Definitions for the Different Types of Bedding

Know the difference between pillows, linens, and blanket types

Learn the names of popular bedding items.
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 bed coverings. Not only are there different types of items, but then, they come in different colors, prints, and sizes.

It can be a bit confusing learning all of these different terms, but knowing the definitions will help you when you are shopping and need to find the right item for your bed. Whether it's linens, bed coverings, pillows or the insert you use with a duvet cover, knowing these terms will help you create the perfect bed.

Bed Linen Types

  • Top sheet or flat 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 or fitted 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.
  • Bedspread: A bedspread is a thin, decorative covering that normally covers the entire bed and touches the floor. Cotton, chenille, wool, or polyester are common bedspread materials.
  • 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. These are normally bed accents and they can sit on top of bedspreads. If you think of hotel room bedding, these can also be found at the foot of the bed used like foot runners.
  • Blanket: Blankets are used to add warmth. While some people use a blanket on its own, others may 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 encases 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.

    Pillow Types

    • 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 a 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 or throw 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 can be very small or can span 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. It is recommended that you change your pillowcase at least twice per week to protect your facial skin from breakouts or skin irritation.
    • Pillow sham: Pillow shams are decorative coverings for pillows, often designed with trims, ruffles, flanges, or cording. Add a couple of pillow shams to your bed for extra style.

    Other Bed Accessories

    • Bed skirt, dust ruffle, or valence: Most commonly called a bed skirt or bed ruffle, it 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.
    • Mattress pad: Also called a mattress topper or underpad, this layer of padding is used above the mattress and beneath a bottom sheet to add comfort.
    • Featherbed: A feather bed is made of feathers contained within a fabric shell that lies on top of a mattress as a mattress topper. The feather bed will normally have elastic straps or even have a fitted sheet on it so that it fits over a mattress and stays in place.