Polyester vs Cotton Sheets: What’s Better for You?

An average person needs to sleep 8 hours a day. That’s one third of 24 hours. So, we all spend a third of our lives asleep – or at least trying to fall asleep and counting the time until we need to be up. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

cotton vs polyester sheets
Sleep [ˈslēp] noun, informal
Something underestimated until you don’t get enough of it.

You know what helps you fall asleep faster? A good set of bed sheets! Anyone who’s ever spent a night on scratchy, or slippery, or too-warm sheets knows the importance of choosing the right bedding. It can make all the difference between a sleepless night and a nice rejuvenating rest that will have you full of energy throughout the next day.

However, not a lot of people take time to research and choose the sheets for their bed carefully. Raise your hand if you’ve ever grabbed the first nice-looking set you saw, after barely making sure it felt good to the touch.

We just don’t approach bed sheets with the same focus that we apply to choosing tech devices, or household appliances, or even clothes. Is that the right way, though? After all, why shouldn’t you want to spend that one third of your life in comfort?

If you’ve realized that finding the right set of sheets for your bed is kinda important business – you are in the right place. Want to hop straight to our recommended list?
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Table of Contents

Don’t want to read through our whole guide? You can use our table of content to jump to the part most relevant to you!

  1. Polyester Sheets
  2. Cotton Sheets
  3. Polyester vs Cotton: Quality
  4. Polyester vs Cotton: Look & Feel
  5. Polyester vs Cotton: Durability
  6. Polyester vs Cotton: Safety
  7. Polyester vs Cotton: Price
  8. Top Rated Polyester Bed Sheets
  9. Top Rated Cotton Bed Sheets

Polyester vs Cotton Bedding

polyester vs cotton

One of the most important things to decide on when you’re in search of new bed sheets is the fabric. There are tons of options out there for every budget and every purpose, from creating the perfect romantic atmosphere to keeping cool on a hot night. It all depends on the material you choose.

Two popular options for bed sheets are cotton and polyester. In fact, polyester vs cotton is a frequent dilemma customers face. Which one is better? Let’s try and find out.

Polyester

polyester-sheets

Polyester is a synthetic fabric that’s got a number of nice advantages: it’s wrinkle-free, it’s inexpensive, and it doesn’t require any special maintenance.

Now let’s get sciencey because that’s the most interesting part. Polyester is made using a chemical reaction. The main components of this reaction? Air, water, coal and petroleum. Yep, these four unlikely agents come together to make your bed sheets. The components are processed in a vacuum at extremely high temperatures to produce long polymer threads. Those are the basis of the polyester fabric.

Here is a little bit of history if you are into that sort of thing. The research into synthetic fibers first began in 1926 in the U.S., launched by E.I. du Pont de Nemours and Co. That research resulted in the creation of nylon, the first synthetic fiber.

In 1939-1941, British scientists decided to join in on the fun and invented the polyester fiber known as Terylene.

In 1946, du Pont decided to purchase the rights to produce polyester in the States. After some experimenting and improvements, they released a new version of the fiber they called Dacron. Then several other companies caught on to the potential and came out with their own variations of polyester fibers.

Nowadays, there are two main types of polyester: PET and PCDT. PET (or polyethylene terephthalate) is used for a wide variety of purposes, including – you guessed it – the production of bed sheets. PCDT (poly-1, 4-cyclohexylene-dimethylene terephthalate) is more resilient and suited for heavier uses, like furniture covering or curtains.

Polyester is a frequent choice for outerwear, athletic apparel, working gear, swimsuits, raincoats… The reason for this popularity is the durability of polyester and its wind- and water-resistance. Do you really need your bedding to be wind- and water-resistant? That’s a different question.

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Cotton

history of cotton

Cotton has been a common choice for bed sheets since early 19th century for two simple reasons: it’s natural and it’s comfortable. But, obviously, not all cotton is the same.

There are many sorts of cotton that produce fabrics of different quality. In general, the sorts that have long and extra-long staples are known for their high quality.

