What Is A Top Sheet—and Do You Really Need One?

Stack of sheets on bed
Iliana Mestari / Getty Images

No one would expect a single piece of fabric to be all that divisive, but it turns out, it can be. Ask a selection of friends and family if they use a top sheet, and you are sure to get a pretty wide range of responses, from fervent support to those who are simply aghast at the thought of an extra layer of bedding. We spoke with a few bedding experts to break down the top sheet debate.

Meet the Expert

  • Elizabeth Dorsey Fertitta is a founder of LOOK Lifestyle, a bedding company.
  • Byron Golub is the Director of Product & Merchandising at Saatva, a mattress company.

Once a staple of any bedding set, top sheets have waned in popularity in recent years as some have decided to abandon them in favor of the ever-popular duvet (with duvet cover, of course). But can a top sheet and a duvet still happily co-exist, and what is the purpose of a top sheet, anyway?

What Is a Top Sheet?

A top sheet, also sometimes more simply known as a flat sheet, is much like the fitted sheet, but it lies between you and your blanket or duvet cover while the fitted sheet fits snugly around the mattress.

While using a top sheet may sound like just adding another layer of comfort to a cozy night's rest, there actually is another, equally practical reason that top sheets are often used.

“The purpose of a top sheet is to keep your blanket or duvet cover clean for a longer period of time as dust mites, sweat, and bacteria gather on the fabrics closest to your skin,” said Elizabeth Dorsey Fertitta of LOOK Lifestyle, a bedding company.

  • Easier weekly laundering

  • Lighter layer for warm or hot weather

  • Creates a cozy, layered feel

  • Adds a step to daily bed-making

  • Can annoy restless sleepers

  • Technically unnecessary

The Pros of Sleeping With a Top Sheet

Top sheets have been around for a long time, so it makes sense that that there are many reasons using one is a smart move. One such reason is that it keeps you from having to frequently wash your comforter or duvet cover.

“The only thing more annoying than washing dirty sheets? Washing a big, unruly comforter,” said Byron Golub, Director of Product & Merchandising at Saatva, a mattress company.

Changing and laundering bedding can be quite the chore, as anyone who has done it once (or a hundred times!) well knows. Who enjoys lugging their comforter to the laundromat or washing machine on a weekly basis, or having to unbutton and rebutton your duvet to remove the cover to wash it?

“If you don't use a top sheet, and your comforter doesn't have a protective cover, you're going to want to wash it more frequently,” Golub said.

A duvet cover should be washed as often as you change your sheets, unless you use a top sheet—if you do use a top sheet, you can get away with washing your duvet cover less often (we recommend every two to four weeks). And if you use just a duvet with no cover (or a comforter) without a top sheet, to keep your sleeping area sanitary, you'll want to wash your entire duvet or comforter every week (as often as you wash your sheets). But with a top sheet, you can just wash your sheet set each week instead of cleaning the whole duvet, too. If you already struggle to stick to standard sheet-washing recommendations, using a top sheet can help you reduce the struggle by keeping harder-to-wash layers cleaner for longer.

A top sheet is also a great alternative to sleeping under a heavy blanket during warmer weather. In the spring and summer, it can be used as your sole blanket.

A top sheet also just keeps things extra comfortable. Simply put: “Sleeping with a top sheet is cozy and is reminiscent of the amazing feeling you get sliding into any hotel bed—a cozy, layered cocoon,” Golub said.

The Cons of Sleeping With a Top Sheet

On the other side of the top sheet debate, there are plenty of (very valid) reasons that people do not like sleeping with a top sheet.

One major con of a top sheet is that it makes making your bed a little more challenging by adding one extra layer to keep track of. “Having one less layer to worry about smoothing out makes this process a little easier,” Golub said.

Top sheets can also pose challenges to restless sleepers, who have more freedom to move around without them. “Some people don't like being tucked under too many layers. Ditching your top sheet gives you more mobility,” Golub said.

But another con of the top sheet is that ultimately, it's kind of unnecessary. One of the biggest arguments against top sheets is that they don't add any value to your bed. “If you launder all the bedding frequently, what's the point of having an extra sheet on the bed when you can snuggle under a comforter?” Golub said.

The biggest con is that top sheets can be cumbersome and are prone to getting tangled. A duvet alone definitely gives you more freedom of movement and ensures that making your bed in the morning is a breeze!.

Should You Keep Your Top Sheet?

The decision ultimately comes down to your personal sleeping preferences. Bedding companies have recently made it easier than ever to choose to ditch the top sheet by selling sheet sets without them—but still offering the option to add a top sheet to the set, if desired. Top sheet haters can now purchase sheets without paying for a layer they won't use, but top sheet die-hards can still enjoy their layer of choice.

Whatever you decide, just know that, “if you choose to ditch the top sheet, you should treat your duvet cover as you would the top sheet and wash it once per week,” Dorsey Fertitta said.