True or false? Polyester and microfiber are two completely different materials—polyester is the stretchy material that makes up a good majority of clothing, and microfiber is for cloths and cleaning rags. Right?
Not exactly. Experts say they are actually closely related and more alike than different.
We talked to two bedding experts about the materials to find out everything you need to know—from choosing the right fabric to shopping for bedding. Here's what they had to say:
Polyester Is the Most Common Material
When it comes to go-to fabrics, polyester is definitely the most common and has been widely used for many years. Why?
Well, first, it’s cheaper.
"Polyester is a synthetic fabric made from petroleum and petroleum-derived products," shares Torun Hannam, founder of The Bamboo Shop. "Polyester fabric is cheap to make and it is one of the world’s most popular textiles. [However], In recent decades, the popularity of 100% polyester in clothing and bedding has decreased in favor of mixing it with natural fabrics such as cotton to add softness and breathability."
Secondly, it’s an easy-to-launder fabric. Polyester properties cut down on both wrinkles and shrinkage. This makes the material easy to clean, which, when it comes to sheets, is an important characteristic.
However, the major downside of polyester is that it has more of an artificial feel due to the weave. It also can’t quite get away from being seen as a man-made material due to the synthetic construction of the fibers.
Microfiber Can Be Seen as a Polyester ‘Upgrade’
In some ways, microfiber can be seen as an 'upgrade' from polyester rather than a completely different fabric. Created from a blend of polyester and nylon, microfiber boasts a slightly higher price tag but offers more breathability and water absorbency than most fabrics.
Why is microfiber more expensive and by how much?
"The price point for microfiber fabric is higher than for polyester as the manufacturing process involved in producing the ultra-thin fibers of microfiber is much more complex," shares Hannam. "Both materials are cheaper to produce than natural fibers, though."
Microfiber is also a stronger material. "Microfiber beddings are stronger than polyester bedding because of the split weaving method," shares Stephen Light, Co-Owner of Nolah Mattress. "The split weave allows microfiber fabrics to boast a higher tensile strength than traditional polyester fabrics."
The fabric has two main types of weaves: flatweave and split weave. And you can often tell the difference by touch. (The split weave tends to stick to your fingers more.)
In a split weave, the fibers are split to create a finer, multi-strand material that's actually more water-absorbent. "This is why split weave microfibre is popular in activewear, as well as in cleaning products such as mops and cleaning cloths," shares Hannam.
This is also the reason for microfiber's popularity with bedsheets.
How Do Polyester and Microfiber Compare?
When it comes to comparing the fabrics—and specifically, comparing them as sheets—there are quite a few factors to consider.
First, Hannam weighs in on the similarities. "Microfiber and polyester are similar in many ways. Microfiber is usually made from polyester, nylon, or polyamide and other additives. The main difference is that microfiber, as the name indicates, is made from ultra-fine fibers of 0.7 deniers or less. To compare, a strand of silk is about one denier and it’s about a fifth of the diameter of a human hair."
Because of these fine fibers in microfiber materials, it tends to be softer than polyester—and thus, more preferred. However, neither of the materials are eco-friendly. In fact, the production of both textiles contributes to pollution. And, as Hannam shares, "Microfiber has the added disadvantage of contributing to the growing problem of microplastics in our oceans and waterways."
Polyester and Microfiber Sheets: Which Is Better?
So, how do you know what material to choose for your bedding?
Depending on where you live and the temperatures, you will have different preferences and needs when it comes to your sheets. Moisture-wicking properties are important (especially if you’re a sweaty sleeper!), as well as general warmth and cooling properties.
"Polyester is well known for its lack of breathability (just think back to those clingy 70s shirts!)," says Hannam, "[This makes] it a terrible choice for bedding. Microfiber, [on the other hand], is more breathable than polyester, but it cannot rival natural materials such as cotton, linen, or bamboo."
If you're a hot sleeper or someone who lives in a warm place, polyester probably isn't the best choice. But, if you need something to warm or insulate you, polyester can help retain your natural body heat.
If you're looking for something more durable and lightweight, microfiber may be the go-to, but don't forget about the 'stickiness' or static of this synthetic material.
If you're looking for the perfect bedsheet, Hannam advises that you prioritize breathability. "Look for 100% natural materials and avoid synthetic materials and blends which can make you sweat and overheat," she shares. "For your bedsheets, which are closest to your body, it is especially important to only use natural materials such as cotton, linen, or bamboo."
Not very breathable
Has a more synthetic feel
Feels slightly less synthetic
Feels softer and silkier compared to polyester
Slightly more expensive
Not as durable
Can create 'static' cling
When comparing microfiber and polyester, if you’re looking to spend less and have more durable sheets for your beds, then polyester makes the most sense. If you’re all about natural materials and breathability, then microfiber is a better and slightly less synthetic choice. However, both fabrics are man-made, so if you’re adamant about more natural materials, you should definitely consider alternative fabrics.
There are quite a few materials for sheets—from the well-known Egyptian cotton to the lesser-known bamboo. Or, if you’re looking for something completely different, there’s always the option to investigate different materials altogether like celliant yarn, or even sheets made from eucalyptus fibers!