Summary: Flannel sheets are warmer than regular sheets, and help you sleep better in the winter. If you want luxuriously warm and breathable warm sheets, choose cotton flannel. If you want less expensive or easy-to-maintain warm sheets, choose micro flannel. There are many flannel myths - e.g., that flannel gets too hot, that microfiber is better than flannel, etc. All flannel sheets shed and pill, but they can last for years. We recommend the best flannel sheets we've tested: Let It Snow and ToastMaster.
- Why consider flannel, if you already have blankets or comforters?
- Cotton flannel or micro flannel?
- The #1 reason why some swear never to use flannel ever again
- The 5 most common flannel myths
- What to look for when you're buying a flannel sheet
- How to make your flannel last for years
- Our "Touchy-Feely" laboratory's favorite flannel sheets
Flannel sheets have a few advantages over blankets and comforters or higher room temperatures.
1. Help you sleep better:
Flannel sheets provide instant warmth. When you put on a flannel shirt, it feels warm, dry and inviting compared to a dress shirt or blouse. This is what a good flannel sheet feels like.
This instant warmth is important. You never experience the chill of a cold section of the bed. When you toss and turn at night, you won't wake up searching for a warm section of the comforter. With flannel sheets, you sleep more soundly.
2. Are healthier than indoor heating:
Flannel sheets are healthier than indoor heating. Indoor heating dries up the air, which in turn dries your nasal passages and throat. This leaves you vulnerable to cold, sinus infection and the flu. It's healthier to turn down that thermostat and use flannel sheets.
3. Relieve joint pains for older people, especially those with arthritis:
Older people with arthritic joints know that winter makes their pains worse. Flannel helps them stay warm, even when they toss and turn. If you're looking for a thoughtful gift this holiday season for an older family member, high-quality flannel sheets are a good idea.
4. Reduce your heating costs:
Sales of flannel sheets have been the highest now than at any time over the last 60 years, according to Debenhams, the British retail chain. Debenhams says it's because people discovered that flannel sheets reduce heating costs.
Flannel traps heat in air pockets
Flannel is made by rubbing a rough metal brush over a thick base fabric made of short fibers (simply put). Tens of thousands of tiny fibers get pulled away from the base fabric and make the fabric surface feel fuzzy. These fibers form millions of insulating air pockets.
When you lie in flannel sheets, these air pockets collect and hold the heat your body generates, and make you feel warm. Even when you are away from bed, these pockets continue to retain the warm air in them. This is why flannel sheets feel instantly warm when you get into bed and stay warm all night.
Before buying any kind of flannel, there are 3 things you must know.
1. Flannel sheets change after washing:
All flannel sheets shed lint - it doesn't matter of what kind of material they are made.
This is because during the brushing process described earlier, excess tiny fibers get pulled away from the base fabric but remain unattached on the sheet. During the first few washes, these tiny fiber pieces shed as lint in the dryer.
But 80% of the shedding usually happens in the first wash.
Also, when newly-made flannel sheets are packed at the mill for shipment, the packaging pushes down the fibers. The first few washes loosen up the surface fibers and bring them back to their original fluffiness. Flannel sheets usually become warmer and fuzzier after the first few washes.
This is why, at Perfectlinens.com, we wash our sheets TEN times before we test them in our Touchy-Feely lab: so you'll know what your sheet will feel like after many washes.
2. All flannel sheets shrink:
Cotton flannel sheets shrink so they're cut oversize to accommodate this. Most of the shrinkage is removed in the first wash and all the shrinkage is gone by three washes. Some cotton flannel sheets come preshrunk but we don't recommend them because they use chemical treatments that reduce absorption and softness.
Micro flannel sheets don't shrink because they're made of spun polyester filaments instead of cotton. Micro flannel sheets don't shrink unless you badly overdry them and they melt! (Never iron micro flannel sheets!)
3. Flannel pills more than regular sheets:
Pills are tiny rough balls of accumulated loose surface fibers. Flannel sheets pill more than regular sheets because they have so many fuzzy fibers sticking out from the base fabric. If you toss and turn at night more than usual, or dry your sheets too long, you will find greater pilling.
