Quilt, Comforter, Duvet or Bedspread: What's the Difference?

Learn about these four popular bed toppers.

Bed with colorful comforters
Diana Deak/Getty Images

Visit a bed and bath store, and you’ll find aisle after aisle devoted to every type of bedding. There are soft, comfortable sheets that make sliding into bed a joy; blankets that warm up chilly winter nights, and many different types of bedding toppers. The last category is where confusion might set in— comforter, duvet cover, quilt, bedspread: what’s the difference, and why should you choose one over the other, anyway? While sheets and blankets are mostly functional, the bedding topper has a more decorative purpose – it sets the pace for your bedroom’s style and feel. So when it’s time to give your bedroom a new look, it helps to know which type of topper is the best choice for your space.

What’s a Quilt?

Quilting is an artistic endeavor, as well as a means of production. A traditional quilt has three layers: top, batting, and bottom. The top layer of a quilt is crafted from many different pieces of fabric stitched together into complex patterns. The batting is a thin inner layer of wool or down, and the bottom is usually a solid piece of fabric. The quilter stitches through all three layers, creating the familiar quilted look of this ancient art form. Traditional American quilt designs include a double wedding ring, log cabin, patchwork, and flying geese. Quilt color schemes can be very bright and varied, or a mix of subtle colors, or a colored pattern on a white or solid background.

Today, inexpensive quilts are generally made with sewing machines, not by hand, and the patterns are sometimes dyed onto the fabric instead of pieced together with fabric scraps. Quilts are usually made from cotton or cotton blends and are lightweight, thus perfect for summer use or as a winter topper with blankets underneath.​

Especially good for:

  • Country, rustic, coastal or any other casual decorating style

What’s a Comforter?

Typically, a comforter is a thick bedding topper filled with down or a synthetic substitute. Many comforters are sewn-through or quilted to keep the filling in place, but unlike a quilt, a comforter’s stitching is not ornately patterned. The amount and type of fill determine how much warmth a comforter provides. Probably the most popular type of bedding topper in the US, you can find comforters in just about any theme, color, style or design you desire. Cotton, cotton blends, and synthetics are the most common fabrics. Comforters are usually warm enough to use without a blanket underneath. Often, you'll find comforters sold as a set with matching shams.

Especially good for:

  • Children’s bedrooms, as you can find a wide range of comforter/sheet sets in a bag for kid’s rooms
  • Shopping on budget

What’s a Duvet?

Although many people use the word “duvet” to refer to the duvet cover, technically a duvet is a comforter, usually plain white and filled with down, and a duvet cover is the fabric envelope that fits over the duvet and closes down one side with large buttons, ties, or a zipper. The most popular style of bedding in much of Europe, duvets and their covers have also become very popular in the US over the past decade or two. The duvet cover protects the inner comforter and is easy to remove for laundering, an improvement over traditional comforters and quilts which are generally not easy to wash. In Europe, it is common to use the duvet without a top sheet underneath, but old habits die hard, and most Americans still use a duvet over a top sheet.

The warmth of a duvet depends on the type and amount of filling. In the summer, you can use the duvet cover on its own as a lightweight topper, or add extra blankets under the duvet when it’s cold.  Duvet covers are now easy to find in a wide range of styles, especially if you are looking for a contemporary or sophisticated look. Fabrics range from cotton to silk to synthetics and blends, sometimes with additional embroidery or other embellishments. Duvet covers are often sold with matching shams for a matched bedroom ensemble.

Especially good for:

  • Minimalist, sophisticated or modern bedrooms
  • Anyone who doesn’t want to bother with a top sheet

What’s a Bedspread?

Bedspreads are single-layer bedding toppers that cover the entire bed right down to the floor and often cover the pillows as well.  Many bedspreads have elaborate pompom, corduroy or chenille finishes, and some have fringe along the bottom edges. Solid colors are most common, although there are printed bedspreads available. Bedspreads are lightweight, so are best for summer use, or over a blanket in cooler weather. Although you still commonly find bedspreads in hotels, they are somewhat out of fashion for home use.

Especially good for:

  • Guest rooms
  • Any bedroom with a retro style