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Microfiber vs Cotton Sheets – The Pros and Cons Compared

In my experience?

Buying a set of bed sheets is more confusing than it really needs to be.

That’s why I put together the ultimate list of the 10 best bed sheet sets for 2020 that you can buy online in just a few clicks.

Where in addition to listing the top types of bed sheets based on their materials and primary function, I’ve also included an in depth buying guide that makes it easier to understand how to pick out your ideal bed sheet.

But I’ve decided to write this more focused article that compares the pros and cons of microfiber sheets vs cotton bed sheets because many folks are confused as to which option is the best for them.

This walkthrough is more about comparing cotton and microfiber bed sheets like-for-like – such as a microfiber top sheet vs a cotton top sheet.

So if you’re not exactly clear on if you’re looking for a top sheet or bottom sheet – have a look at my fitted sheet vs flat sheet comparison guide first.

Otherwise, let’s dig in to see how microfiber and cotton bed sheet materials compare.

What is Microfiber?

Microfiber bed sheet.

Image source: stock photo used with permission.

Microfiber bed sheets are constructed from finely woven fibers that are constructed in a lab.

This synthetic process results in threads that measure less than 10 micrometers in diameter (finer than silk) and are constructed from polyesters, polyamides, and blends that can also include polypropylene [1].

Although thicker strands typically map to a stronger and softer sheet, microfiber sheets are generally very lightweight.

Microfiber sheets come in percale and sateen weaves – where a ‘tighter’ weave results in a more durable sheet.

The higher the thread count – or a weight of 90-110 GSM or more – the more resistant to rips and tears your microfiber sheet is likely to be.

High quality manufacturers of microfiber sheets will use singeing to improve the strength of the sheet and reduce the chance of pilling (‘bobbling’).

Microfiber Pros

High quality microfiber bed sheets typically have the following benefits.

  • Durable if the weave is tight.
  • Lightweight yet strong.
  • Very soft to the touch.
  • Washes wrinkle-free.
  • Can help reduce irritation if you have a skin condition.
  • Repels moisture.
  • Stain resistant.
  • Cheap.
  • Holds its colour.
  • Resistant to rips and tears if the thread count is high.
  • Less likely to pill if the manufacturer uses singeing.

Microfiber Cons

Here’s a few drawbacks to microfiber bed sheets.

  • Can cause skin irritation if you’re allergic to the synthetic materials.
  • Needs to be washed on a cool temperature and on its own to prevent damage and affinity to lint.
  • Can be damaged by bleach, fabric softeners, and high washing/drying temperatures.
  • Can generate static.
  • Durability dependent on weave and thread count.
  • May cause you to feel too hot as you sleep.

Microfiber Summary

Microfiber sheets tend to be warming but are also able to wick away moisture to a moderate extent so that you can stay fairly dry too.

However, if you tend to sleep hot – or are based in a warmer climate – then a microfiber bed sheet might be the wrong choice for you because microfiber isn’t the most breathable material and thus tends to trap heat.

If you go for a high quality microfiber sheet with a tight weave and a higher thread count, then you can expect to have a lightweight but strong bed sheet that feels very smooth, is resistant to ripping, is less likely to pill, comes out of the wash wrinkle free, and is well priced.

As far as allergies go, microfiber sheets may cause irritation if you’re allergic to the synthetic materials; or conversely – may actually reduce irritation if you have sensitive skin but aren’t allergic to the materials.

The other thing to watch out for with microfiber sheets is taking care to wash/dry them on a low temperature and avoiding softeners that can damage the material.

(Some manufacturers may say on the label that you can wash at a warmer temperature but if you’re unsure – go for the lower setting just to be on the safe side).

What is Cotton?

Cotton.

Image source: stock photo used with permission.

Cotton is the most commonly used material to make bed sheets.

Generally speaking, cotton bed sheets are soft, affordable, durable, and highly breathable and absorbent – making them a great option for keeping you cool and dry in warmer weather, whilst also being long lasting and comfortable to sleep in.

However, the range of quality on offer can vary significantly depending on the thread count and the type of cotton used.

It’s advised that you do not pick a cotton sheet that has a thread count of any less than 200 – since such sheets may lack durability.

But arguably more important than the thread count is the type of cotton used to make your sheets – which can be as follows.

Egyptian Cotton

100% Egyptian cotton is the highest quality cotton used for making bed sheets.

This is because the hand picking process allows the longer threads to be preserved – resulting in a finer, softer, and more durable alternative to other types of cotton.

Egyptian cotton is typically more resistant to pilling, tearing, wrinkling, and fading – plus the soothing softness makes these types of sheets a good option if you have skin allergies.

(Cotton bed sheets can be a great addition to your hypoallergenic mattress).

Overall, 100% Egyptian cotton bed sheets are the best quality cotton bed sheets that you can get – but there are a lot of fakes around, so be sure to check the existing customer reviews to ensure that you’re getting the real thing.

Pima Cotton

Pima cotton is more affordable than Egyptian cotton, but still retains a good degree of softness and breathability.

Upland Cotton

Upland cotton is the most common type of cotton used in bed sheets and still offers an acceptable level of softness and breathability – but has a coarser feel when compared to Egyptian cotton.

Cotton Pros

Assuming that you go for an Egyptian cotton sheet with a thread count in the 200 – 600 range, then you can expect the following benefits from your cotton sheets.

  • Highly breathable – good for keeping you cool.
  • Very absorbent – helps to wick away moisture and keep you dry.
  • Good if you have skin allergies due to the softness and natural materials.
  • Very durable and strong if the thread count is high and the weave is tight.
  • Easy to wash and dry generally speaking.
  • Less likely to pill if the quality is high.

