Sheets are a necessity for every bed, and if you're looking to impress, they come in many different varieties and qualities. Here are a few differences between two typical types of sheets: microfiber and cotton linens.
At A Glance
All linens are sold with a specific "thread count", which is the number of threads woven together per square inch of fabric. Both the lengthwise and widthwise threads are counted. For example, 100 lengthwise threads woven with 100 widthwise threads produce a thread count of 200.
Typically a thread count of 300 or higher indicates a good quality sheet, which in turn will be more comfortable and soft to the touch.
Cotton is the most commonly used material to make sheets. Low thread count cotton is coarse and scratchy and more likely to pill (create small cotton balls on the surface). Higher thread count sheets are made with finer threads, resulting in softer sheets. Fine cotton, such as Egyptian or Supima cotton, is considered amongst the finest quality cotton sheets available because they are made of the highest quality cotton, called long-staple cotton. The longer the fiber, the better because it creates stronger and finer yarns. Cotton sheets will become more comfortable and soft with each washing.
Microfiber is composed of very finely woven fibers, defined by their thickness, or denier, which is the measurement of a fiber's thickness. A high denier points to a material of higher thickness; a low denier is one of a lower depth.
For a material to be considered a microfiber, it must be less than 1 denier in diameter. For comparison, consider that fine silk measures at 1.25 deniers; thus, microfibers are made in the lab instead of forming naturally in nature. They can be made from wood pulp, or polyester and nylon polymers.
Microfiber sheets are very thin but are durable and exceptionally smooth and comfortable.
Though pilling is typically associated with lower quality thread counts, while usually rare, this can happen in high quality and high threat count sheets as well and is thus a misconception. Pilling can occur with both Cotton and Microfiber sheets, depending on the finishing process.
The measures used to prevent pilling during the finishing process of manufacturing are known as singeing, which burns off the tiny fuzz, and mercerizing, a treatment that improves the strength and luster of the sheets. Typically, the manufacturer of a lower thread count sheet will not perform these preventative measures, thus resulting in pilling on the sheets.
Both microfiber and cotton sheets can be washed and dried with ordinary washers and dryers. Cotton sheets will take longer to dry because of their thicker fabric, and may shrink with the first washing, but they can be sold as "pre-shrunk" by the manufacturer. Microfiber sheets can be made from synthetic or natural fibers, such as cellulose or wood pulp, and may also shrink with the first washing. Both microfiber and cotton linens will hold dyes well, but bright colors will fade after repeated washing. Both types are subject to wrinkling as well but can be pressed with a warm iron.
When you buy a quality set, both microfiber and cotton will generally have the same care requirements.
The cotton sheet with a high thread count will be much more durable than one with a low thread count. Low-quality cotton linens tend to pill and will grow less comfortable over time. The benefit of investing in quality cotton sheets, though, is their ability to become more supple and comfortable as time goes by, as well as the durability and ease of care.
Individual microfiber threads are weak on their own. However, microfiber sheets are a tightly woven and thin fabric, therefore giving this tightly woven material a durable quality. Lower quality microfibers do risk being ripped after a few months of use, but going with high-quality microfiber increases the strength and quality of these linens, even with daily washing.
Feel and Comfort
Feel, from a user's point of view, is perhaps the most crucial quality of the linen that you choose for your bedding. The feel is significant, with many seeking a silky-smooth feel against their skin, for both cotton and microfiber sheets, the higher the thread count or, the smaller the denier, the higher the quality.
Sheets are an investment that will be used for many years, and you want sheets that are easy to care for, attractive, and, most of all, soft and comfortable.