There are three sorts of cotton that are especially valued and especially highly priced:

Egyptian cotton

This extra-long staple cotton grows only in the Nile River Valley. The fabric produced with this sort of cotton is at the same time very soft and durable. Due to its reputation, many dishonest manufacturers slap the Egyptian cotton label on anything they need to sell. You can see “real Egyptian cotton” from India or China all the time.

Pima cotton

This long-staple cotton is grown in the States (more about that later), Australia and Peru. It is cheaper than Egyptian cotton, but still valued for its quality and its softness.

Supima cotton

This is the highest quality Pima cotton grown in the U.S. It makes for less than 1% of the world’s cotton. Supima is actually a brand name that only select few companies have the license to use. The extra-long staple fibers produce fabric of the top quality, but the quality comes at a price. The price of hundreds of dollars for a set of bed sheets.

To sum up: the sorts of cotton that have long and extra-long staples are generally known for their high quality. But that’s not the only thing that defines the quality of sheets.
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Cotton vs Polyester Sheets: Quality

There are quite a few things that define the quality of bed sheets. The thread count and the weave are among the most important.

Weave

Percale weave and Sateen weave
Weave is what decides the overall look and feel of the fabric. The way cotton fabric is made is by interweaving two sets of threads. The lengthwise threads are also called warp, the transverse are called weft.

There are various weave patterns, the most popular being one thread over, one thread under. This type of weave is also called percale. It makes for strong, durable, reliable fabric that’s easy to care after. Percale sheets can be washed in hot water, tumble dried on high, and are generally low maintenance.

Another popular weave is sateen (not to be confused with satin!). Here, the number of warp (lengthwise) threads is higher than the number of weft threads. This creates a fabric that’s perfectly smooth and silky soft one one side, and rougher on the other. Sateen sheets are more fragile and need careful maintenance. They might also pill (that’s when loose fibers knot up into little balls). Don’t you hate it when that happens? Ugh.

Anyway, the bottom line is: sateen sheets look and feel luxurious while percale sheets are simple and functional. That rule works for both cotton and polyester.

Thread Count

thread-count
You must have heard about thread count before, even if you have no idea what it means. Thankfully, it’s very easy to understand.

Remember when we talked about the weave? The weft and warp threads, and all? Well, the number of threads, both warp and weft, per one square inch of fabric defines its thread count. And that’s it.

Normally, if we are talking about cotton, the softest sheets have a thread count of 1000. It doesn’t mean that anything less won’t feel good: there are pretty nice sheets with a thread count of 200 and more. (We have some recs for you below.)

When we are talking about polyester, however, the term “thread count” is not used, so the question of cotton vs polyester thread count does not even stand. Instead of a thread count, synthetic fabrics have a different measurement unit: denier.

Denier

Simply put, denier defines the thickness of individual threads or filaments in textiles or fabric. No, wait: that doesn’t sound simple at all.

Let’s try again: a denier equals one gram of mass per 9 kilometers / 9,000 meters of length. What this means is: imagine you have a very long strand of polyester. 9 kilometers long, to be exact. Imagine that you use very precise scales to weigh it. You will see a resulting weight in grams, and this will be the denier point of the thread.

As you can see, the weave has nothing to do with it. It’s all about the thickness of a single fiber. (Btw, if you applied the same measurements to silk, its denier would be 1, meaning 9,000 meters of silk strand weight approximately one gram. Another fun fact: human hair is about 20 denier.)

Obviously, fabrics with a lower denier point will be more lightweight. Microfiber is 1D (1 denier, not One Direction), comparable to silk. Sheer nylon tights are below 10D. Standard outerwear is 40 to 80D. 300 to 600D polyester is the most popular choice for heavy-duty backpacks. You get the idea.

To be honest, you are not very likely to encounter these measurements when choosing bed sheets – just because they will all be very close to each other in denier point. There is really no use to try and draw parallels between this and the thread count of cotton sheets, so don’t go looking for this measurement if you can’t seem to find it at first glance. Chances are, the manufacturer decided not to include it because all sheets are in the same range.

