Updated November 6, 2020Climbing into a cozy and comfortable bed at the end of a long day can promote relaxation and help you fall asleep quickly. High-quality bedding, particularly the type of sheets you choose, can play a big role in making your sleep space feel more inviting. Sheets rest directly on the skin, so you want those made of a soft yet breathable material that won’t irritate the skin. Bed sheets also need to withstand the wear and tear that comes with multiple washes, so they should be made of a strong, durable fabric. For many years, cotton has been the go-to material for bed sheets. However, there are now many other fabrics and blends to choose from. Microfiber has become increasingly popular for its durability, but how does it compare to cotton in terms of breathability? In this article, we answer this question and highlight the differences and similarities between cotton and microfiber bed sheets. Armed with this knowledge, you will be able to choose the perfect new sheet set. Cotton SheetsSince cotton is a completely natural material, it is breathable, absorbent, and keeps sleepers cool throughout the night. Cotton is also hypoallergenic and frequently recommended for those with skin allergies. Plus, cotton sheets are readily available in various thread counts, various weave patterns, and a wide selection of price points. Below, we explain how cotton measures up in terms of breathability, feel, durability, and variety. Breathability 100 percent cotton has a natural breathability, meaning air can circulate through this fabric quickly and easily, regardless of climate, body heat, or how much pressure is applied to the material. Cotton is also absorbent and quick-drying to prevent night sweats and sleep disruptions due to overheating. These features make cotton sheets ideal for those who sleep hot. FeelCotton sheets have a smooth finish, which is soothing to the skin, making it a good choice for those with sensitive skin, allergies, and autoimmune diseases, such as psoriasis and eczema. Cotton is comforting and cozy, but it also won’t exaggerate already irritated skin.Durability Cotton sheets are often made with a strong interlocking weave to make them incredibly durable without sacrificing softness. They can withstand constant washing without pilling or losing their shape. Most high-quality cotton sheets last between 2 to 3 years before they start to become too thin to withstand washing. Variety Cotton sheets are popular, and manufacturers use this soft, breathable material in many different ways. To help you make sense of the various types of cotton sheets on the market, we outline the most common variations available. Thread count: Thread count refers to the number of threads woven per square inch of fabric. Sheets with higher thread counts are softer and smoother. However, don’t be fooled by brands claiming to sell sheets with a thread count over 500. For the threads to remain strong and durable, most thread counts max out at 500. Most high-quality cotton sheets will have a thread count between 300 and 400. Extra-long staple cotton: There are three cotton species, Upland cotton, Egyptian cotton, and Pima cotton. Upland cotton sheets are the most common. However, Egyptian and Pima cotton sheets are considered superior to Upland because they have extra-long fibers, also known as “extra-long-staple cotton,” making these sheets finer, softer, and more durable.Weave: Cotton is woven in several different patterns to change the durability and feel. The most popular cotton weaves for sheets are percale, sateen, and flannel. Percale sheets have a crisp, cool feel, similar to linen. It is also ultra-breathable and won’t pill. Sateen sheets are silky and smooth, while flannel sheets are cozy and warm, perfect for cooler climates. Organic certifications: Cotton sheets with a USDA or GOTS certification are grown and harvested without pesticides or herbicides. These sheets tend to have a higher price point, but it may be worth the extra cost if you have severe allergies or skin sensitivities. Microfiber SheetsMicrofiber is a synthetic material that feels similar to silk due to its small, thin fibers. This fabric is made with various types of polyester fibers, such as nylon and Kevlar. Although microfiber is not made with natural fibers, some microfiber sheets are made with a blend of polyester and natural materials, such as ground wood pulp. Let’s take a closer look at how microfiber sheets compare to the breathability, feel, durability, and variety of cotton sheets. BreathabilityAlthough microfiber is synthetic, it is also very breathable. This material is manufactured to wick away heat and moisture to regulate body temperature and keep you cool and comfortable all night. Microfiber repels water and prevents it from soaking into the material. In fact, microfiber is used in athletic clothing because its moisture-wicking properties keep active individuals cool and dry. FeelLike cotton, high-quality microfiber sheets are soft and comfortable. However, microfiber tends to have a silkier feel when compared to cotton. It is common for microfiber to be “brushed”—this involves gently lifting each fiber to create a soft, velvety texture. Most microfiber sheets