Key Takeaways
  • A fitted sheet protects your mattress, while a flat sheet can help keep your blanket or comforter clean
  • Fitted sheets are distinguished by their elastic edges and corner seams
  • Often sold as a set, both sheet types come in a variety of materials and weaves
  • People with a thicker mattress may need deep pocket sheets

Most sheet sets include a fitted sheet and a flat sheet, along with pillowcases. While some people prefer to sleep without a flat sheet, a fitted sheet helps protect your mattress in addition to adding comfort.

What Is a Flat Sheet?

A flat sheet, also known as a top sheet, is a rectangular piece of fabric that rests between your body and your blanket, comforter, or other bedding. It doesn’t have any stretch, and it’s both wider and longer than its corresponding mattress size. This design lets you drape it over the sides of your bed or tuck the edges under the mattress.

Common materials used for fitted sheets include cotton, polyester, linen, microfiber, silk, and bamboo-derived fabrics. They often feature decorative hems around the edges. 

Benefits of a Flat Sheet

A flat sheet acts as a barrier between your body and your other bedding. It can help protect your blanket, comforter, or duvet from getting dirty. This is particularly helpful if you sleep without a duvet cover or use bedding that’s difficult to launder.

Many people find sleeping with a flat sheet comfortable and prefer the classic appearance it offers. It’s also a cooler alternative to a blanket on hot nights.

However, some people prefer using fewer layers of bedding, and active sleepers may find that they get tangled up in a top sheet. Some people also find that making a bed with a top sheet is a little more work than simply pulling up a duvet or a comforter.

Are Flat Sheets Necessary? 

Flat sheets aren’t necessary, but they can make caring for your bedding more convenient. They prevent other bedding from coming into contact with skin particles and oils, skincare products, and dirt. This may cut down on how frequently you need to wash bulkier bedding like blankets or comforters.

However, some people who use a duvet with a cover or an easy-to-wash comforter find it just as convenient to sleep without a top sheet.

Can You Use a Flat Sheet as a Fitted Sheet?

It’s possible to use a flat sheet as a fitted sheet, but it’s not ideal because flat sheets lack the elastic needed to easily secure them to your mattress. You can use a special type of fold called hospital corners to get a flat sheet to fit tightly over a mattress. However, even with hospital corners, a flat sheet is more likely to shift or bunch while you sleep.

  • Protects bulkier bedding from getting dirty
  • Gives you the ability to add or remove layers based on temperature and comfort levels
  • Can be used as a decorative element that adds to a bed’s visual appeal
  • May be uncomfortable for active sleepers
  • Adds to the work of making a bed
  • May be an unnecessary expense for people with duvet covers or washable comforters

What Is a Fitted Sheet?

A fitted sheet has a rectangular shape, seams at the corners, and elastic that helps secure the sheet to your bed. Some fitted sheets have elastic at each corner, while others have it running around the entire perimeter of the sheet. The corner seams form pockets that hug the corners of the mattress.

Like flat sheets, fitted sheets come in many colors, materials, and thread counts. They are sold in dimensions that correspond to standard mattress sizes, such as full, queen, and king. Though harder to find, some companies make custom sizes.

When shopping for fitted sheets, keep the thickness of your mattress in mind. Manufacturers typically either specify the pocket depth of the sheets or simply state how thick of a mattress the fitted sheet can accommodate.

Benefits of a Fitted Sheet

Using a fitted sheet is an easy way to protect your mattress from skin oils, dirt, and spills that can stain and shorten the lifespan of your bed. Even if you have a mattress pad or a mattress protector, we still recommend using a fitted sheet. Fitted sheets are generally more comfortable than mattress covers, and unlike most mattress pads and protectors, they are intended to be regularly laundered.

  • Prolongs the life of your mattress by protecting it from skin oils and grime
  • Provides a soft, comfortable sleeping surface
  • Can be washed easily
  • Difficult to fold when not in use
  • Can be tricky to identify the long and short sides of the sheet if they aren’t labeled
  • Elastic eventually wears out

Flat Sheet vs. Fitted Sheet: What’s the Difference?

Flat and fitted sheets have different designs and serve different purposes. Flat sheets, which serve as a layer between your body and your blanket or comforter, are longer, wider, and flatter than fitted sheets. The stretchy edges of fitted sheets fit snugly around the mattress, providing a soft, smooth sleep surface.

Flat SheetFitted Sheet
  • Has a rectangular shape that drapes off the sides of the mattress
  • Rests between your body and your blanket or comforter
  • Serves as a protective layer beneath bulkier bedding
  • Uses elastic and corner seams to secure the sheet tightly to the mattress
  • Provides a comfortable sleep surface
  • Protects the mattress from sweat, body oils, and dirt
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