How to Find the Right Flannel Sheets for You
Choosing the best flannel sheets is about more than just looking at packages on the shelves of a store. Materials vary widely as does their performance. Some manufacturers produce better products than others, and so reviews from verified buyers are important. Here are some considerations while shopping.
Look Closely at the Material
Not all flannel is created equal. The first thing to look at is the material. Flannel sheets can be wool, cotton, synthetic, or a blend. Knowing how each performs is critical because the materials all sleep differently.
- Wool – Wool flannel sheets are hard to find, costly, and often bespoke (made to order) as it’s gone out of fashion as a material of choice for sheets. If you like wool and want a wool sleep experience, you’ll more easily find wool flannel in blankets, duvet covers, and mattress pads.
- Cotton – Cotton is the most common all-natural flannel sheet material. With 100% cotton flannel sheets, shrinkage on initial washing is common. Always follow manufacturer guidelines when cleaning. Cotton flannel is excellent to wick moisture, retain heat, and ensure comfort.
- Synthetic – Flannel sheets made from synthetics are often labeled “micro flannel” meaning it has very fine fibers. Synthetic flannels are made with tightly woven polyester fibers. These sheets are durable and easy to care for, but don’t feel the same as natural cotton and wool sheets.
- Blend – Many high-performance flannel sheets are a cotton/polyester blend. Using the two materials together offers the soft and warming experience of cotton flannel while allowing greater durability inherent in synthetic materials plus easier care specification.
If you want an all-natural sheet set, be sure to carefully read product specifications. Also, be aware that all-natural cotton doesn’t mean it’s organic. Natural means it’s from a plant while organic means it was grown and processed without pesticides, herbicides, or other toxic chemicals.
Weight as a Quality Indicator
While the quality of cotton sheets is often judged by thread count, flannel sheets are typically assessed by weight. Flannel weight is often measured in grams per square meter (gsm), with 170 gms (five or six ounces per yard) being considered among the highest quality flannel and thus the most expensive. Heavier fabrics tend to be warmer than lighter ones; for example, a 170 gms flannel weave may be considered warm, while a 135 gms cotton weave is quite lightweight.
Napped on Both Sides
To produce the soft, fuzzy texture associated with the fabric, flannel is “napped” in one direction on one or both sides. Napping refers to the finishing process of using a fine metal brush to gently raising fine fibers on a textible. The nap process gives flannel its unique texture, in addition to trapping air that works as insulation. The best flannels are napped on both sides instead of one.
Fine vs. Bulky Flannel
Generally, the finer the flannel, the more durable and high-quality the fabric is. By contrast, bulky flannels may begin to shed and develop small balls of fluff on its surface — a process known as “pilling”.
Country of Origin
The majority of flannel sheets are produced in England, Germany, and Portugal, though many consider Portuguese to be the best in the world. The Portuguese have been crafting flannel for generations, with artisans designing flannel from superior long-staple cotton and napping the flannel in a way that produces an exceptionally warm, soft product.
Second to Portugal, Germany is also a celebrated, longtime producer of flannel sheets. In contrast to Portuguese fabric, German flannel features a denser, more sturdy weave.
English flannel, while less sought-after than Portuguese and German sheets, is known for its durability and very slight nap.
Brushed Fabric or No?
Brushed flannel is from a mechanical process where a fine metal brush rubs the fabric to raise fibers from the weave to create a fuzzy nap. Flannel sheets may be unbrushed, brushed on one side, or both. Double napped means it’s brushed on both sides. Brushed flannel is softer to the touch than unbrushed.
Cleaning and Care
Care and cleaning of flannel sheets depends on materials. Bespoke wool sheets and bedding usually require dry cleaning unless it’s specially treated wool that is machine washable. Cotton flannel sheets should be laundered according to manufacturer instructions. Synthetic sheets are low-maintenance.
When you wash flannel sheets for the first time, experts recommend adding a half-cup of white vinegar to the wash to protect against future pilling and to set the dye. Don’t use fabric softener with flannel sheets. It reduces softness over time by stiffening fibers.
For cotton, blended, and synthetic flannel sheets, you should wash in warm or cold water only – never hot. Line drying increases durability but if that’s not practical, dry the sheets longer at a lower dryer temperature. Be sure to read the laundry directions before the first wash cycle.
Warranty and Return Policy
Return policies are about satisfaction while warranties relate to defects and product failure rather than your sleep experience. Review the policies of the manufacturer or sales site (Amazon, for instance), to know what your options are before you buy the sheets.
If you’re uncertain what you want or don’t know if flannel will be to your liking, buying from a brand with a sleep trial is advisable. Some reputable makers allow a sleep trial where you can test the flannel sheets in your home and return them if you’re not satisfied.
Other brands will only accept a return if there’s a defect in the workmanship of the materials (snags, runs, hems that come undone). Do your homework before you purchase!
Pattern and Color
When you think flannel, a lumberjack plaid probably springs to mind. And while you can buy flannel sheets in traditional plaid, there are many patterns and solid color options available. However, you won’t find a rainbow of flannel sheet colors as you do with other sheet materials.
Some brands offer solid color flannels only while some feature plaid, stripe, checks, and florals. Comfort and sleep performance should be your priority. Aesthetics matter but we don’t recommend buying your flannel sheets on looks alone.
Check out performance reviews and brand reputation to ensure you’re getting a well-crafted flannel sheet and not just something pretty. Also, remember that dark sheets have heavier dyes, may fade over time, and may not retain their look as well as neutral palette colors.