Microfiber Sheets vs. Cotton

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In the market for soft yet durable new bed sheets? Microfiber and cotton are two great options. We’re breaking down these popular threads to help you find out which one is right for you.

Microfiber vs. Cotton Sheets at a Glance

Microfiber and cotton are two common materials for sheets, but they’re popular for different reasons. Some of the biggest things that set them apart are price, temperature, and feel. High-quality cotton sheets tend to come with a higher price tag than microfiber. Microfiber will also typically feel warm and cozy while cotton has more of a crisp, airy feel.

Microfiber SheetsCotton Sheets
MaterialSynthetic fiber made of polyester or nylon fibersEgyptian, Pima, or Upland cotton
Typical thread count50-120 (GSM)300-500
BreathabilityAverage Excellent
FeelSoft, suede-like feelSoft, crisp feel
Typical careMachine-washable and dryableMachine-washable and dryable

Microfiber Sheets: Overview

Microfiber fabric has been around since the 1950s. It’s a synthetic material that’s usually made from polyester fibers, but it can also be created with nylon fibers. It’s a thinner thread than cotton, so they’re woven more tightly together. This creates that warm, suede-like feel.

Breathability

If you wake up sweaty, or sleep hot in general, microfiber might not be the material for you. But if you love the lower price and the warm, cozy feel of microfiber, just be sure to avoid brushed and double-brushed. These terms refer to a textile manufacturing technique used to raise the surface fibers which leads to softer, warmer material. You can also look for microfiber blended with cotton or bamboo, known for their breathability.

Grams per square meter (GSM)

Microfiber is measured in grams per square meter, or GSM, not thread count. The average range is between 50 and 120 GSM. The higher the GSM, the thicker and heavier the fabric.
Once you start shopping, you’ll see some companies claim a certain “thread count” but that’s just for comparison, not a literal measurement.  

Durability

A quality set of microfiber sheets should last up to about 3 years. You can typically get a nice queen sheet set for less than $50 when shopping for microfiber sheets. 

Maintenance

One benefit of microfiber sheets is that they’re relatively low maintenance. You can simply toss them your washer and dryer to care for them. Microfiber is also more stain-resistant than cotton, meaning liquids often bead up on the surface. This gives you a little more time to spot clean it before the stain sets. This material also doesn’t pill the way that cotton does. 

Feel

Microfiber sheets feature a velvety-soft texture. The tightly-woven, thin fibers of this material create warmth and coziness. Want even more of that kind of feel? You can also find microfiber sheets with brushed or double-brushed treatments. Brushed microfiber has a treatment on one side of the sheets while double-brushed is treated on both sides.

Variety

You can pick from a few varieties of microfiber. These include 100% microfiber, a blend, or brushed/double brushed. It may raise the price of the sheet set, but if microfiber is blended with cotton or bamboo, a hot sleeper can have the velvety soft feel plus a cool night’s sleep. On the other hand, if you find you get cold at night, the brushed or double brushed sheets can keep things warmer and feel even softer than regular microfiber. 

Microfiber Sheets Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Budget-friendly
  • Very soft texture
  • Stain- and wrinkle-resistant

Cons

  • Traps heat (not ideal for hot sleepers or on memory foam mattresses)
  • Synthetic material may irritate sensitive skin
  • Sheets can get staticky

Shopping Tips for Microfiber Sheets

  • Return Policy/Trial Period: When purchasing something as important as a sleep accessory, you want to get it right. Look for products that have an excellent return policy or a trial period.
  • Mattress Depth: Double check if you will need a deeper pocketed fitted sheet. This is easy to overlook when purchasing, but it’s important to keep the sheets from popping off the corners. 

Cotton Sheets: Overview

The quality of cotton sheets generally comes down to the length of the cotton fibers, or staples, used in weaving the fabric. Longer fibers make for a stronger, softer fabric. This is why Egyptian cotton and Supima cotton have such good reputations, but they do come at a premium cost. When you see a cheap set of cotton sheets, it’s likely made from Upland cotton which has shorter cotton fibers. This means it’s more likely to fade and pill over time. 

Breathability

Due to its looser weave, cotton is more breathable than microfiber. Cotton sheets are available in two kinds of weaves: percale and sateen. Percale sheets are light, breathable, and cool and crisp to the touch. This is an excellent choice for hot sleepers. Sateen sheets are warme, heavier, and silky to the touch.

Thread Count

Contrary to popular belief, higher thread count does not always equal better quality. If you’re looking at longer-fiber cotton, like Egyptian and Supima, then a count of 300-500 is excellent quality. If a label promises much higher than that, they may have used a manufacturing tactic of splicing shorter, weaker fibers together to get a higher thread count. 