Cotton Cons

Here are some drawbacks to cotton sheets.

  • Can wrinkle after washing – making ironing more tedious.
  • Might sleep too cool if you’re in a colder climate due to the high breathability.
  • Cotton is prone to staining because of its absorbent properties.
  • Egyptian cotton can be expensive.
  • Egyptian cotton sheets are often faked – look for reputable manufacturers.

Cotton Summary

Regardless of whether you choose Egyptian, Prima, or Upland cotton, cotton bed sheets on the whole are very breathable and good at wicking away moisture to help you sleep dry.

But if you sleep in a cooler climate, then cotton sheets might not be warm enough for you.

High quality Egyptian cotton sheets with a higher thread count and a tighter weave are the most expensive variant but offer the greatest amount of softness and durability.

Pima and Upland cotton sheets are generally cheaper and are viable alternatives to Egyptian cotton – but may be more prone to pilling and wrinkling after washing.

Microfiber vs Cotton Bed Sheets Compared

You might already have a good idea if cotton or microfiber sheets are the best for you having read the above points.

But if not, then I’ve compared microfiber and cotton sheets directly based on the following qualities to help you out a bit more.

1: Durability

Cotton is still a very durable material, but microfiber sheets are generally more durable than even the highest quality cotton sheets.

This is because even though individual microfibers are actually quite frail, the tightness of the weave makes the final sheet very strong and durable.

Of course, a high thread count, tightly woven cotton sheet is going to be more durable than a poorly constructed microfiber sheet – so quality should be paramount in either case.

Overall, a cotton or microfiber sheet set could last you many years – but this can be reduced if you overwash your sheets and/or clean/dry them at too high a temperature.

Winner: microfiber bed sheets tend to be the most durable.

2: Temperature Regulation

Cotton bed sheets tend to be the most breathable.

So they are the best choice if you tend to sleep hot or have night sweats – but the worst if you naturally sleep cool or live in a cooler climate.

Microfiber bed sheets are made from tightly woven synthetic materials that tend to trap heat very well.

So they are the best choice if you sleep cool or live in a cooler climate – but the worst if you sleep hot or have night sweats.

Winner: cotton sheets for sleeping cool – microfiber sheets for sleeping warm.

3: Moisture Wicking

Cotton is known for its ability to absorb moisture very well – making cotton sheets the best choice if you tend to sleep hot and need to stay dry.

Microfiber is not as absorbent and therefore the worst option if you have night sweats.

Winner: cotton bed sheets are the best for sleeping dry.

4: Comfort and Feel

Microfiber is very light and feels smooth – almost slippery – to the touch, but may bunch up during the night because it’s so thin.

Cotton is known for its cool, crisp, and soft feel – that tends to become even softer with each wash.

Winner: both cotton and microfiber are soft – but microfiber likely feels smoother.

5: Cleaning and Care

Cotton sheets are quite easy to wash and dry – although they do tend to come out more wrinkled and thus more challenging to iron.

Microfiber sheets tend to require a cooler temperature when washing and drying – but are less likely to wrinkle.

Winner: cotton for ease of washing – microfiber for the lack of ironing.

6: Cost

Cotton sheets – especially the higher end Egyptian cotton options – are more expensive than microfiber sheets.

But in either case, it might be worth paying a little bit more to get a good quality sheet.

Winner: microfiber sheets tend to be cheaper overall.

7: Lifespan

Both cotton and microfiber sheets can last many years with the right care.

However, a tight weave, high quality microfiber sheet is likely to outlast its cotton counterpart because of the construction and because cotton is a natural material that has a greater tendency for degradation.

Winner: microfiber will probably last longer with good care.

8: Allergies

Cotton tends to be naturally hypoallergenic – making it the best choice if you have sensitive skin, eczema, psoriasis, or tend to react to man made materials.

Microfiber may help with allergies if you’re not specifically allergic to the synthetic materials themselves.

Winner: cotton sheets tend to be better for those with sensitive skin and allergies.

Which Material Is Right For You?

I’m going to wrap this microfiber vs cotton sheets comparison guide up by giving you my opinion on which material you should choose based on the qualities you are looking for in a bed sheet.

Granted, this will ultimately come down to personal preference, but I hope this will make your buying decision easier.

Buy Cotton Bed Sheets If:

I think that you should go for a high quality, high thread count, Egyptian cotton bed sheet if you want a sheet that:

  • Will help you sleep cool.
  • Will wick away moisture to keep you dry.
  • Is soft and less irritable to sensitive skin (good if you have eczema or psoriasis).
  • Feels cool and crisp.
  • Is strong and durable.
  • Is easy to wash and dry.
  • Is less likely to pill.

Buy Microfiber Bed Sheets If:

Conversely, you might be better going for microfiber if you’re looking for a bed sheet that:

  • Will help you sleep warm.
  • Offers the most amount of durability.
  • Feels very light, soft and smooth.
  • Washes wrinkle-free.
  • Repels moisture and is more resistant to staining.
  • Holds its colour well.
  • Is resistant to ripping.
  • Doesn’t require ironing.
  • Is cheap to buy.
  • Will last the longest.

What Are the Best Cotton and Microfiber Bed Sheets?

Hopefully, you’re now clear on your material selection and ready to buy your bed sheets.

And if you click the button below, you can see my handpicked list of the top 10 best bed sheet sets that you can buy online right now.

This list includes both microfiber and cotton bed sheet sets – so you can take your pick.

Sources and References

[1] Wikipedia – Microfiber. Accessed 17/1/20.

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