These days, most people buy their bedding sets without giving it a second thought. Flat sheet vs. fitted sheet? Who cares? Everything in the set is supposed to be there, right?
Surprisingly, the flat sheet vs. fitted sheet debate has passionate defenders, and detractors, on both sides of the aisle. Some say that each sheet serves a purpose, while others insist that certain sheets can have more than one purpose.
Of course, none of this matters if you don’t understand the difference between a flat sheet vs. a fitted sheet. More importantly, you’ll never succeed in getting the set in your linen closet if you never master the fine art of folding a fitted sheet.
A Tablecloth for Your Bed
A flat sheet is exactly what it sounds like. It’s a sheet that is flat. Specifically, a flat sheet is a piece of cloth (usually rectangular) that can lay completely flat on any surface.
Flat sheets on your bed protect your comforter from your body, and all the oils and dead skin cells that you have.
Of course, by that definition, a tablecloth could be a flat sheet! But today, we’re talking about flat sheets for beds.
Flat sheets forever
Flat sheets have been around since the 15th century. While sheets likely started as a way to make mattresses more comfortable, over time, people learned that sheets also protect the mattress, extending its life.
Throughout much of its history, the flat sheet was called the bottom sheet (since it went on the bottom of everything). And, it was the sheet that protected the mattress. You may find sheet sets that still call it the bottom sheet — especially in sets where there is no fitted sheet.
Since its creation, the fitted sheet is the one you will most often find on a mattress. The only thing that differentiates a fitted sheet from a flat sheet is that a fitted sheet has elastic sewn into the corners. That’s what gives the corners of a fitted sheet a puckered look. And, it’s what helps keep the fitted sheet on the mattress.
Building a better sheet
The fitted sheet was invented on October 6, 1959, by Bertha Berman. Like everyone else, Bertha was using a flat sheet as a bottom sheet. And, like many people, Bertha probably had trouble creating the proper fold to keep the flat sheet on the mattress. As a result, when people would toss and turn in their sleep, they’d end up wrapped in the flat sheet, and Bertha would have to remake the bed.
Bertha realized that attaching elastic to the corners of the flat sheet would create pockets that would help hold the fitted sheet in place without having to worry about creating the right fold.
With the addition of the elastic pockets, when someone had a restless night sleep, they didn’t take the sheet off, and Bertha had one less task to do in the morning.
Sheets Are There for Me
You’ve probably never thought about the purpose of a flat sheet vs. fitted sheet. Since both sheets are in nearly every bedding set, it’s safe to assume you should use both. In fact, you probably never realized that in the flat sheet vs. fitted sheet debate, each sheet has a specific purpose.
A fitted sheet is also called a bottom sheet. And, a bottom sheet does more than make your bed pretty or comfy. Bottom sheets help cover and protect your mattress.
From what? Well, not to gross you out, but when you sleep, you shed hair, slough off skin cells, and sweat. While all of this is normal, having it collect in your mattress will shorten its life.
Interestingly, while a fitted sheet can only be a bottom sheet (thanks to the corner pockets), a flat sheet can be both a bottom sheet and a top sheet.
Until the invention of the fitted sheet, flat sheets were bottom sheets. People placed their blankets in duvet covers to help protect the blanket and keep it clean. On wash day, the duvet cover was stripped, washed, and replaced with the rest of the sheets.
However, once fitted sheets were mainstream, manufacturers didn’t get rid of the flat sheets. People liked the idea of a top sheet. Instead of cramming blankets in a duvet cover, the top sheet is used to protect the blanket from sweat, skin, and hair.
And, frankly, some people just like the extra weight (however light) a top sheet provides when they sleep.
Do I have to have both?
The next time you’re in a hotel room, check out the bed. Specifically, check out the corners of the bed where the sheets are. You’ll notice that hotels don’t use fitted sheets. They use flat sheets as bottom sheets. There are likely several reasons for that.
First, it’s tough to fold a fitted sheet. Trust me. While there are ways to do it effectively, it is time-consuming. Again, trust me. Also, fitted sheets don’t fold down as flat as a flat sheet, and take up more room in a linen closet.