There are two types of flannel, depending on the base fabric from which they are made: cotton flannel and micro flannel. The basic difference is that cotton flannel is made from cotton, and micro flannel is made from polyester.
From our laboratory tests and from our experience, both types can be warm -- significantly warmer to the touch compared to non-flannel sheets such as percale, sateen or microfiber.
|Cotton flannel||Micro flannel|
|Feels instantly warm when you climb into bed||✔||✔|
|Breathes better, especially if you use skin-creams||✔|
|Feels dry (not hot and sweaty)||✔|
|Feels soft, especially on dry or sensitive skin||✔|
|Easier to maintain||✔|
- Choose cotton flannel if
1. you feel sweaty in bed, or
2. if you use skin lotions, or
3. if you want to avoid having your skin come in contact with a synthetic sheet all night, or
4. you want the authentic flannel experience
- Choose micro flannel if
1. you have dry or sensitive skin, or
2. if you have a limited budget, or
3. if you want a flannel sheet that is easy to maintain.
Cotton flannel is more breathable and wicks away moisture
- Breathes better. Because cotton flannel is thick, it 'holds its shape' (imagine a thick curtain). It doesn't stick to your skin, and gives it more breathing space.
- Feels drier. Cotton absorbs more moisture than polyester (you already know that, if you've read our guide to finding a cool sheet). If you're sweating under the sheets, choose cotton flannel.
- Has a 'fuller' feel. Why is this? One, it's heavier. Cotton flannel is about 25% heavier than micro flannel. Two, cotton flannel absorbs moisture better. Because it's a heavier, natural fabric that wicks away moisture, it gives you a more luxurious feeling.
A word of caution: if you have night sweats or feel sweaty at night, choose a sheet that can manage your night sweats. Cotton flannel does absorb more moisture than micro flannel, but it can't release that moisture to the air as fast as one of our cooling sheets can.
- Can feel rough because cotton flannel is made from a heavy base fabric. Lower quality cotton flannel sheets use thick, fat yarns that provide weight but feel rough, especially when the surface fibers disappear over time. Choose higher quality cotton flannel sheets, care for them properly, and replace them with new ones every few years. If you have sensitive or dry skin, choose micro flannel.
Micro flannel is less expensive and more durable
- Feels softer than cotton flannel because microfiber yarns contain bunches of thin filaments twisted together. When the mill brushes the microfiber base fabric, millions and millions of these filaments stick out from the fabric to form a rich field of fibers that makes the sheet feel velvety smooth. Natural cotton fibers don't have as many fibers (in a similar-size yarn) as man-made polyester filaments.
- Less expensive than cotton flannel
- Like most synthetic sheets, micro flannel is cheaper than cotton flannel.
- Lasts longer than cotton flannel. Because the yarns are made of polyester synthetic fibers, they are strong and durable. They don't break as easily as cotton fibers so micro flannel sheets retain their velvety feel longer than cotton flannel sheets.
- Easier to maintain than cotton flannel:
- Sheds less lint than cotton flannel. This is because polyester fibers have less electrostatic charge than cotton and loose surface fibers are easily removed by the mill during production.
- Shrinks less than cotton flannel. Cotton flannel sheets shrink about 8-11% from their original size, while micro flannel sheets shrink almost not at all.
- Dries faster because synthetic fibers like micro flannel hold less water than cotton flannel, so it also saves on drying costs.
- Stains less easily than cotton flannel - so if you have young children on the bed or drink your hot chocolate in bed and worry about getting your sheets dirty, choose micro flannel.
- Doesn't repel pets! Cotton flannel has electrostatic activity -- you can see sparks when you climb into flannel sheets, so cat and dog hair attaches more to than to micro flannel sheets, which have no electrostatic activity.
Micro flannel can get sticky: micro flannel is made of very fine filaments which bend easily. Micro flannel drape easily and stays closer to your skin and may feel sticky. Also, if you use a moisturizer or skin lotion at night, the micro filaments don't absorb the lotion and it accumulates on the surface of the fibers. Over time it may feel more sticky than you'd like.
