The great top sheet debate: do you need one if you have a duvet?

There’s a new debate brewing between generations. Last week, Gen Z (those born between 1997 and 2012) declared war on my beloved ankle socks. This week, the battle has moved into the bedroom. Millennials and Gen Z have teamed up to take on the top sheet. You know, that basically useless thin sheet that goes in between your fitted sheet and duvet/comforter. What’s the point of it? According to Gen X and the Boomers, that silly little flat sheet is absolutely necessary for hygiene. They claim that it keeps your duvet from getting dirtier quicker by acting as a barrier for dead skin cells and body oils. Those of us born after 1981 agree that eliminating the top sheet is really just sleeping smarter, not harder.

The debate is on the use of top sheets, also known as flat sheets. They’re the sheets that keep your body from touching the comforter, most Gen X and Boomers are firmly for the use of top sheets as a hygiene practice. The idea being that the top sheet keeps your dead skin cells and body oils from dirtying your comforter, causing you to have to wash it more often.

Apparently Millennials and Gen Zers are uninterested in using a top sheet while sleeping. In fact, they’d rather just get a duvet cover, though they may be cumbersome. A duvet cover can be washed fairly frequently, while some may opt for a cheeper comforter that they don’t care is washed often because their distain for a top sheet is that strong.

But why on earth do Millennials and Gen Zers hate top sheets? It turns out it’s mostly about practicality. Many Millennials are on the move holding a full time job and a side hustle or two to make ends meet, adding and extra step when making the bed seems unnecessary.

“For a younger demographic, eliminating that step when making the bed in the morning really gives you a jump start on the day,” Ariel Kay, CEO of Parachute tells Wall Street Journal.

Parachute is a company that offers bedding sets sans top sheets for folks that just don’t like them and boy has Kay heard everyone’s unsolicited opinions on the matter. She told WSJ that people will stop her on the street to get into debates about the importance or unimportance of top sheets. Yikes.

In a since deleted tweet, @JesseLynnHarte writes, “People say millennials “killed” chain restaurants, marriage, & napkins… But WHEN will they acknowledge our greatest take-down yet?? TOP SHEETS. I don’t know a single millennial who uses one. Top sheets are archaic. This is just the truth.”

It would seem that Millennials and Gen Z would much rather wash their duvet covers weekly than to add a flat sheet into the mix. One big complaint about the flat sheet that adds another con to the list is they get bunched up or tangled around your legs if you’re a restless sleeper. Not everyone likes hotel tucked corners on their sheets because it can feel confining.

But if you run hot, Boomers and Gen Xers have got the thing for you–a top sheet. It would seem that that thin piece of material that irritates some people can act as a sort of temperature control according to USA Today. Even if you don’t tend to need the cooling effect of a top sheet, what Mary Johnson, Tide Principal Scientist at Procter & Gamble has to say in a USA Today follow up article, just may make you rethink ditching the top sheet.

Simply by existing, “people produce one liter of sweat, 40 grams of sebum, 10 grams of salt, and 2 billion skin cells. All that stuff that happens below the waist [and] up by your head—skincare products, hair care products, ear wax, snot, drool, lots of really gross stuff—is transferred to your sheets,” Johnson tells the outlet.

So whether you’re team top sheet or not, it may be a good idea to at least wash whatever you use to cover your bed at least once a week.

[From Upworthy]

I’m an Elder Millennial. I’ve solely used a comforter for literally as long as I can remember. I don’t think I’ve ever used a top sheet unless I had no other options available. I always found them kinda pointless. When I was a kid, I just pushed it down to the end of the bed. If it’s too hot, I’ll sleep with my feet or legs poking out. If it’s cold, I’ll add another blanket on top. Psychologically, having that extra top sheet just feels like excess. Also, comforters just make me feel comfortable and comforted. Plus, you can just throw ‘em in the laundry without having to take the cover off and then reassemble.

We have a duvet in our guest bedroom, where my parents and FIL will each stay several times a year when they come to visit. Whenever their visits alternate, I’ll wash the duvet cover. It’s super annoying to put it back together, which is why I have firmly been on #TeamComforter for a while now. When Mr. Rosie and I moved in together almost two decades ago, we were given the advice from newlywed friends to get separate comforters. This was golden advice that we have never regretted heeding. You have to wash them anyway. So, yeah, ditch the top sheet, y’all! Repeat it with me: It’s okay to just duvet.