Second, many people feel it’s easier to make and unmake a bed when you use a flat sheet as a bottom sheet. While many people in the flat sheet vs. fitted sheet discussion may disagree, there are those that swear by it.
Third, as long as you use a duvet cover, you can skip the top sheet (since the blanket is protected). Of course, you’ll have to clean the duvet cover regularly. But, some people in the flat sheet vs. fitted sheet discussion state that if you use (and clean) a duvet cover, you don’t need a top sheet.
And, by using a top sheet with a duvet cover, you’re creating more work for yourself and wasting more water by having to wash more items.
That said, you should always use a bottom sheet. It doesn’t matter if you go with a flat sheet vs. fitted sheet, you’ve got to have one. It protects your mattress. Even if you use a mattress pad, protector, or even a mattress topper, you still need a bottom sheet.
How to Pick the Right Sheets
Generally, when you buy a bedding set, it includes one fitted sheet and one flat sheet. That said, some brands do not include a fitted sheet and instead include one or two flat sheets. However, there is no guarantee that the fitted sheet will work as a bottom sheet on your mattress.
While the bedding set includes sheet measurements (and may even include information that it fits a mattress with X depth), that’s no guarantee that it will work. You may need to take into account that you have a fluffy mattress topper that’s added depth to your mattress. Also, sheets may shrink in the dryer over time.
So, you may think that using a fitted sheet as a bottom sheet is the way to go. And it can be. However, you will still need to measure your mattress to get the right size sheet. For example, a twin flat sheet may not work as a bottom sheet on a twin bed. You may need to purchase a separate full-size or even a queen-size flat sheet to get the proper tight fit.
Fortunately, there are products out there that can help keep your bottom sheet on your mattress. And, it doesn’t matter if you use a flat sheet vs. a fitted sheet as the bottom sheet. There are products for both.
If you’ve decided that flat sheets are your bottom sheet of choice, you’ll need to learn how to fold proper hospital corners (also called mitered corners). Without these corners, your flat sheet will never stay on your bed.
Lay the flat sheet across the bed, centering it on the mattress. Tuck the end of the top sheet (on the short end of the mattress) under the foot of the bed.
With one hand, grab the lower edge of the sheet (on the long side) and pull it back at an angle. Pull tightly, and, as you pull, make sure the fabric from the short side of the mattress is pulling back toward the head of the bed. It should kind of look like a triangle.
Using your other hand, tuck the bottom flap of the sheet (the excess that looks like a triangle) under the mattress. Make sure to tuck it in tight!
Pull the fabric from the top of the bed (the one that’s still in your hand), straight down. With your free hand, help fold that fabric into a 45-degree angle. Then, tuck the rest under the bed as tight as you can. Repeat on the other side.
Lost? No worries. Check this out:
How to fold a fitted sheet
Unfortunately, Bertha’s original patent application for fitted sheets does not include folding instructions. However, this doesn’t mean you can wad your fitted sheet into a ball and throw it into your closet. Believe it or not, there is a way to fold fitted sheets properly.
Start on the short side of the fitted sheet. Hold each corner up and place your hand inside each fitted corner. Make sure you get your hand all the way in and that you fold the corners down.
Bring your hands together and fold one corner over the other (so one hand has both corners). Flip the fabric over, so everything lays flat. Repeat on the other (short side of the sheet).
Fold the long side of the sheet the same way as the short sides, then lay the sheet down and straighten and flatten the sheet. Then, fold the sheet into a rectangle.
Yeah. This is one of those things that’s easier to watch than explain:
That’s the difference between a flat sheet vs. a fitted sheet. As you can see, they’re kind of the same thing, and kind of not. Your side in the flat sheet vs. fitted sheet debate is a personal choice.
But who are we kidding? It’s a choice that’s probably influenced by your ability to create hospital corners and your success at folding fitted sheets.
Do you use a fitted sheet on your bed? Where do you stand in the debate? Sound off in the comments!