Cotton vs Polyester: Look and Feel

Polyester fabric tends to feel silky and even slippery to the touch. It doesn’t wrinkle, doesn’t shrink and it holds color well.

On the downside, it’s known for being prone to static build up. Not the greatest choice for a restless sleeper, unless you are into little static shocks every now and then. It’s okay if you are, we won’t judge.

Another type of people who won’t enjoy polyester bedding are those with sensitive skin. All synthetic fabrics may cause skin reactions, so if something like that has happened to you in the past, it’s best to avoid polyester.

The final disadvantage of polyester sheets vs cotton: polyester has very low moisture absorption. In simpler words, it doesn’t breathe. Not the best choice for the hotter months!

Cotton, on the other hand, is a breathable fabric. Meaning that on cotton sheets, you won’t be sweating uncomfortably. Don’t worry thought: they can still keep you warm in winter.

As to the softness of cotton, it depends on the quality of the fibers and on the thread count. Despite the popular belief, high quality cotton sheets with a lower thread count can feel just as soft as lower quality cotton sheets with a thread count of 800+.

Oh, and if you want sheets that you don’t need to iron – definitely go for polyester. 100% cotton wrinkles easily.
Check the top rated Polyester vs Cotton sheets deals here!.

Cotton vs Polyester: Durability

Polyester is famous for its durability – like we said, it’s also used to make athletic gear and outerwear, so sturdiness is pretty much a requirement.

Polyester sheets don’t need any special maintenance: throw them in the washer, tumble dry, and you’re done. As an additional benefit, they dry very quickly due to their non-absorbent qualities.

Are there any downsides? In fact, there are. Since polyester is water-resistant, it absorbs grease and oil, which may leave stains. As it ages, it tends to stiffen, so don’t be surprised if your polyester sheets start feeling more and more scratchy as time goes on.

Cotton bed sheets are quite durable too, although a lot depends on maintenance and, of course, quality. They do not last as long as polyester, but will still serve you for several years – maybe even a decade.

Finally, cotton sheets may shrink in the wash – something polyester doesn’t do.

Cotton vs Polyester: Safety

As a natural fabric, cotton has hypoallergenic and even anti-bacterial properties. It does not irritate sensitive skin (that’s, of course, on condition that you don’t choose the cheapest, roughest feeling option).

Polyester is basically plastic made into fabric. It’s not the greatest for your skin, but then again, that’s always the case with synthetic materials.

Polyester is also known for being highly flammable. If you’re planning a romantic night with candlelight, better opt for a different set of sheets.

Finally, concerns may rise over the effect of polyester on the environment. And those are rightful concerns, because polyester is not biodegradable. Which means it does not break down well in the soil.

When it comes to the environment, cotton is not completely without fault either. Its production often involves heavy use of pesticides during the growing stage and some dangerous chemicals during the process of making the fabric. Many eco-friendly brands, though, are taking a step away from using harmful substances – we have some recs for you below.

Cotton vs Polyester: Price

Polyester hands down wins this round of polyester sheets vs cotton: being a man-made fabric, it’s much more budget-friendly, and you can find plenty of options for your wallet.

The price range of cotton sheets varies greatly, from cheap blends with synthetic fibers to Supima cotton sets that cost literal hundreds of dollars. There are, of course, a lot of variants in between.

Cotton vs Polyester: Final Verdict

In the battle of cotton vs polyester sheets, both opponents have their advantages and disadvantages.

Polyester definitely wins if you are looking for a budget deal and for easy maintenance.

Cotton is a preferable option for those with health issues, and for those who prioritize the feel of the sheets over everything else.

No matter which one you choose, we have a list of options for you to check out.

Top Rated and Recommended Polyester Bed Sheets

recommended polyester sheet

1. Madison Park Essentials Satin Sheet Set

  • Silky satin finish
  • Wrinkle resistant
  • Budget friendly

Price & Reviews

This polyester set comes in a variety of vivid colors. All of them have shiny, elegant satin finish – perfect for a romantic date (or an Instagram photoshoot – whichever happens more often in your life). With how luxurious they look, it’s hard to believe these sheets don’t break the bank, but surprisingly they are more than affordable. That’s the beauty of polyester for you!