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69 Responses to “The great top sheet debate: do you need one if you have a duvet?”

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  1. Oswin says:

    Yes, because sometimes even just the duvet is too much. Top sheet, and duvet is the o my way I can go.

    • GoodWitchGlenda says:

      This is my take too. I sleep hot, so I often end up with just the sheet.

      • Oswin says:

        I’m lying in bed under just the top sheet with the duvet pulled back right this moment….lol

    • JRT says:

      Elder millennial here – TOP SHEET ALL THE WAY!!! I run hot and only have a top sheet with a fleece hotel style blanket, because it is way too hot for a duvet. If I lived in the basement maybe I would have a duvet, but still a top sheet is a must. Even when it is hot in the summer I use my top sheet and I cannot sleep without having some type of cover on me. Duvets are too much unless you live somewhere really cold or have your AC set to arctic!

  2. I’m old school and I like to have a top sheet then a blanket then my comforter. My grown children do bottom sheet only and they sleep under separate blankets with their spouses. They don’t t make their beds either which I find messy. My bed is made after I get out of it and it looks nice.

    • StellainNH says:

      I completely agree. I need my fitted sheet. Hot flashes come fast and furious so most of the time I’m sleeping with just the top sheet.

  3. Kitten says:

    Xennial here and NEVER a top sheet. Only fitted and a duvet with cover. Agree with you. Rosie that the flat sheet is pointless.

    • Danbury says:

      I can never figure these things out – I’m 1976, does that make me a xennial as well? Or just Gen X? Anyway, I’ve always slept without a top sheet, I just wash the duvet cover regularly.

      • Kitten says:

        Gen X is 1965-1980 and Millennial is 1981-1996.
        My bro was born in late ’76 and I was born in late ’78.

        We grew up steeped in Gen X culture but they were all young adults when we were still kids.
        We face pretty much ALL of the same issues as Millennials.

        We are Xennials.

    • StillDouchesOfCambridge says:

      GenX with no top sheet. Fitted and duvet with duvet cover. I buy sets and when I get to 2 flat sheets on hand, I sew them together and make a duvet out of it.

    • Oswin says:

      I’m 1980, so I never know what to call myself. Technically GenX, also raised Millennial, forgotten like GenX… so I guess Xennial it is.

  4. manda says:

    gen x here. I NEVER used a top sheet until recently, and it has nothing to do with hygiene. I get HOT as hell in the bed and sometimes use only the sheet. I think it’s nice to have the choice. Also, we started using linen sheets, and they are pricey, so I want to use what I paid for. But my whole life, we just stuck the top sheet in the linen closet

    • Delphine says:

      Team top sheet. If I get hot I can’t have just air on my skin, I need the thin top sheet. I’ve always been this way. Now that I’m 50 I get night sweats so I really need the top sheet.

      • Jessi says:

        Agreed! I need some type of covering (otherwise, obviously, the monster under the bed might eat my toes) but I’m often too hot for a duvet or a blanket. I need a top sheet.

      • Moonstone says:

        Millennial over here. During colder months, I just use a doona (no top sheet). When it’s summer, I ditch the doona and sleep with a top sheet- I like the cool cotton feel.

    • pottymouth pup says:

      Gen-X as well and I always thought having a top sheet was a complete waste as do most of the other Gen-X folks I know. The only folks married to having them were from military families.

      I never used them which came in hand when my college roommates thought they’d have some fun with me by trying to “short sheet” my bed when I was drunk. I came home to the struggling to figure out how to do it with a fitted sheet.

    • seaflower says:

      Gen X – Keep The Sheet! When you through the doona off in the middle of the night, the sheet provides a level of warmth (and yes protects against the skin and oils etc).

  5. LarkspurLM says:

    #TeamTopSheet here. I never even gave a thought to not have a top sheet! I often throw the duvet back (thx menopause heat!) and use the top sheet. Or if I’m just reading on the bed, I pull the duvet back and sit on top of the top sheet to not crush duvet and not sit directly on the sheet I am sleeping on.