Because we buy only cheap flannel sheets.
Think about it.
When do we buy flannel sheets? In the winter. What happens during the winter? Thanksgiving sales, Holiday season sales, etc. This is when retail stores have wonderful looking flannel sheets for $19.99.
Those sheets are almost always of poor quality, they pill easily, get rough and bald. Put off by such sheets, we swear never to buy flannel sheets again.
Flannel myth #1: "Flannel sheets feel great for the first few minutes and then you're sweating"
If you're feeling too hot in your flannel sheet, the reason is one of these:
- Your blanket or comforter is too thick. You would feel hot even if you used a cotton sheet with such a blanket. Switch to a thinner blanket or comforter.
- You are using micro flannel. Switch to a cotton flannel sheet to let your skin breathe.
- It's time to replace your cotton flannel sheet. A good quality cotton flannel sheet will not feel too hot.
- You probably have night sweats, and should consider using a specialist cotton sheet to solve this issue.
Flannel myth #2: "My old flannel sheet has lasted for so many years. It's still so soft that I don't need to replace it"
Old flannel sheets feel soft because the pills are made of fine cotton. But those shets no longer have the air pockets that make them instantly warm.
We've seen customers use the same flannel sheets for years. When they try a new good-quality flannel sheet, they exclaim "I can't believe how warm this is!".
You don't know what you're missing till you try a new flannel sheet. Especially if you've been using one for years.
Flannel myth #3: "Jersey sheets/ fleece sheets/ microfiber sheets/ electric blankets are cheaper and warmer than flannel"
Jersey is cheap and soft, not warm: Jersey is a knit fabric (unlike cotton flannel, which is a woven fabric) and is a fabric that soft T-shirts are usually made of. Jersey sheets are cheaper than flannel, as soft as flannel but they are nowhere as warm.
Fleece is cheap and soft, but neither warm nor breathable: Fleece sheets are soft, thick, cheap synthetic sheets. They seem great value for money because you get such a bulky sheet for such a low price, but they are neither warm nor breathable.
Microfiber is also cheap and soft, but neither warm nor breathable: Microfiber sheets have the same issue. They are synthetic, and are usually soft, but are neither warm nor breathable.
Brushed microfiber sheets = micro flannel. Brushed microfiber sheets are the same as micro flannel.
Electric blankets are downright dangerous, and should never be considered as a safe alternative to flannel sheets.
Flannel myth #4: "It's not worth buying flannel because it can only be used in the winter"
Flannel was traditionally used in the winter, but you can now use it through the year.
Tip: Use a flannel sheet in the spring/ summer, but layer a cotton percale sheet over it. This makes the sheets very soft but not warm.
Flannel myth #5: "Flannel has no color choices. You can find it in only plaid"
This was true till recently, but flannel sheets are now available in multiple colors, especially micro flannel. We sell micro flannel (called Toastmaster) in 17 different colors.
- Weight, not threadcount. Flannel is described by weight. Flannel marked '5 oz' means that one square yard of the sheet weighs 5 ounces.
- Supima cotton flannel is the best, because the fibers are soft and will not prick your skin (our guide to cool sheets will tell you more about why Supima is so good)
- Do not use flame retardants: Look for flannel sheets that explicitly mention that they do not use chemicals, especially flame retardants. You do not want to subject your family to the risk of being in close contact with chemical-laden sheets for 8 hours every night.
- Country of origin matters - Germany or Portugal are the best. From our experience, Portuguese flannel is marginally better since it tends to be softer.
- If you want flannel sheets with colorful patterns, buy a set that weighs closer to 6 oz. A light flannel sheet with multiple colors on it can wear and tear easily.
- Beware of cotton-polyester blends that promise to combine warmth with durability. The polyester makes the sheet fibers tough. This makes it durable, but it also makes the pills hard and doesn't allow them to separate easily from the base fabric. You end up with a flannel sheet with lots of hard little pills that remain stuck to the sheet.
Do these complicated words on flannel packaging matter?
