Microfiber Vs Cotton Sheets - Which One is Better and Why?

microfiber vs cotton sheets

Everyone knows the value of a restful, good night’s sleep for the much-needed break our body needs to function at its best. A good quality mattress is a bedtime essential, but so are sets of comfy sheets.

Microfiber and cotton are always in the spotlight when it comes to bedding ensembles. Each has its own pros and cons and caters to different types of sleepers.

In this blog, we break down the two kingpins of the bedsheet world and help you decide which works better for you. 

Table of Contents

What is Microfiber?

Microfiber is a pretty popular fabric for making sheets and comforters and a host of other items such as towels, clothes, and swimwear. It’s lightweight with excellent absorbency and can soak up to seven times its weight in water.

Microfiber fabric is made from tightly woven fibers of synthetic substances like wood pulp, polyester, or nylon polyester. Because it’s made of ultra-fine synthetic fibers, microfiber is highly durable, even more than polyester sheets.

It also resists wrinkling and shrinking compared to natural textiles like linen and cotton. 

Let’s talk about the texture. If you’ve owned a set of Microfiber sheets, you’d know just how lustrous, smooth, and soft they are. The fabric gets its softness and durability from its tight weave. To give you an idea of just how fine and thin microfiber is, let’s compare it to silk - the finest natural fabric. The denier or the unit that reflects the thickness of fibers in the case of silk is typically 1.25, whereas microfiber measures less than one denier! 

What is Cotton?

Who doesn’t love cotton? The plant-derived fabric is known for its breathability, durability, and versatility. A cotton bedsheet is perfect for hot sleepers as it allows air to pass through the weave. These sheets are knit or woven in various styles ranging from sateen, percale, flannel, and twill. When you shop for cotton bedsheets, you’ll come across different weaves as well as types of cotton. 

Egyptian cotton sheets are considered a prized possession, with extra-long staple cotton fibers and a high thread count to boot. Pima is soft with long-staple cotton fibers but generally more economical than Egyptian cotton. If you’re looking for something budget-friendly and breathable and don’t might a coarser texture, you could opt for Upland cotton. 

Cotton is also naturally hypoallergenic, especially the organic variety. This type is grown without harsh chemicals, pesticides, or herbicides, making it perfect for those with sensitive skin. It’s also way more eco-friendly than conventional cotton, but we’ll get to that in a bit. 

Microfiber Vs Cotton Sheets – How Do They Fare in Different Parameters?

Both microfiber and cotton make for excellent sheets, and which one is better for you depends on factors such as the type of sleeper you are, your budget, and the texture you prefer. Here’s how they fare across various parameters.

  • Overall Durability: In durability and strength, synthetic textiles do slightly better than their natural counterparts. In that sense, tightly woven microfiber sheets hold up well to frequent washing. Cotton sheets are also quite durable, especially if they have a high thread count. The ones with low thread count are prone to pilling and deteriorate in quality.

    Even low-quality microfiber sheets can show tears and rips. The difference is that poor-quality microfiber sheets will rip all at once instead of gradually. Cotton sheets, being natural, wear down over time, but not before giving out clear warnings that they are approaching the end of their useful life.

  • Temperature: As a natural fabric, cotton is breathable, moisture-wicking, and does well in regulating temperature. In other words, sheets made from cotton offer all-season comfort. They’re great for summer and perfect for those who sleep hot and experience night sweats. Microfiber, on the other hand, tends to trap body heat, keeping you toasty on cold winter nights. The versatile cotton can also keep you warm during winter. You just need to opt for the soft and fluffy flannel weave cotton sheets.

  • Softness and Feel: While feel typically depends on the thread count and weave, most microfiber sheets are lightweight, smooth, and silky. Because they are so light with super thin fibers, these sheets bunch up in places and might feel clingy. This might not go down well with some sleepers.

    In contrast, cotton is crisp, airy, and gets softer with every wash. And if you can afford to spring for higher thread count sheets, you can even get them super soft. In fact, sateen cotton sheets, because of their distinctive weave, are silky smooth and very hotel-chic. These sheets are great for those who want softness but want to avoid anything synthetic. 

  • Breathability: Cotton’s permeability and the ability to pass air through the fabric is one of its biggest strengths. It also dries fairly quickly, making it a perfect pick for people living in hot and humid places. Cotton sheets are also recommended for newborns and kids because there’s no risk of overheating. Microfiber is also breathable despite having a synthetic origin but tends to trap body heat more than cotton.