  6. tealily says:

    I got into the duvet habit when I lived in the UK. It seems to be more common there (at least at the time). I have a nice feather duvet with a cover in the master bedroom and a comfy, cheapy comforter in the guest bedroom, and I alternate between them. When a guest comes, I give them a top sheet. I figure they can do whatever they want.

  7. lisa says:

    gen x – never had a top sheet and I dont understand it. my mother did use one and when she put one on my bed it always ended up all the way at the bottom so whatever it was supposed to do it wasnt doing. I do change the comforter, blanket, etc depending on the time of year and wash it weekly.

    • bros says:

      exactly what Lisa said.

    • Ellie says:

      Team top sheet. Bought these pricey bamboo sheets recently, and to cut down on the need to wash them so often, I use the top sheet like I would a fitted sheet. Throw it in the laundry basket, use the fitted sheet, and wash the two together.

  8. TQ says:

    When I moved to the UK people looked at me crazy for loving my top sheet. All these years later still need one as gives me options when I get too hot. Am a Gen X though so it’s probably a generational thing too.

  9. Blithe says:

    Both. I use just the duvet in the winter, and use a sheet when it’s warmer — because the sheet feels cooler next to my skin, and I usually end up kicking off the duvet at some point? When it’s colder, I prefer a cooler room and warmer bedding.

  10. HeatherC says:

    Young Gen X here. Absolutely a top sheet by personal preference. I have to be completely covered when I sleep, except for my head but I also don’t like skin touching skin lol. I sleep a little curled up so the top sheet goes between different skin areas (arms, abdomen, etc). If my skin touches when I sleep I wake up sweaty in those areas because I also need a lot of weight when I sleep, even when it’s hot (so the comforters can NOT go, but are too thick to do the skin barrier thing for me)

    • Whatever says:

      Same!!!!! Young gen X, and I love tucking a bit of the top sheet between my knees so they’re not rubbing against each other. 😅 I live in a really warm climate, and I like the weight of the comforter on top of me when I get in bed, but after ten minutes or so it feels too warm, and I love being able to shift part of it off me, but still be covered by the top sheet. You can pry my top sheet out of my cold, dead hands, along with my side part and skinny jeans.

      I’ve never understood why people like duvets, though. Every single person who has one complains about what a pain it is to get it back in its cover, and it’s not like you never wash the thing inside anyway, so what is the point? Doesn’t it just create a lot more work? Plus, the comforter inside that cover always seems to bunch up.

  11. AB says:

    To each their own. 🤷🏾‍♀️ I use a top sheet, my husband doesn’t. My son uses a top sheet, my daughter doesn’t. The world keeps turning. These generational debates are tiring lol.

    • BeanieBean says:

      I’m finding them interesting, although I think they’re less debates than simply the stating of preferences.

  12. Lady Esther says:

    Hahaha I loved the emphasis on how much time not having a top sheet will save you when you’re making the bed in the morning. Literally…how much time? Like less than a second? How are these people making a bed that a top sheet adds so much time? (rather than the duvet + cover which is admittedly time consuming….)

    I am Team Duvet + Cover and before getting old dispensed with the sheet as well just because I didn’t need it, but now since menopause I use top sheets but they are one kind and one kind only: Bamboo Hotel Sheets Direct. They are MAGIC for cooling you down and helping cope with hot flashes, sweating etc! Serious game changer, bless my sister for introducing me to them, I gave away all my other sheet sets and now only use those. Can’t sleep without them!

  13. The Hench says:

    Just a duvet for me and Mr Hench and a top sheet and duvet for guests – why? Because taking the duvet cover off the duvet, washing it and then putting it back on the duvet is a faff that isn’t worth it for guests that are staying just the one or two nights – especially if you have several guests staying. Much easier to leave the duvet as is and swap out the sheets.

    • Chaine says:

      Same. Only use the top sheets on the guest bed and there’s a quilt over it. Other than that, I use the top sheets that came with the fitted ones to cover furniture if someone’s at my house with a pet to keep the fur off the upholstery, or if I’m going somewhere that we’re going to be sitting or picnicking on the grass, they are my picnic “blanket.”

