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What Is a Fitted Sheet and a Flat Sheet?

bed with a fitted sheet and a flat sheet
Written By
Parachute Team
Photographs By
JESSICA SCHRAMM FOR PARACHUTE
@parachutehome
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If you’re used to purchasing your sheets in full bundles or sets, you’ll usually have both a fitted sheet and a flat sheet. But if you prefer to shop a la carte, you may have questions like:

  • What’s the difference between fitted and flat sheets?

  • What’s the purpose of a flat sheet?

  • Do you really need both fitted and flat sheets?

If you’ve ever found yourself asking any of these questions, you’ve come to the right place. We’ll fill you in on all the details and differences between flat and fitted sheets, so you can choose the perfect bedding for each bedroom and every sleeper in your home.

Flat Sheet vs Fitted: What’s the Difference?

The difference between these two sheet types is that a flat sheet is a top sheet, while a fitted sheet is a bottom sheet with elastic corners. This combination makes it easier to make your bed, since the fitted sheet will grip the mattress corners, keeping it in place for several nights of sleeping.

Before 1959, when fitted sheets were invented, you would have needed two flat sheets, plus pillows, pillowcases, blankets, and comforters to make your bed. 

Unless you slept perfectly still, your bottom fitted sheet would come untucked easily. So, before fitted sheets came along, you spent more time making your bed, and often had to re-make it during the night.

What Is a Fitted Sheet Used For?

A fitted sheet is a base sheet that covers your mattress and mattress pad. Fitted sheets have enough material to wrap the top and sides of your mattress. An elastic border around the edge of the fitted sheet helps create a pocket, so your sheet always stays securely in place while you sleep.

What Is a Flat Sheet Used For?

In most cases, a flat sheet lays on top of a fitted sheet. The purpose of a flat sheet  is to add an extra layer between you and your duvet or comforter, helping to keep that top blanket layer cleaner longer. Generally, flat sheets are a bit larger than your mattress to ensure you stay fully covered while you’re in bed. When you make your bed for the day, you can tuck the sheet under the mattress for a polished look.

How Do You Know Which Sheet Is Best for You?

Since most bed sheet bundles come with both fitted and flat sheets, it’s common to use both styles at the same time. Here are a few things to consider about fitted and flat sheets.

Pros and Cons of Fitted Sheets

Pros

  • Fitted sheets are better at staying put. If you want to make the bed and you know the base sheet will stay in place, a fitted sheet is the way to go. 

  • Fitted sheets protect your mattress better because they lock out dust, dirt and pet hair.

Cons

  • Fitted sheets often get tangled in the dryer and can require multiple drying cycles.

Pros and Cons of Flat Sheets

Pros

  • Flat sheets serve as a layer between your body and your comforter or duvet, so they keep those top layers cleaner for longer.

  • On hot nights, a flat sheet is a lightweight top layer that lets you feel covered while it keeps you cool.

  • Flat sheets are easy to wash and dry.

Cons

  • Con: Flat sheets don’t stay in place when you use them as a base sheet on your mattress.

Caring For Your Sheets

Keeping your bed clean and comfortable requires some routine maintenance. Make sure to strip the sheets off the bed once a week and wash them according to the manufacturer’s care instructions. Egyptian cotton, linen, percale, and sateen sheets are easy to wash and dry and can last through years of use.

For more information about caring for your sheets, read on in our guides:

How Often Should You Wash Your Sheets? Tips and Guidance for Fresh, Clean Bed Linens How to Wash and Properly Care for Bedding

Fitted Sheet FAQs

If you’re still wondering whether to choose a fitted or a flat sheet, here are some other commonly asked questions to help guide your decision.

Do You Sleep on a Fitted Sheet or Flat Sheet?

Most sleepers lay directly on top of a fitted sheet and below the flat sheet. The fitted sheet snugly covers the mattress so you can change positions in the night without the sheet falling off and exposing the mattress. Use a flat sheet as a lightweight layer over your body for a good night’s sleep.

What Is the Difference Between Fitted and Deep Fitted Bed Sheets?

Some mattresses are only eight inches thick, while others can be as much as eighteen inches thick. To accommodate this range of thicknesses, many sheet manufacturers offer both fitted and deep fitted sheets, which have an extra-deep pocket. Use fitted sheets for thinner mattresses and deep fitted sheets for thicker mattresses.

Can You Use a Flat Sheet as a Fitted Sheet?

If laundry day is overdue and you’re short on clean fitted sheets, you can use a flat sheet as a base sheet in a pinch. Center the flat sheet on your mattress, making sure you have enough overhang on each side to tuck the corners underneath. Folding the square corners helps keep your sheet tucked in.

How Do You Fold a Fitted Sheet?

The easiest way to fold a fitted sheet is to lay it flat with the gusseted portion on top. Hold the sheet at its widest points and carefully fold it in halves or in thirds. The gussets will tuck within the folds. You can then fold the sheet down into a smaller rectangle or square for storage.

Explore Luxurious Fitted Sheets and Bedding Bundles from Parachute

There’s something special about slipping between a pair of crisp, cool sheets at the end of a long day. Choosing the right sheeting material is all about your preferred type of sleep, and the texture you enjoy most against your skin.

If you love a cozy, lived-in feel that’s breathable in summer, linen sheets are an ideal choice. If you want a durable sheeting fabric that won’t pill no matter how much you move in your sleep, percale is a terrific option. Sateen sheets will help you capture that luxury hotel aesthetic, while organic cotton represents a commitment to preserving the environment and mother nature.

Parachute makes it easy to select the right bedding for your preferences, with sheet sets and individual fitted and flat sheets. No matter what color, texture, or style you prefer, we’ll help you drape your bed in comfort from this season to the next.

Need help choosing the perfect bed sheets for you and yours? Visit our guide: Guide to Bed Sheets: Choose the Right Fabric & Style for Your Bed.