Double napping - Important: Means that the base fabric was brushed on both sides. Most cotton flannel usually undergoes double napping. Polyester is too thin to withstand double-napping.
Cotton velvet flannel - Not important: Fancy marketing phrase for regular cotton flannel. Means that there are so many fuzzy fibers on the sheet that it feels like velvet.
Combed cotton flannel - Not important: Type of cotton flannel in which the base fabric has only long yarns. This doesn't make a difference to how the flannel feels. For good flannel, all you need is a bulky base fabric, so the length of the yarn doesn't really matter.
Plain weave vs. twill - Not important: This describes the weave structure of the base fabric. Again, this is a term thrown about by retailers that shouldn't make a real difference to you. Most flannel sheets are made of plain weave.
Change what you combine your flannel sheets with, depending on how cold it gets.
- When it's mildly cold, pair your flannel sheets with a woolen blanket.
- When it gets really cold, combine your flannel sheets with a thick down comforter.
- When it's a bit warmer, in spring and summer, combine a cotton sheet (ideally a cotton percale) with your flannel sheet to get a surprisingly soft but not warm sheet.
- Wash in cold water on medium spin for only about 20 minutes
- Wash with white vinegar the first time. My grandma swears by it: vinegar acts as a natural fabric softener without any lingering smell.
- Do not over-dry your flannel sheets. This is important. During drying, the fabric rubs against itself. The resulting abrasion can cause pilling. If you dry your flannel sheets too much, there is not enough water to cushion the abrasion. This will cause your flannel sheets to pill.
- Take your flannel sheets out of the dryer when they are damp in the afternoon, and leave them on the bed. By sleep-time, your flannel sheets would have dried out completely. This will also reduce the amount of wrinkles in your sheet. And don't worry about the amount of water drying out of the sheet - it will be less than half a cup.
- Do not mix your cotton flannel sheets in the dryer with any other clothes. If you mix cotton flannel in the dryer with any other fabric, the flannel's sensitive fibers will get roughened up. Let alone the zipper on your blue jeans, even the fabric of the jeans itself is enough to damage your flannel sheets.
- Clean your lint filter regularly before and after drying your flannel sheets.
- Do not use fabric softeners or dryer sheets, if you don't want your sheets to feel like plastics. Both of these will make your sheets feel waxy, and ruin their breathability. This is just true for all cotton sheets, not just for flannel sheets.
- Use a fabric shaver (only $8 here) to get rid of the pills on your flannel sheets, if they are bothering you.
- Don't use a lint brush on your flannel sheets. Using one may get rid of some pills, but it will do more damage to your flannel sheets by pulling away those tiny fibres that make your flannel sheet feel warm.
- Do not sit for too long on your flannel sheets. If you do this, the fabric brushes against itself and the pressure could result in pilling, leaving your flannel sheet feeling rough.
The best flannel sheets we have found: Let It Snow and Toastmaster
We test all our sheets in the laboratory on state-of-the-art fabric testing equipment and sell only the top performing few sheets.
If you decide to go with a cotton flannel sheet, we recommend Let It Snow. In our tests, it not only ranked high on warmth but it was also one of the smoothest flannels we tested. Excessively long fibers can lead to pilling, and make a flannel sheet rough over time. Let It Snow is made using a unique shearing process that trims the fibers, and reduces pilling. In our laboratory tests, we found that Let It Snow pills and sheds much less than cheaper, mass-market flannel sheets. Because of this, Let It Snow is more durable than most cotton flannel sheets.
However, if you need a micro flannel sheet that is easy to maintain, we recommend Toastmaster. Unlike most micro flannel sheets, Toastmaster is napped on both sides. The fibers in Toastmaster are also smaller and more pliable than in most flannel sheets. This makes the surface of the sheet exceptionally smooth and even. Toastmaster is also available in over 15 colors.
Both Let It Snow and Toastmaster do not use flame retardant chemicals, so they absolutely safe for you and your family.
If you have any flannel related questions, just ask us below and we'll get back to you pronto. And please share this article with any friends or family who you think will find this useful. We appreciate your help.