  14. Kittenmom says:

    Gen Xer here. I was brought up w hospital corners and am a firm believer in sleeping “between the sheets.” My Gen Z kids do not use their top sheets at all, to my dismay.

  15. BlueNailsBetty says:

    Older GenX here and a few years ago I was too tired to make up my bed after washing the mattress cover, the sheets, blanket, and two quilts. I just threw the blanket and one of the quilts on the bed with plans to do it “right” the next day. That turned into a week and from then on I was Team NoTopSheet.

    Now I just use a fitted sheet, the sherpa blanket, and one of the (lightweight) quilts all year long.

  16. olliesmom says:

    Just a top sheet ONLY in warm months when the AC isn’t on. If the AC is on, then a comforter only. In colder months just a comforter and then I switch to a flannel bottom sheet. I usually wake up hot and sweaty in the middle of the night – then I will put cooler/less clothing. If I wake up cold then I will change into something warmer. My bedding never adjusts – my clothing only.

  17. Eurydice says:

    I’ve found that, unless one spends a lot of money, the fabric of comforters and duvets isn’t as durable as that of bedsheets. The fabric tends to pill with wear and washing and it’s like sleeping in a cheese grater. I prefer the smoothness of bedsheets and I like having them tucked in at the foot of the bed (most likely from my childhood fear that wolves would bite my feet). And when the sheet is already tucked, it’s super easy to make the bed. With a duvet, I practically have to crawl inside the cover to get it back together.

    • Eden75 says:

      I spent a small fortune on my cover about 5 years ago and it was worth it. It has survived weekly washes for the majority of that time and still looks like new. The easiest way to get a duvet cover back on is to turn it inside out and lay it out flat on the bed or floor. You then either tie or button your duvet to it (whichever it has). Then reach in between the top and bottom sections of the duvet cover itself, reach up to the top and flip it right side out. Grab 2 corners (top & top or side & side) and give it a shake. Viola, done. Once you do it a few times, it takes maybe a minute or two to get it back on and ready to go.

  18. there are videos on how to get the duvet cover back on after washing and they changed my life.

  19. JanetDR says:

    I am a younger boomer with a Gen X hubby and in the warmer months we use just a heavy weight linen top sheet. In the winter we alternate between top sheet/wool blanket/quilt and top sheet/comforter/duvet cover depending on how cold it is. Top sheets rule! 🤣

    • RMS says:

      Elder Gen X here. All the way team top sheet with a blanket and a feather duvet with a duvet cover over that. I need all the choices, but, most importantly, I need my ear covered when I sleep, so in the summer it’s by a sheet and in the winter the duvet. Gen Z kids were visiting this weekend and they were complaining about the top sheet…. until I made them re-install the duvet cover after it was washed. Gimme a break with the no time having, there was PLENTY of time for them to peruse all the TikTok’s lazing on the sofa. BTW, wool or silk blankets are the magical temperature-adjusting material I have dreamed about. Invest in a good one for life. Rant over.

  20. BeanieBean says:

    Eh, I don’t like duvets. Whenever I travel to a place that uses those, they’re too hot for me but sleeping with just a sheet is too cold. And hotels seem to do both top sheet + duvet. I prefer top sheet & blankets–which can be of cotton, wool, a mix of fabrics, layered, whatever. The point is, I can regulate my body heat better by switching up the fabrics & number of blankets. That works best for me. Oh, and a bedspread on top. Never had a problem with a top sheet bunching around my legs, never. Maybe that’s BECAUSE OF the duvet/sheet combo? Doesn’t happen with the blanket/sheet combo…. Just saying. 😏

  21. Eden75 says:

    Gen X here.

    My hubby and I started sleeping using the Scandinavian method (separate blankets) when I hit menopause. The top sheet went out the window and is never coming back. I have a kick ass feather duvet and super silky cover. The duvet gets washed once a month and the cover every weekend. I also keep my favorite Doctor Who light polar fleece blanket on, in case of hot flash. I can kick off the duvet and use just it if I get too hot. My spare bed has a top sheet but guests can do whatever because I am washing everything when they leave anyway. Top sheets suck and getting rid of it was one of the best thing I have ever done.

  22. Fifee says:

    Gen X Scot here. Long explanation from me.

