Microfiber vs. Cotton Sheets: What's the Difference?

March 22, 2022 | Casper Editorial Team

Soft, silky, sumptuous sheets—they’re the reason you never want to leave your bed in the morning and the soft haven that beckons you to sleep each night. So how do you decide between microfiber vs cotton when the material of your bed sheets can make or break your slumber?

The main difference between the two materials is their origins. Microfiber is created from synthetic textiles while cotton is developed from organic materials. While both materials generally are known for their soft textures and durability, when deciding between microfiber vs cotton bed sheets, the nuances between materials create a greater basis for comparison.

Keep reading to unearth the differences between microfiber vs cotton sheets so that you can choose wisely and sleep soundly.

With a variety of bed sheets to choose from, Casper has something for every preference. Find bed sheets that will suit your slumber.

What Is the Difference Between Microfiber and Cotton?

The difference between microfiber and cotton comes down to substance. 

  • Cotton is a fiber sourced from the cotton plant
  • Microfiber is an inorganically engineered blend of synthetic materials such as polyester or wood pulp. 

Both materials are utilized for a variety of purposes. From clothing manufacture to —most notably— the production of bed sheets, these two materials jointly reign the textile industry.

What Is Microfiber?

Microfiber is a man-made, synthetic material formed through a chemical process. It is composed of materials such as polyester, nylon polymers, or wood pulp. Unlike their natural-fiber counterparts, materials made with microfiber are less prone to shrinking and wrinkling while still maintaining a soft and durable feel.

The production of microfiber began as a cost-effective and easily-massed-produced alternative to natural fibers. Though microfiber was conceived as a cheaper alternative to natural fibers, the textile has evolved into a greatly desired material due to its soft, sleek feel, water and stain resistance properties, and affordability.

Nowadays, there are a variety of microfiber options in the textile industry that range in quality and production techniques. The differences between microfiber materials include:

  • GSM rating – Grams per square meter—or GSM—refers to the weight of the microfiber fabric. The higher the GSM rating, the better the material. A GSM rating over 100 indicates a higher thread density—resulting in a stronger, more durable microfiber—while a GSM rating below 90 is considered low-quality.
  • Brushed vs unbrushed – The process of brushing microfiber fabric involves gently brushing each microfiber to create an ultra-soft, velvety texture. The quality of microfiber can be determined by whether the fabric has been brushed, double-brushed (when the same process is applied to both sides of the microfiber), or not.

Though derived from humble origins, microfiber has deservedly become a fair competitor against natural fibers sold within the textile industry. Its soft sateen feel, moisture-wicking capabilities, and—above all else—stellar affordability ensure that microfiber will always be a material that consumers love. 

What Is Cotton?

Cotton is a natural fiber procured from the cotton plant. Cotton’s use dates back to the fifth millennium B.C. Although it progressively garnered attention throughout history as a widely-used textile, cotton’s true claim to fame came with the rise of the industrial revolution. With the rise of innovative production techniques, cotton’s soft, long, and strong fibers became a star staple in the world of textiles.

As a staple fiber—a material composed of various, differing lengths—cotton is produced by twisting its fibers together in order to form a long, continuous yarn. Known for its softness, durability, breathability, and its capacity to both absorb liquid and hold dye well, cotton has staked its claim as a viable, versatile fabric in the sphere of textile materials.

As the production of cotton has developed throughout time, so has humankind’s innovation of the fiber and plant. Today, there are differing genomes of cotton grown and produced throughout the world—each with their own distinct qualities and characteristics—available for consumers to enjoy. The four most popular genomes include:

  • Pima cotton – Pima cotton has long fibers contribute to both its softness and its durability. Because of its resistance to fraying, tearing, pilling, wrinkling, and fading, pure pima cotton is often used for sheets.
  • Egyptian cotton – Born of the same genus of pima cotton, this specific fiber is harvested from cotton plants that grow—surprisingly— both in Egypt and in South America. As an extra-long-staple cotton, Egyptian cotton is known for its softness and durability.
  • Upland cotton – Characterized by its short fibers, upland cotton is the most widely-produced cotton in the world. Upland cotton tends to be a more affordable cotton option.
  • Organic cotton – Organic cotton refers to any genome of cotton that is grown without chemicals, from plants that have not been genetically engineered. Because of its eco-friendly nature, fabrics made with 100% organic cotton, such as Casper’s luxuriously soft sateen sheets or blissfully breathable percale sheets, remain a coveted option for fabric and textile purchases. All cotton sheets from Casper are only made with this type of cotton, but come in various weaves depending on your preference.

