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Polyester vs. Cotton Sheets

Written by Keith Cushner

Quick Overview

Sheets are an important part of the sleep experience and can either make for a comfortable night or uncomfortable one. Many materials, weaves, and thread counts exist to choose from when buying new sheets.

Cotton is a popular and well-loved material given its natural characteristics making for a soft and breathable sheet. Polyester is a cost-efficient material that is lightweight, easy to launder, and soft.

This guide will take an in-depth look into both materials covering the pros and cons of each and what buyers should know before investing in new bed sheets.

What Is Polyester?

Polyester is a man-made, synthetic material. Polyester sheets are lightweight and feel cool, smooth and soft to the touch. Some high-quality polyester sheets are shiny like silk and have a similar feel. Polyester is less prone to wrinkling or shrinkage when compared to natural materials, like linen or cotton. Polyester sheets are also less likely to experience color fading even after several years of use. Some polyester sheets may be prone to static or more likely to pill with extended use.

Often times, sheets made of 100 percent polyester are labeled as “polyester microfiber.” One thing to note is that polyester is often made into a “microfiber.” Some sheets that are 100 percent polyester are labeled as “microfiber.” But not all sheets labeled as microfiber are 100 percent polyester. A blend of polyester and nylon can also be considered “microfiber.” Be sure to read the materials details if looking for pure polyester sheets.

Usually a cost-effective sheet option, polyester sheets drape well over the body making for a comfortable night’s sleep. Polyester, however, is not a naturally breathable fabric and can sleep hot for some, trapping in heat the body releases throughout the night. Some weaves of polyester sheets make for a more breathable sheet, countering this issue. Even still, polyester sheets will not be as breathable as sheets made from a natural fabric like cotton or linen.

Polyester is highly durable and easy to launder. Using warm water is advised, as is using a low-heat dryer setting or line-drying. The sheets are resistant to water, but may soak up some liquids like oils and grease, which can lead to staining.

Pros and Cons of Polyester Sheets

  • Easy to launder and dries quickly
  • Durable when constructed with a tight weave
  • Usually affordable price
  • Lightweight fabric
  • Wrinkle resistant

Cons

  • Breathability and durability depend on weave
  • More prone to pilling and static
  • Water-resistant but can soak up oils and grease, which can lead to staining

What Is Cotton?

Cotton is a natural material made from cotton plants. Cotton sheets are soft and breathable, making for a cool night’s sleep. Given the natural properties of cotton, some manufacturers produce organic cotton sheets, using no chemicals in processing or treatment. One hundred percent cotton sheets are a good choice for sleepers with sensitive skin or those who suffer from allergies.

Cotton sheets are usually woven together with individual fibers of different lengths: short-staple fibers, long-staple fibers, or extra-long-staple fibers. Softness increases with fiber length. Egyptian cotton has the longest fibers of cotton sheets and is known as the most soft and luxurious. Pima cotton is a mid-range alternative to the often pricey Egyptian cotton, and has a similar feel.

While a good thread count is an important aspect, several others aspects are important to consider like the weave, price, and color options. Cotton sheets come in a variety of weaves, such as percale, sateen, and jersey, which all with a significantly different feel. All cotton sheets drape comfortably over the body.

Cotton sheets are easy to launder in the washing machine. Cotton is fairly stain-resistant, releasing stains once wet. To ensure a long life for cotton sheets, it’s best to wash them in warm water and line-dry in the sun. Sunlight disinfects, lightens stains, and keeps sheets looking new for longer. If using the dryer, choose a low-heat setting. Drying cotton sheets on a hot setting can weaken the fibers in cotton as well as change the texture of the sheets.

Pros and Cons of Cotton Sheets

  • All-natural material
  • Good for those with sensitive skin or allergies
  • Breathable and sleeps cool
  • Becomes softer with age
  • Easily laundered

Cons

 

  • Can be expensive
  • Natural fibers aren’t as durable as some synthetics
  • Prone to wrinkling

How Do Polyester and Cotton Compare?

It’s important to notice a few differences between polyester and cotton sheets before buying new sheets. Those who sleep hot or live in warm climates will benefit from cotton’s breathability. Cotton doesn’t trap in heat which can make for a more comfortable night for some people.

Cotton is also the preferred choice for those with allergies or sensitive skin.

Polyester is usually more durable than cotton since it’s a synthetic material. Cotton’s natural fibers break down eventually with regular laundering, whereas polyester may withstand frequent washing better. Polyester sheets are a lightweight and durable option that drapes well over the body.

Cost

In general, polyester sheets are cheaper than cotton sheets. However, both sheet types have a wide range of pricing that is highly dependent on the quality. Customers can find very affordable options as well as premium options for sheets made of either material. Thread count, weave, and material factor into the price for each option.

For reference, our budget pick for cotton sheets costs around $40, depending on the size, while our luxury pick comes in at over $200.

Lifespan and Warranty

Both polyester and cotton are durable fabrics that hold up to regular use and washing. When cared for according to the manufacturer’s recommendations, both fabrics may last many years with regular use. The quality of the sheets plays a large role in the lifespan for both cotton and polyester sheets.

Polyester sheets are generally more durable than sheets made from cotton. Since cotton is a natural fiber, it softens with washing, but it will also breaks down over time with frequent washing. Both fabrics may pill depending on the construction and quality of the initial material.

Both polyester and cotton sheets typically come with a one year warranty which covers manufacturing defects.

Care

Both polyester and cotton sheets are easy to care for since they’re machine washable. Both can be dried using a low setting in the dryer, or can be line dried for an extended lifespan. Cotton becomes softer with every wash, but can break down eventually from frequent washings. Cotton can also shrink during the first wash especially if washed in hot water and dried on a hot setting.

Polyester is durable to washings and is more wrinkle-resistant than cotton. Always consult the laundering instructions for each set of sheets to ensure the sheets have the longest lifespan possible.

Final Verdict

Both cotton and polyester can be used to make a durable, soft, and smooth sheet. Despite some similarities, significant differences should be accounted for when making a decision of which to purchase. The price-point, weave, and breathability all differ. Cotton can be more expensive but is more breathable and an all-natural fabric. Polyester is durable, less breathable, and less expensive.

You Should Buy Polyester Sheets If…

  • You are looking for sheets that feel smooth to the touch and drape over the body.
  • You prefer wrinkle-resistant sheets that hold up well to washings.
  • You are looking for a budget-friendly sheet option.

You Should Buy Cotton Sheets If…

  • You want a soft and breathable sheet.
  • You suffer from allergies or have sensitive skin.
  • You have a higher budget for sheets.
  • You prefer to purchase environmentally friendly products.
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