    First time we went on holiday to the US i was confused by the sheets and comforter as I have never used this set up. Before we had a quilt we had blankets and an old feather quilt, the kind that you would see people air and fluff daily, in fact there’s a few homes in my area you can style see older French ladies doing this daily. We then moved on the a modern style where the quilt is inserted inside a fabric envelope (for the uninitiated) and that was it, no blankets unless you were really cold as these were the days before double glazing and central heating.

    Now I have the same set up but I have different tog ratings for summer then another 2 for autumn/spring and winter. I do have one solitary top sop sheet solely for the summer nights where it’s been over 40C (104F) for days on end, French heatwaves can be brutal, and nights are still in the mid 20C (70s). I have multiple quilt covers that are washed regularly and my feather quilts are washed regularly too and washed again and stored properly at the end of each period of time they’re used.

  23. Becks1 says:

    I’m a xennial and i love top sheets. You can pry it from my cold dead hands.

    I say – everyone sleeps with what they want and how they want and we will all survive to tell the tale lol.

  24. SpankyB says:

    I like using a top sheet. In the winter it protects from the scratchy wool blanket I use as a bed spread and for warmth, and in the foggy summer mornings I still use the wool blanket for warmth.

    And during heatwaves I like having it between my skin and my cats, keeps me a little cooler than having a furry hot body pressed against my skin.

  25. Proud Mary says:

    I had no idea this was even an issue. I treat my duvet like it’s a blanket (or comforter) therefore, yes, you need the flat sheet as well as the fitted one. Not only that, having both duvet and flat sheet helps be when it’s too warm for a blanket or too cold for just a sheet. Yes, I’m at that age were you can get a flash of body heat for no reason at all other than, woman, Gen X. Yeah, they like to think of us as the forgotten generation, but at least we had more serious debates at that age than socks and sheets.

    • Jenn says:

      Respectfully, Mary, your generation dared to ask “is a hot dog a sandwich”

  26. heygingersnaps says:

    No top sheet for me, it will just add to my household laundry load. I change and wash our bedding sets weekly and the fitted sheets, duvet covers and pillow cases are enough. We also use fleece blankets for the really cold winter months which are also washed weekly. Adding two sets of top sheets would just make washing (and drying longer).

    • Dara says:

      I think the major point of a top sheet is that it eliminates the need to wash duvet covers and/or blankets on a frequent basis. Since it’s the sheet that comes into contact with you, it gets washed regularly and the bulkier items won’t need cleaning as often.

      • heygingersnaps says:

        Yes, that may be the point for some but if I’m still using them, trust that they will be wash and change weekly. That’s just me and my routine. I like clean bedding and do at least a weekly deep clean of my house 😩😅

      • Dara says:

        I’m in awe of your dedication and diligence! And the capacity of your washer and dryer. My comforters, duvets and blankets strain the capacity of mine so I am reluctant to wash them unless absolutely necessary. My heaviest down duvets have to be washed in high capacity commercial machines. Sheets, covers and protectors save me a lot of hassle.

  27. QuiteContrary says:

    Top sheets are great temporary couch covers when someone isn’t feeling well … that’s all we use them for.

  28. Jessica says:

    Millennial- I’m #teamtopsheet! I live in Florida and I’d never sleep if I were trying to do it with a comforter. Sometimes the A/C will chill my skin- a top sheet cuts the chill without adding heat. When I’m sleeping, I run hot, so a comforter get uncomfortable quickly. A top sheet gives me the psychological feeling of being covered, but again, doesn’t add much heat. It adds MAYBE 10 seconds to making my bed.

  29. Flamingo says:

    I always start with a top sheet. But by night two. I kick it off to the side. There is a hygienic reason for top sheets as it keeps the sweat, dead skin cells and ickiness off the comforter or duvet.

  30. SCS says:

    Team Duvet!! I have always hated top sheets as they make me feel like I’m trapped in the bed and I have to pull them out so it isn’t claustophic. Plus with a Duvet, I just add blankets on top when cold and it is so comfy!! None of my beds have top sheets, just duvets. I’m Gen X

  31. CiCi says:

    Team top sheet. Comforter is a King. It doesn’t fit in my washing machine. So $20 plus to have it washed. Also don’t make your bed as soon as you get up. All that sweat needs to air out!