Durability

A set of quality cotton sheets, like Egyptian or Supima, will generally cost you between $100 and $200. But they will also likely last up to 5 years. That’s a pretty impressive lifespan for a sleep accessory that gets such heavy use.

Maintenance

Cotton sheets are easy to clean. They’re machine-washable and dryable. Over time, cotton sheets will pill, but choosing quality cotton lengthens the lifespan of the product.

Feel

Cotton sheets are known for having a crisp, clean feel, much like a freshly-pressed collared shirt. This description would fit the percale weave. If you like cotton, but wish it were a little more silky, then choose the sateen weave. Both are lightweight and breathable.

Variety

There’s a good amount of variety available when it comes to cotton sheets. You’ll find a wide  Egyptian cotton comes from cotton grown in Egypt. Supima cotton is similarly a long-staple cotton that is grown in the U.S. Sticking with one of these two varieties may be more expensive, but it will help ensure you’re buying a durable, quality set of sheets.

Cotton Sheets: Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Light and breathable
  • Durable
  • Natural material (helpful to those with sensitive skin)

Cons

  • More expensive than microfiber
  • Not stain- or wrinkle-resistant
  • Colors will fade over time

Shopping Tips for Cotton Sheets

  • 100% Cotton: Most labels use specific terms for the cotton, like Egyptian or Supima, so if it just says 100% cotton, it’s probably the short-staple Upland cotton. 
  • Thread Count: A 300-500 thread count of Egyptian or Supima cotton will be durable, soft, and breathable. There’s no need to pay more for a higher number. 

Who Would Prefer Microfiber Sheets?

  • Shoppers on a budget
  • Couples, or those who share a bed with kids or pets
  • Sleepers who prefer a velvety, soft feel

Who Would Prefer Cotton Sheets?

  • Hot sleepers
  • Sleepers with sensitive skin
  • Sleepers who like a crisp, airy sheet

Popular Microfiber Sheets

Mellanni Brushed Microfiber Sheet Set

Priced at less than $50 for a queen set, this value-buy has tons of positive reviews on Amazon. Users say the Mellanni Brushed Microfiber sheet set is durable, wrinkle-resistant, and feels velvety-soft to the touch.

1500 Series Bed Sheets by Cosy House Collection

These premium, double brushed microfiber sheets may have a high sticker price, but keep an eye out for sales. They’re made with hypoallergenic materials and feature an extra-deep 16” fitted sheet pocket. Your purchase is also backed by the brand’s 90-day money-back guarantee. 

Popular Cotton Sheets

Brooklinen Luxe Core Sheet Set

There’s a lot to love about the Brooklinen Luxe Core Sheet Set. It’s made from premium long-staple cotton, packaged in a set with many color and size choices, and backed by free exchanges and replacements.

Cloudten Luna Percale Sheet Set 

Cloudten never artificially softens or chemical-washes their sheets. Although they only come in only two colors, black and white, reviewers say these sets are crisp and breathable. If you don’t agree, you can take advantage of the risk free 100-night sleep trial.

Frequently Asked Questions

What cotton thread count is best?

When it comes to cotton sheets, a higher thread count isn’t always better. Instead, look for a quality cotton, like long-staple Egyptian or Supima, and a thread count of 300 to 500.

Do hotels use cotton or microfiber sheets?

Hotels typically use cotton sheets, although some may use linen. Cotton’s softness, durability, and breathability make it a good material when accommodating a variety of sleepers.

How often should you replace your bed sheets? 

Good quality microfiber should last 2 to 3 years, whereas a nice cotton set can reach 5 years. Because of its tightly woven fibers, microfiber will tear when it wears out, so you’ll know it’s time for it to go. Cotton will fade and pill eventually, so it’s up to you when you want to toss it.

Are microfiber sheets softer than cotton?

Microfiber sheets feel silky soft which is helpful if you toss and turn a lot. You’re less likely to get tangled up in your sheets. While soft, cotton percale feels more crisp, like a freshly ironed dress shirt. But Cotton sateen has a softer, warmer feel. No matter which weave you pick, it should get softer with every wash.

Takeaway

Microfiber and cotton sheets have more differences than similarities. If you prefer silky, soft sheets, are on a budget, or often feel cold at night, microfiber sheets will fit the bill. But if you prefer a crisp feel that gets softer over time, have a more flexible budget, or sleep hot, cotton sheets will probably be a better match.