?

Hotels use all sorts of sheets in their bedrooms, but the ideal fabric should be durable and easy to care for. Generally, most hotels have cotton and linen sheets in their bedrooms since both fabrics are durable, breathable, and low maintenance. At the same time, they have a crisp and luxurious feel.

Microfiber sheets simply can’t withstand the amount of wear and tear they’d receive at a hotel. They also aren’t as breathable as cotton or linen, which may not be as comfortable.

How often should you replace your bed sheets?

Generally, you should replace your bed sheets every 2 to 3 years. This includes your pillowcases, fitted sheets, and flat sheets. The exact lifespan of a set of bed sheets depends on what type of fabric it’s made of.

Some signs of wear to keep in mind include:

  • Thinning
  • Yellowing or discoloration
  • Fading colors
  • Pills on the fabric

In general, you can extend the life of your bedding by washing sheets regularly and following the laundry care instructions.

How many sets of bed sheets should you own?

It’s best to have two or three sets of bed sheets per bed, especially if you tend to sleep hot and sweat throughout the night. This way, you won’t have to constantly wash your bed sheets if you sweat frequently, or if the bed is for a child who sometimes has accidents.

Another reason to have multiple sheets is that on laundry day, you always have an extra set of sheets ready to use.

What is the best material for sheets to keep you cool?

Some of the best types of bed sheets for hot sleepers include cotton, Tencel™ sheets (cellulose), and linen bedding. They’re all smooth and moisture-wicking so you don’t end up sleeping in your sweat. Some other types of sheets sometimes can be moisture-wicking and cool as well, but these are the most reliable in terms of being consistently cool.

Conclusion

Never overlook the importance of a good quality sheet. It’s always easy to choose whatever’s cheapest, but we implore you to learn about different types of sheets—like cotton and microfiber—to truly figure out what will best fit your preferences. Just going with a cheap, random option can leave you constantly uncomfortable and hot at night.

Both cotton and microfiber sheets are soft and cozy, but their cost and durability can help you decide which of the two will help you achieve your ideal sleep environment.


About the author

April Mayer has a degree in exercise physiology and is a firm believer in the power of a good night’s sleep. April’s passion lies in helping others lead more productive lives by helping them get sound, restful sleep every night. April primarily writes about foods and vitamins for better sleep and has written several “better sleep guides” covering a wide variety of topics in her time with Early Bird.

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