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

Shopping for a new set of sheets? As you are exploring your new bedding options you may be wondering about microfiber vs. cotton sheets.

By Loren Bullock

Bed sheets can make or break your sleep experience. Sheets that are too thick can have you waking up in the middle of the night sweating. Sheets that are too scratchy can make it hard to fall asleep. So, what material should you choose to get the perfect night of sleep from your sheets?

We’ll go over the difference between the up and coming microfiber sheets and the classic cotton sheets to explore the best option for you, your family, and your sleep partner.

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What Is Microfiber?

Microfiber sheets are woven from a series of microfibers, which are very thin, synthetic threads. These fibers are measured by the fiber thickness or denier. Microfibers are thinner than a denier (which is equivalent to one fifth of a strand of human hair). Microfiber fabric can be made of polyester, rayon, or even natural materials like wood pulp.

When woven into bed sheets, microfiber is lightweight, durable, and moisture-wicking.

Types of Cotton

Chances are you’ve slept on cotton sheets before; they are the most commonly used material when it comes to sheets. Cotton sheets are, obviously, made from thread acquired from the cotton plant, making them naturally derived fibers.

Related: Polyester vs Cotton sheets

The fibers of the cotton thread come in different lengths. Short-staple cotton fibers are about 1 1/8 inches and considered to be the lowest quality. Long-staple cotton ranges between 1 1/8 to 1 1/4 inches in length and is high quality. Extra long staple cotton is between 1 3/8 and 2 inches long and is the highest quality cotton.

There are also three different kinds of cotton sheets are typically made of.

  • Egyptian Cotton: Egyptian cotton sheets are the highest quality cotton sheets you can buy, and the price reflects that. Made from extra long staple cotton, sheets made from egyptian cotton are often a high thread count and the softest option. They are also stronger and more durable, meaning they are less susceptible to pilling when they are washed and dried.
  • Supima Cotton: Supima cotton sheets are woven from extra long staple cotton as well, making them both high quality and durable. One unique thing about supima that sets it apart from egyptian cotton is that the quality improves with each wash.
  • Pima Cotton: Pima cotton is the most common type of cotton sheets. Made from short staple cotton, the are medium quality, but very soft. This is the most affordable type of cotton sheets.

The Difference

Now they you know a bit more about how microfiber and cotton sheets are constructed, we can get into the differences between the two.

Thread Count

Thread count refers to the number of threads per square inch, both horizontally and vertically. The higher the thread count doesn’t necessarily mean the higher the quality sheet set, but a good rule of thumb is that anything over 300 means good quality.

Thus, both quality microfibers and quality cotton weaves depend on the thread count. But because microfiber sheets are synthetically made, higher thread counts are cheaper than higher thread counts of cotton.

Comfort

The comfort and feel of these sheets do vary. Microfiber sheets are on the silkier side. If you are the type of person who tosses and turns throughout the night, microfiber sheets maybe be your go to, so you don’t get stuck in a mass of sheets as you move.

Cotton sheets are crisper, similar to how hotel sheets feel. On top of that, quality cotton sheets get softer and more cozy with repeated washing.

Care

Microfiber sheets are generally easy to care for; you can both machine wash and dry them without special instructions. They may shrink on the first wash, but shouldn’t after any other washes. High thread count microfiber often doesn’t pill after multiple washes.

Cotton is a little more difficult, however. Unless pre-washed, they will shrink on the initial laundering and will take longer to dry than microfiber sheets because they are thicker. Because cotton sheets are made of natural fibers, they will break down more quickly with each wash.

Temperature

The temperature of microfiber sheets depends a bit on the weave. Percale sheets provide good airflow and microfiber sheets are lightweight. Despite these features, microfiber sheets trap in body heat. So, they are great for those who easily get cold, but hot sleepers beware.

Cotton sheets aren’t as tightly woven, so they provide better airflow and breathability. Additionally, cotton is known to be naturally good at wicking moisture away from your body. This option is better for those who sleep hot.

Cost

The higher the thread count, the more expensive the sheet set will be. However, microfiber is man made, which cuts down costs. Microfiber sheets will be generally cheaper than cotton ones.


The Final Breakdown

Microfiber sheets and cotton sheets are vastly different materials, each with their own pros and cons. Microfiber is durable, lightweight, and affordable. But, the fabric can also trap body heat and do not evolve as time goes on. Cotton is natural, breathable, and hypoallergenic. On the other hand, cotton is also less durable and more expensive.

Whichever fabric you decide to choose should fit your needs, but both materials offer a great sleep experience.


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