Flat Sheet vs Fitted Sheet: How to Tell the Difference

For most, making the bed is one of the first chores of the day. But before straightening up the blankets, pillows, and comforters, one must handle those bed sheets first. And while doing so, you’ll likely notice there are two types of sheets: flat and fitted. This could you to wonder what is a flat sheet vs fitted sheet.

Does a person need both? One or the other? There are some characteristics that separate the two styles, but they have one thing in common for sure: both flat sheets and fitted sheets aim to make your bed more comfortable and welcoming.

Types of Sheets

Bed sheets have been around for a long time, with the term first being used in the 15th century. Simply put, a bed sheet is a rectangular piece of cloth used as bedding. The two main types of sheets are flat and fitted, and each comes in a variety of sizes and colors. Bed sheets are used extensively in developed countries, as they improve comfort and are more sanitary.

Thread Count

Bed sheets are often described by thread count, which is the number of threads per square inch of material. Usually, the higher the count, the softer the sheet is, but the weave and material may also affect softness. The ply of a sheet is the number of fibers twisted together as the sheet is produced, and this can also impact quality and feel. For example, a two-ply, 300-count bed sheet will feel heavier than a one-ply, 400-count sheet.


According to the book Textiles for Residential and Commercial Interiors, the most common fabrics for bed sheets are muslin, percale, sateen, flannel, and knitted jersey. The most common materials used in bed sheets are cotton and cotton blends, with cotton and polyester being the most popular blend. Linen and silk are also popular. Cotton and Egyptian cotton are among the softest choices.In the United States and Canada, bed sheets can be sold individually but can also come in a set. Typically sets are sold according to bed size, like king or queen, and contain two pillow cases, a flat sheet, and a fitted sheet. Some come with other forms of bedding, such as a comforter.

What Is a Flat Sheet vs Fitted Sheet?


A flat sheet is a piece of cloth that can easily be folded and lie completely flat against any surface. Typically, a flat sheet has to be tucked in or under a mattress for a secure fit. It can also be easily removed and stored when not in use. Flat sheets are also easy to clean. They are typically known as the “top” sheet on a bed because that’s where they are often used. A person can easily sleep with a flat sheet covering them like a blanket or quilt.

A flat sheet could be used as the bottom sheet, but it would have to be tucked tightly in a particular way under the mattress, which is known as making “hospital corners.”


A fitted sheet has two or four corners fitted with elastic bands designed to fit over a mattress. They are difficult to fold and do not lie flat. Some fitted sheets may come with drawstrings to help tighten the elastic bands and create a more secure fit. This will keep the sheet from sliding off the mattress when someone is sleeping on it. It also protects the mattress from getting dirty and from normal wear and tear.A fitted sheet is typically the “bottom” sheet on a bed, meaning it is the one that covers the mattress and the one a person sleeps on. That’s because the fitted sheet can fit securely over the mattress. So, if a person is deciding between flat sheet vs fitted sheet, there are some questions they should ask. For example, do you need a flat sheet? Or should you use a fitted sheet on the bottom?

Advantages of Not Using Both Sheets

crumpled bed sheet

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

Many use both types of sheets when making their bed. Usually, the fitted sheet goes on first as its corners fit snugly over the corners of the mattress. The flat sheet goes on next as the top sheet, with its corners and edges tucked in under the mattress. Often, people sleep on the fitted sheet, then cover themselves with the flat sheet and a blanket, quilt, or comforter.Of course, there are some who use one type of sheet over the other. Eliminating either the flat or fitted sheet has its advantages. For one, there’s one less sheet to put on the bed when making it and one less sheet that needs to be cleaned.There are many people who live without a top or flat sheet on their beds. While the flat and fitted sheets are popular in the United States, most Europeans use duvet covers instead of a flat sheet. A duvet is a type of bedding made up of a soft bag filled with down, wool, or silk and protected with a removable cover. The removable cover is taken from the bed and cleaned when necessary.Using a duvet also prevents the situation where a sleeper will wake up and find the flat sheet scrunched up at the bottom of the bed. Duvets also make for easy bed-making, which is a plus for children. All that is needed is to move the corners of the duvet back to the corners of the bed.As mentioned before, a fitted sheet is difficult to fold and can be a challenge to clean. Often, if put in the laundry with other items, the fitted sheet may tangle around some of those items and prevent them from getting washed or dried.

Advantages of Using Both Sheets

Bed Sheet

Image by JayMantri from Pixabay

On the other hand, not using a flat or fitted sheet means you may have to clean whatever you cover yourself with more frequently or clean the mattress occasionally. That’s more work than throwing one more sheet in the laundry.Also, the flat sheet provides a snug feeling that isn’t possible with a duvet, which is too thick to tuck in. And since the flat sheet is tucked in or under the mattress, the sheet can be easily removed if it becomes uncomfortable or the sleeper becomes too warm.It also allows the sleeper to just sleep under the sheet without a quilt, blanket, or comforter if the temperature is somewhere in between too hot and too cold. None of that can’t be done with a duvet, as inserting it into the duvet cover can be difficult.Using a fitted sheet on the bottom is helpful because it protects the mattress and it is easy to clean. As mentioned before, the fitted sheet fits closely and securely on the mattress. It won’t move around if the sleeper is sliding around.Replacing either sheet is also easier and cheaper than replacing a duvet.

How to Decide Between Flat, Fitted, or None at All

Here’s how to figure out the difference between flat sheet vs fitted sheet.  

Bed Size

Before buying bed sheets, a person should know the size of the bed and the length, width, and thickness of the mattress. A fitted sheet that is too big will not fit the bed properly. It’ll slide around and possibly off the mattress as the person sleeps. If it’s too small, the sheet will obviously not cover the entire mattress. And remember, if you use a mattress topper or some kind of additional layer on top of the mattress, take that into account. The flat sheet has to go over that layer too.


If you want the sheets to match the rest of your bedding and the bedroom itself, then choose your colors wisely. There’s nothing wrong with going with white or cream sheets, as they are the easiest to match. Bed sheets come in all kinds of colors and fabrics, so finding a match shouldn’t be too difficult. For the kids, there are many kinds of sheets featuring characters from television, movies, video games, and books.

Finished Look

A flat sheet usually has seams around its edges, with the wider seam meant to show that end should be placed at the head of the mattress. Occasionally, the sides do not have seams but are finished with the selvage, which is defined as a “self-finished” edge of fabric. It works as a hem that prevents fraying. Typically, the sheet is placed on the bed with the selvage side facing down.When deciding between flat sheet vs fitted sheet, it’ll come down to whatever you feel most comfortable sleeping in.

The Choice Is Yours

Bed Sheet

Image by StockSnap from Pixabay

To have a flat sheet, fitted sheet, or both? That’s the question.One thing to remember in the flat sheet vs fitted sheet discussion is that personal taste matters. For many, there is no wrong answer; they’ll choose what they like best. Is having that flat sheet just extra work, or is it a saving grace during those 70-degree nights? The choice that leads to a good night of sleep is likely the right one. You should sleep on it before you decide.

Featured Image: Image by bottlein from Pixabay