Following the harvest of the cotton plant, cotton fibers are woven into materials using techniques specific to their desired softness or durability. When searching for cotton products, keep an eye out for these distinctive terms:

  • Sateen – Sateen refers to a cotton fabric made with a satin weave. This weave produces a material with a soft, lustrous feel.
  • Percale – Percale is a closely woven, plain-weave fabric. Its softness, crispness, and strong durability make it the elected fabric choice for bedding.

In addition to the origin and weave of its cotton fiber, the thread count of cotton determines the textile’s quality as well. Thread count is a measurement of fineness or coarseness of fabric. When looking for the best cotton sheets, look for a thread count between 200 and 400; any thread count lower than 180 tends to have a rough texture, while a thread count of about 400 is most likely an inflated figure that does not equate to softness.

Comparing the Two

Now that you know what microfiber and cotton are, let’s move on to the question that you really want answered—which is right for you? When deciding on how to buy sheets that are right for you, it’s best to break down how each fabric measures up in a few key categories: 

  • Cost – Depending on source and quality, microfiber and cotton can run the gamut between affordable and luxury pricing. However, the involved process of cotton production, plus its esteemed reputation, generally make cotton more expensive. Microfiber, on the other hand, is a lot cheaper to produce. This typically makes microfiber a little more affordable. 
  • Durability – Both microfiber and cotton are extremely durable materials that, with proper care, will stand the test of time. However, cotton tends to be more reliable if you want something that upkeeps a cozy feel.
  • Feel – Cotton is acclaimed for its breathability and ultra-soft feel. Its temperature-regulating abilities make it perfect for hot and cold sleepers alike, and its lightweight character gives it its signature “barely there” feel. Microfiber sheets offer a sleek, satiny feel reminiscent of silk. Its moisture-wicking abilities and thin profile ensure that it provides a soft, silky element to your bedding.
  • Maintenance – While cotton is made to last, cotton bedding is prone to wrinkling and shrinking with improper care. The textile also absorbs stains easily. Therefore, cotton requires frequent, careful washing in order to maintain its quality. Though microfiber bedding does wrinkle, its naturally stain-resistant qualities and ability to withstand frequent washing make it slightly less maintenance than its cotton counterpart.
  • Allergen-friendliness – When determining what the best sheets for allergies are, cotton bedding happens to be hypoallergenic. Why? Cotton fiber’s cool, breathable nature proves a difficult environment for bacteria and mold to thrive in. Microfiber, however, is not hypoallergenic, and may not be the best fit for sleepers with allergies or sensitivities.
  • Environmental Impact – Natural fibers, such as cotton, have a smaller environmental impact than synthetic fiber because they do not require as many chemicals for production. If eco-friendliness is in question in the decision of microfiber vs cotton, cotton sheets definitely leave a lighter impact on the environment.

Which is Better, Microfiber or Cotton?

In the debate between microfiber vs cotton sheets, the answer for which is better is highly dependent on individual preference. Cotton sheets bolster cotton’s famed breathability, versatility, and sigh-worthy softness. Their eco-friendliness—combined with cotton’s temperature-regulating and hypoallergenic qualities—make cotton sheets a sound investment for any sleeper. 

Microfiber, though a synthetic material, does not pale in comparison to other natural fibers. Its moisture-wicking and stain-resistant nature, coupled with its silky-satin feel, also make microfiber sheets an excellent choice for sleepers who wish for quality, low-maintenance bedding.

Sweeten Your Sleep with Casper Sheets

Whatever your choice for material, know that you can’t go wrong if it’s made with quality. At Casper, we are intentional about the materials we use and the impact they will have on your sleep. Casper’s 100% organic cotton sheets envelop your bed in soft, crisp fabric for a comfortable, cool, and restful night’s sleep.

Browse our different types of bed sheets today and be one step closer to a cozy night’s sleep.

Sources: 

  1. Sciencedirect. Staple Fiber. www.sciencedirect.com/topics/engineering/staple-fiber
  2. HGTV. Guide to Buying Sheets. www.hgtv.com/design/rooms/bedrooms/guide-to-buying-sheets
  3. Masterclass. Thread Count Guide: How to Choose the Best Thread Count. www.masterclass.com/articles/how-to-choose-the-best-thread-count#what-is-thread-count
  4. Masterclass. Natural vs. Synthetic Fibers: What’s the Difference? www.masterclass.com/articles/natural-vs-synthetic-fibers#what-are-synthetic-fibers