  • Resistance to Wrinkles: If wrinkled sheets tick you off and you want to avoid the trouble of ironing altogether, you’re better off with microfiber sheets. These sheets are ultra-low maintenance - no need to follow an extensive care guide to keep these sheets in good shape. Cotton, on the other hand, wrinkles easily but can withstand high heat during ironing to get the wrinkles out and a hearty dose of crispness in.
     
  • Moisture-Wicking: Tightly woven microfiber sheets take on water-repelling qualities. It’s also why this fabric is often used in athleisure and towels. It boasts high absorbency and moisture-wicking characteristics. Cotton sheets are more absorbent but less moisture-wicking in comparison.

  • Care: Both types of sheets score well in maintenance. They are easy to wash, just toss them in the washer and tumble dry. However, cotton tends to shrink after the first wash, which you’ll not experience with microfiber. While microfiber is already pretty soft, cotton gets softer with each wash. Due to its high absorbency, microfiber is more likely to stain, particularly the waffle weave ones. You might want to make a note of this since stains on microfiber sheets are tricky to remove.

  • Cost: Of the two, microfiber sheets are generally more affordable. Cotton being all-natural, is more expensive, especially if you’re buying planet-friendly organic cotton sheets. However, their endless benefits, high comfort, and durability make them a pretty sweet deal in the long run. 

Factors to Look at When Shopping for Microfiber Bedsheets

  • GSM: Unlike cotton, the strength, quality, and durability of microfiber sheets can be gauged from their GSM or grams per square inch ratings. Anything above 100 GSM should be a good buy.
     
  • Weave: Most microfiber sheets either boast a percale or sateen weave. We’ve covered the two extensively in one of our recent blog post on sateen vs percale sheets. These sheets are stitched flat and tight, giving microfiber sheets durability and moisture-repelling abilities.
     
  • Brushing: If you’re after a luxurious, silky, velvety texture, you might want to check out double-brushed sheets. These sheets are made from fabric that has been brushed on both sides for exceptional comfort. 

Factors to Look at When Shopping for Cotton Bedsheets

  • Thread Count: The thread count of cotton sheets indicates the number of threads per square inch of the sheet. Good quality cotton sheets have a thread count ranging between 200 to 800. Sheets with high thread count are softer, smooth, and more durable than the ones with low count as they are tightly woven. You might even come across sheets with a thread count of 800 or higher. More often than not, thread counts that high are marketing gimmicks.

  • Weave: Cotton fabric is made from sets of yarn (warp and weft) interlocked in different styles and patterns. Percale cotton sheets are crisp, cool, and perfect for summer. Sateen cotton sheets, on the other hand, is heavier than percale, with a tighter weave and higher thread count. These sheets feel soft, plush, and silky. They don’t pill and last long. Cotton sheets can also see you through cold winter nights, especially if they feature a flannel weave.

  • Type of Cotton: The most common types of cotton for bedsheets are Pima, Egyptian, and Upland. Due to their extra-long staple fibers, Egyptian cotton sheets are super soft and heirloom-quality. They don’t fray, rip, pill, or wrinkle, but this superior quality comes with a hefty price tag. Pima is another fine variety of cotton that offers quality, softness, and durability. They, too, are made with extra-long staple cotton fibers. Upland cotton is by far the most common type of cotton, and 90% of cotton sheets in the market at made from this cotton. It’s made with short cotton fibers, making it more pocket-friendly than the other two.

    Cotton can also be classified based on sustainability. Organic cotton is cultivated without using pesticides, GMOs, and harmful chemicals. It’s also grown with energy-efficient methods and less water than its water-guzzling regular counterpart.

  • Certifications: If you’re looking to buy authentic organic cotton, look out for certifications such as USDA certification, GOTS, OCS, and Oeko-Tex. These organizations verify if the cotton used has been produced in line with the rules of organic cultivation.

Microfiber Vs Cotton Sheets - What’s the Verdict?

If you’re looking for soft, slippery, low-maintenance sheets at wallet-friendly prices and don’t mind the synthetic fibers, microfiber is the right pick for you. However, if you have sensitive skin and sleep hot, you need something light, natural, and airy, like cotton. Even more so, if you want to minimize your carbon footprint, in that case, certified organic cotton sheets beat every synthetic fabric as well as regular cotton.

Author: Karen Lamar

Karen is the Chief Content Officer at Organic Cotton Mart. She has a Master's Degree in Environmental Science from NC State with a special focus in Energy Conservation and Renewable Energy. Since her High School days, she has been an Environmentalist and was the President of her High School's Environmental Club for 3 years before starting her freshman year at NC State. She has a deep knowledge and understanding of various environment-friendly movements like zero waste, minimalistic living, recycling, and upcycling.

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