are made with a percale or sateen weave to make them smooth to the touch. Durability Microfiber sheets are woven with high-tech machines to create a super tight weave that is durable and won’t pill. This material also repels liquid, so microfiber sheets are less likely to develop stains from spills and accidents. In terms of care, microfiber sheets are low maintenance and easy to wash. They can withstand high temperatures without losing their shape or deteriorating. Plus, microfiber sheets tend to be more resistant to wrinkles than cotton ones. Variety Like cotton sheets, there are a wide variety of microfiber sheets on the market. However, microfiber is not available in organic or long-staple cotton varieties because it is synthetic rather than natural. Also, the thread count of the fabric does not apply to microfiber the way it does to cotton. To help you shop, we outline the types of microfiber sheets available and what to look for when you shop.GSM (grams per square meter): Instead of thread count, microfiber sheets come with GSM ratings, which relates to the fabric’s weight. A GSM over 100 indicates a high-quality material with durability and strength, while a GSM below 90 is considered low-quality. Brushing: To give microfiber a soft, velvety feel, many brands brush the fibers. As you shop, you may come across sheet sets labeled as “double brushed,” meaning the material has been brushed on both sides for maximum comfort. Weave: Most microfiber sheets are made with percale or sateen weave. Both of these weaves are used to make the sheets more durable and give them a crisp feeling. Unlike cotton, microfiber sheets are not available with a flannel weave. Final VerdictAs you can see from our list above, cotton and microfiber sheets have many similarities and differences. The following chart provides a side by side comparison of the two in the four categories covered above—breathability, feel, durability, and variety.FeatureCottonMicrofiberBreathabilityLight, airy, with plenty of air circulation to prevent heat-trappingMoisture-wicking and absorbent to keep sleepers cool and dryFeelSoft, crisp, and soothing, perfect for those with sensitive skinSilky, smooth, slippery feel due to the small, thin fibers; ideal for those who experience night sweatsDurabilityNaturally strong and durable without sacrificing softness; lasts 2 to 3 yearsStain and wrinkle-resistant lasts 2 to 3 yearsVarietyAvailable in organic varieties, high thread counts, and strong weavesAvailable in brushed varieties and percale or sateen weavesFrequently Asked QuestionsHow often should you change your sheets?Experts suggest washing your sheets once every two weeks. If you frequently experience night sweats, you may want to wash your sheets once a week to prevent contaminants and other bacteria from building up in your bed. Most bedding is easy to wash and dry at home; however, be sure to read the care instructions before laundering. What kind of sheets do hotels use?Most hotels use high-quality cotton sheets with a 300 to 400 thread count cotton. Higher-end hotels may use Egyptian cotton or Pima cotton sheets for a more comfortable and luxurious feel. What kind of sheets are crisp?Cotton sheets with a percale weave have a smooth, crisp feel. A percale weave consists of a simple one under one over pattern to create a tight-knit, smooth fabric. Sheets made with a percale weave are also strong and durable and less likely to pill with multiple washes. What kind of sheets are best for hot sleepers?Hot sleepers are typically most comfortable on 100 percent cotton, microfiber, or Tencel sheets. For those who frequently experience night sweats, microfiber or Tencel can help keep sleepers cool and dry. Cotton also has natural breathability to prevent heat-trapping and sleep disruptions. What is the best mattress type for hot sleepers?The best mattress for hot sleepers are those made with plant-based memory foam or cooling gel-infusions. Hybrid mattresses, which have a spring coil base, also have more air circulation to prevent overheating. Those made with traditional memory foam or poly-foam tend to trap heat and moisture.What are Tencel sheets? Tencel is a fabric made from cellulose fibers, specifically wood pulp fibers. Tencel is produced with recyclable and eco-friendly materials and is often blended with cotton. Bed sheets made with Tencel are soft, wrinkle-resistant, and have a luxurious, silky feeling. ConclusionNow that you understand the specifics of both cotton and microfiber sheets, you can decide which are the best sheets for you. Ultimately, your personal preferences should determine which type of bed sheets you purchase. If you have sensitive skin or suffer from eczema or psoriasis, cotton sheets may be less likely to trigger a flare-up. However, if you frequently experience night sweats, microfiber sheets with moisture-wicking abilities can help you stay cool and dry throughout the night. This article is for informational purposes and should not replace advice from your doctor or other medical professional. Comments Cancel replyLeave a CommentYour email address will not be published. Required fields are marked * Comment Name Email I agree to the Terms and Conditions of this website.