Typical for polyester sheets, they are long-lasting, plus the rich color doesn’t bleed in the wash. Just remember that sheets with a satin finish will be a little slippery on your bed – if that’s not your thing, read on to see other alternatives.

recommended polyester sheet

2. Great Bay Home Super Soft Extra Plush Plaid Polar Fleece Sheet Set

  • Designed for winter
  • Plaid pattern
  • Easy care and easy wash

Price & Reviews

These pretty plaid sheets will keep you warm in the coldest of the nights! The extra plush polar fleece is a great alternative to flannel. Use these sheets at home, in your RV or while camping – they will keep you warm everywhere.

Available in a variety of colors, they all share the classical plaid pattern and can complement any room design. Despite being very warm, they are lightweight, soft to the touch, and feel very comfortable. The maintenance is very easy – these sheets actually come out of the wash softer than they came in! You can’t find a better alternative for the winter months, especially at this price.

recommended polyester sheet

3. Smart Sheets Brushed Microfiber 4-Piece Bedding Set

  • Very affordable
  • Eleven color options
  • Pockets!

Price & Reviews

Swift Home introduces a curious new invention: Smart Sheets. Both sides of the sheet have 8” deep storage pockets where you can keep your phone, tablet, book, meds, and pretty much anything else that you might need in bed. We don’t know about you, but we love this idea! There are only so many things you can fit on the nightstand, so the pockets can definitely come in handy.

You’d expect a unique thing like this to cost a lot, but in fact it is the cheapest option on our list. Trust us: at their price, these sheets are definitely worth checking out!

Top Rated and Recommended Cotton Bed Sheets

Threadmill-Home-Linen

1. 800 Thread Count 100% Extra-Long Staple Cotton Bed Sheet Set by Threadmill Home Linen

  • Smooth and soft
  • Eco-friendly
  • 100% extra-long staple cotton

Price & Reviews

With a thread count of 800, these cotton sheets will feel like the softest thing you’ve ever touched. You’ll be sleeping like a baby – no scratchiness or itchiness anywhere. The extra-long staple cotton is just another guarantee of the product’s quality.

Threadmill Home Linen make it a point to stay as eco-friendly as possible. Their sheets are produced at a factory that’s powered by wind and solar energy. Their packaging does not use any plastic – the sheets come in a reusable bag made of 100% cotton. All the chemicals used during production are certified and safe. This is a great choice for people with allergies, sensitive skin, or simply those who are passionate about the environment.

recommended cotton sheets

2. Feather & Stitch 500 Thread Count 100% Cotton Sheet Set

  • Silky and sophisticated
  • Fitted sheets
  • OEKO-TEX Standard 100

Price & Reviews

Just like the previous brand, Feather & Stitch care about their customers’ safety. All their products are OEKO-TEX certified, meaning that they meet high safety and environmental standards. No harmful chemicals were used to produce these 100% cotton sheets.

These are fitted sheets, and they do fit great. Unlike some polyester options, they won’t slide right off your bed. 500 thread count doesn’t sound like much compared to the previous option, but they are in fact extremely soft. Durable, too – they can hold up well with frequent washing. All in all, a nice choice that you can’t really go wrong with.

recommended cotton sheets

3. Pinzon 400-Thread-Count Egyptian Cotton Sateen Hemstitch Sheet Set

  • Egyptian cotton
  • Soft and lightweight
  • Budget-friendly

Price & Reviews

Egyptian cotton is so famous that it’s become almost a household name. Which is why it’s often counterfeited by less than honest manufacturers. Pinzon is Amazon’s own brand, though, so you can safely rely on them to provide genuine products.

Even at the relatively unimpressive thread count of 400, these sheets feel great thanks to the high quality of the cotton. They are also sturdier than sheets with a higher thread count, and you can rest assured they won’t wear out fast. And the price, for the quality, is a steal! You won’t find cheaper genuine Egyptian cotton sheets anywhere. Highly recommended.

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