  32. SenseOfTheAbsurd says:

    Peak Gen X (1971 model), and never use top sheets. They just get tangled up and are too tight on the feet, and just no. Duvet cover and fitted sheet in 100% cotton or linen, wash frequently. Same for pillowcase, and that’s changed every day.

    My choice for ditching is any bedding that can’t go through a ride in the washing machine with hot water, especially those stupid duvet covers with sequins or nasty synthetic fabric. Those shiny quilted things can just go away too.

  33. [insert_catchy_name] says:

    I always figured this was more of a “what your family does/what country you live in” type thing as opposed to generational.

    European side had several layers of blankets (which I hated), British side used topsheet with the duvet, growing up in North America we would have a jersey topsheet in winter (think it was a combination of adding extra warmth, and not having to deal with the heavy duvet).

    Personally I prefer a light and fluffy duvet so I can tuck it around my feet and it doesn’t get weird when I turn from side to side.

  34. Jenn says:

    Xennial, and I sleep with a duvet plus a loosely-woven throw blanket over my face. No top sheet, for the reasons stated.

  35. DaniM says:

    Gen X – top sheet is a MUST. Yes, a top sheet means I don’t have to wash the duvet cover as often, but it mostly means TEMPERATURE CONTROL.

    Hot flashes without a top sheet? CRIMINAL. LOL

    I was so hurt when I found out the UK barely used them when I moved there, but I converted my partner years ago and flat sheets are becoming a more popular buy in stores.

  36. North of Boston says:

    Top sheet: Absolutely!

    I like the option of just having a sheet over me and it helps prevent skin to skin contact. I tend to run hot when I sleep and being able to throw off blankets, duvets but still feel covered is what works

    But I never ever tuck it under the mattress. I hate having my feet tucked in. So bed making wise (when I bother) it adds all of 10 seconds

    All that said, THE most comfortable bed I ever slept in was in a hotel in Germany:
    Bed with featherbed topper covered in a crisp white cover and a duvet in a crisp white cover (which may have been 2-3 flat sheets somehow folded around to hold it on) it was glorious, so comfy: cozy and nesty without being heavy or too hot.

  37. Little Red says:

    Another Gen Xer here and I’m totally #TeamTopSheet. That top sheet works great in summer when it’s too warm for a duvet. It provides just enough weight to put me to sleep. In the winter, it protects my very nice duvet cover that I would never want to fade and get filthy.

  38. Asdf says:

    Top sheets are used for those who run hot.
    Besides that, I think the purpose for a top sheet came from a time when people did not do as much laundry and as often as we do now and back when we all used to sweat because there was no ac.
    In addition I like a top sheet when at a hotel because in my head I believe that they definitely washed that but probably didn’t wash the comforter

    • Dani says:

      OMG yes to the top sheet in the hotel (or even an Airbnb) – we bring our own now when we travel.

    • Eden75 says:

      Just a note that the majority of hotels clean ALL bedding when you check out. I ran a hotel for years and we know what people get up to in rooms. Everything gets washed. Maybe they don’t in really sketchy ones, but a clean motel or hotel is going to wash everything from the mattress cover to the duvet/blankets/bedspread on the bed.

  39. Amando says:

    Youngest of Gen X here and I’ve always used a top sheet.

  40. Amber says:

    Late Gen Xer and never used top sheets. Fitted sheet for mattress and duvet with covers frequently changed for washing.

  41. Tennyson says:

    You all baffled me. I’m 72 and always thought top sheets were for dinosaurs still using blankets. I just wash and alternate duvet covers for different decorations as well as different duvets. 13,5 or 15 tog in the winter and spring. 10.5 down to 4.5 tog in the summer.

  42. Courtneyclaps says:

    I think my hubs would be crushed if I started using a separate blanket. He has a lot in common with Billie Eilish — he really likes his Lunch LOL.

  43. Alexa says:

    Gen X here… I never understood the whole top sheet thing. But I was born and raised in Germany, so there’s that. As long as you have a cover for your comforter (and wash it at least every other week), you’re golden in my book. As for the being hot thing – I have different comforters for different temperatures. Also, we use two full size comforters in a king size bed. Also German 🙂