Guide to the Different Types of Bedding

A list of basic terms and items.

Learn the names of popular bedding items.
The perfect bed is comfortable and attractive. Rob Melnychuk/Stockbyte/Getty Images

There's a reason why the bedding section in the department store is so large; there are dozens of different types of pillows, sheets and bedding items. It can be a bit confusing learning all of these different terms, but knowing the definitions will help you shop and find the right item for your bed. Whether it's linens, bed coverings, pillows or the insert you use with a duvet cover, this list will help you create the perfect bed.

Top Sheet

Commonly used in North America, but uncommon in Europe, a top sheet, also known as a flat sheet, is the sheet that separates you from your comforter, blanket or quilt. In Europe (and very slowly catching on in the United States), the duvet cover takes the place of the top sheet.

Bottom Sheet

A bottom sheet, or fitted sheet, is the sheet with the elastic edge that fits over your mattress--hence the name bottom or fitted sheet. As today's mattresses have grown much thicker, it's important to check the measurements before buying a fitted sheet to make sure it will stretch all the way over your mattress.

Coverlet

A coverlet is a decorative fabric covering that does not touch the floor and normally does not cover the pillows. Woven coverlets and quilts fall into this category.

Bedspread

A bedspread is similar to a coverlet--a thin, decorative covering--but it normally covers the entire bed and touches the floor.

Cotton, chenille, wool or polyester are common bedspread materials.

Blanket

Blankets are used to add warmth. While some people use a blanket on its own, many others prefer to top the blanket with a more attractive quilt, comforter or duvet. Blankets are most commonly made of wool, cotton, polyester, microfiber plush or a blend of fibers.

Comforter

A comforter is a bed cover stuffed with fibers or down for warmth, and then sewn together on all four sides. Probably the most common bed topper in North America, comforters are available in a nearly endless range of colors, patterns and styles, and are a major decorative accent in the bedroom. Most are made of either cotton or polyester.

Duvet

A duvet is similar to a comforter except it requires the use of a duvet cover, where a comforter does not. Typically, a duvet is solid white, and stuffed with down or a down alternative.

Duvet Cover

A duvet cover covers and protects a duvet. Like an envelope, it has an opening where the comforter or duvet is inserted. Once placed inside, the opening is closed with buttons, or occasionally a zipper. Duvet covers are generally very decorative and are available in a nearly endless selection of colors and styles. The duvet cover takes the place of a top sheet in Europe, and some people in the U.S. also use it this way.

Euro or Continental Pillow

A Euro or Continental pillow--a large square pillow--is a decorative pillow that sits back against the headboard. The cover is removable for washing.

Sleeping Pillow

A sleeping pillow is the rectangular pillow that you lay your head on when sleeping.

Sleeping pillows have three sizes --standard, queen, or king--to fit your bed or sleeping habits. There are many styles of sleeping pillows.

Decorative Pillow

A decorative pillow, also referred to as an accent or throw pillow, is a small pillow that comes in many shapes, sizes and colors to add decoration to a bed.

Bolster Pillow

A bolster pillow is a tubular pillow used for lumbar support while sitting up to read in bed, but more often, it’s used as a decorative pillow or accent pillow. These pillows range in size from very small to spanning the entire width of the bed.

Pillowcase

A pillowcase is used to cover a sleeping pillow, and sometimes decorative or bolster pillows. It’s normally a rectangular shape with an opening on one end where you insert the pillow. Change your pillowcase at least twice per week to protect your facial skin from breakouts or skin irritation.

Pillow Sham

A pillow sham is similar to a pillowcase but it does not open on one side. Instead, it has a flange, which is an extra piece of fabric that extends from where the pillow sham is sewn on each edge. Pillow shams are often more decorative than pillowcases and more likely to have elaborate embellishes. Add a couple of pillow shams to your bed for extra style.

Bed Skirt

A bed skirt is a decorative piece of fabric placed between the mattress and box springs. It extends to the floor at the mattress's sides and bottom. Its main function is to hide the box spring, but bed skirts also add a touch of softness, color and decor to the room.

Throw Blanket

Smaller than a regular blanket, a throw, or toss blanket, is used to add extra warmth at the foot of the bed, or when wrapped around your shoulders. They are another good way to add a touch of color to your bed.

Now that you understand the different types of bedding, it will be much easier to design the bed of your dreams: the perfect spot to sleep and restore your energies each night.

Updated by Michelle Ullman