Flannel sheets for the winter

It's easy to stay warm during cold winter nights - just crank up the thermostat, and get yourself a thick comforter. But how do you transform winter nights into something magical? How can you make the experience of getting into bed an experience to savor and look forward to? The right flannel sheet is your answer!


Warm flannel sheets


It is widely known that flannel sheets are recommended for winters. But how do you find a great flannel sheet? Should you choose cotton flannel or polyester flannel? What makes a flannel sheet truly warm? And lastly, how do you make sure that a flannel sheet remains warm after many washes? Read on to find the answers!

Flannel is warm because it traps heat in air pockets

Flannel is made by brushing a base layer of fabric, in a process called napping. Napping raises some of the fibers in the fabric and creates a fuzzy feel. The air pockets between the fibers trap heat on cold winter nights.


Flannel sheet surface


Flannel sheets are usually made of cotton or polyester.

Flannel sheets were traditionally made of cotton. Cotton flannel feels drier than polyester, kind of like a paper towel. This is because cotton absorbs moisture better than polyester.

A word of caution: don't choose cotton flannel if you have night sweats. Cotton flannel can only hold 7-8% of its weight in water, and it will tend to stick to your skin when wet. If you're troubled by night sweats, read our article on how to get rid of night sweats with the perfect sheets.

Polyester flannel is much easier to maintain than cotton flannel because:

  1. It's cheaper
  2. It does not shed as much lint in the first few washes
  3. It does not shrink as much (more on these later)

 At the same time, polyester flannel also has a few disadvantages:

  1. It can get warm very quickly
  2. It can get sticky if you use creams or lotions before you go to bed at night
  3. Polyester flannel drapes closer to skin than cotton does. So while it feels more snug, it can also feel more "smothering". As winter comes to an end, polyester flannel could feel uncomfortably sticky.

    Flannel sheets often shed, shrink and become softer when you first wash them 

    • All cotton flannel sheds in the initial washes. The most common complaint from flannel buyers is that their sheets are shedding too much lint. This happens because during napping, tiny pieces of cotton fiber get cut off from the base fiber. The base fabric then pulls back these pieces of fiber by electrostatic activity. The fibers come out during the first few washes. The lint filter catches these fibers.
    • All cotton flannel shrinks, even the pre-washed ones. Most cotton flannel sheets shrink up to 8-11% while pre-washed ones shrink up to 3%. But to accommodate this, all flannel sheets run large.
    • Some flannel sheets get softer after you wash them a few times. When flannel is produced, electrostatic attraction sticks the cotton fibers to the base fabric. Then the packaging tends to push the fibers into the base fabric for several weeks. The first few washes tends to wash away some of the fibers and loosen up the flannel sheet. 

    How do you know what a flannel sheet will feel like after a few washes before you buy or at the time you buy? This is why we wash all our sheets ten times before testing them: so you'll know what your sheet will feel like after many washes.

    Remember though that these are only features of cotton flannel. Polyester flannel does not shed or shrink as much as cotton flannel. This is because polyester does not have much electrostatic activity to hold on to the tiny fibers. They also do not shrink as much as cotton flannel sheets.



    What should you look for when buying a flannel sheet:

    1. Cotton or polyester flannel? To truly experience flannel, we recommend investing in a cotton flannel sheet. If you are on a tight budget, polyester flannel is an option.
    2. Don't look for threadcount. Threadcount is irrelevant for flannel sheets. Instead, you should look for a number that measures how heavy one square yard of the fabric weighs. We recommend flannel sheets that weigh 5-6 ounces or 160-190 grams.
    3. Look for flannel sheets that are thick enough to keep you warm, but are not excessively bulky.
    4. Look for pre-washed flannel, although these are relatively rare.
    5. Confirm that your flannel sheet runs large.
    6. Avoid flannel sheets that have anti-shrinkage or non-wrinkle treatment. These sheets use chemicals that affects the fuzz and the feel of the sheet.

    What do these fancy words on the flannel packaging mean?

    • Double napping: This feature indicates that the manufacturer naps the base fabric on both sides. Most cotton flannel usually undergoes double napping. Polyester is too thin to withstand double-napping.
    • Combed cotton flannel: This is a type of cotton flannel in which the base fabric has only long yarns. We believe that 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: 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. 


    Here's how to show your flannel the love it deserves:

    1. Wash your flannel in cold water on medium spin for only about 20 minutes
    2. You could wash flannel with white vinegar the first time. My grandma swears by it: vinegar acts as a natural fabric softener without any lingering smell.
    3. 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.
    4. 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.
    5. 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.
    6. Clean your lint filter regularly before and after drying your flannel sheets.
    7. Do not sit 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.
    8. 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.

    Good cotton flannel sheets are worth investing in because there is nothing like the luxury of a true cotton flannel sheet. Thin, low quality flannel can become bald or transparent after a few washings. Cheap flannel will also pill more and become rougher. Sleeping on a coarse 'flannel' sheet with not much fuzz is not really a flannel-like experience. Cheap flannel sheets are also more susceptible to tears.

    The best flannel sheets we have found: Let It Snow and Toastmaster

    As you probably know, we test all our sheets 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.

    However, if you need a polyester flannel sheet that is easy to maintain, we recommend Toastmaster. Unlike most polyester 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.


    Psst.. here's a parting secret:

    You can also use flannel through the year. This is how: if you use flannel in the summer between a percale sheet and your bed-covering, it will soften your bed but not warm it up. Why does this work? It has something to do with the magnetic attachment of flannel to percale. This will also allow you to make the most of your investment in a wonderful cotton flannel sheet!

    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.