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Do you really need a top sheet? We asked an expert to settle the debate

We're putting the anti-top sheet argument to bed.
Senior Asian woman doing her morning routine, making up her bed at home
AsiaVision / Getty Images

Most aspects of your bedroom setup are a matter of personal preference. For example, while some people prefer a firm mattress, others like theirs to be so soft you sink into it as soon as you crawl in. Then, there are pillow minimalists and those whose pillows take up nearly half the bed.

But out of all of those things, perhaps the most controversial is whether or not you have a top sheet. The Shop TODAY team recently learned just how contentious of a topic it is when a handful of our staffers were discussing the question of whether or not they're really necessary — and many of us had very strong opinions. And as it turns out, we're not the only ones.

In 2019, the mattress brand Casper surveyed 1,000 Americans and found that 58% either agree or strongly agree that a top sheet is essential. (The majority of our team members were also pro-top sheet, for what it's worth). Though, preferences do seem to differ by age. The survey showed that 18% of people ages 18 to 24 said that they felt strongly against the use of a top sheet while only 3% of those over the age of 65 did.

So we had to know: Is there really a right answer? Or, much like the type of mattress or the number of pillows you have, is it just a matter of preference? We reached out to an expert to weigh in and are sharing everything you need to know below.

What is a top sheet?

A top sheet is a sheet that separates your body from your comforter or duvet. It is designed to keep the rest of your bedding from getting dirty.

Do you need a top sheet?

While many people might say that it comes down to what you prefer, there's actually a scientific reason why it might benefit you to have one.

"I'm so surprised that there's debate about this because there's actually a fair amount of science talking about how contaminated sheets can get," said Dr. Kelly Reynolds, professor and director of the Environment, Exposure Science and Risk Assessment Center (ESRAC) at the University of Arizona College of Public Health. Things like germs, bacteria and feces (yes, really) can transfer from our bodies onto our bedding. "All of these types of microorganisms are either bacteria or mold. And they eventually either start to smell, cause skin infections or can even spread other diseases like lung infections, respiratory illnesses or even trigger asthma and allergy reactions in people who are sensitive," she said.

All that's to say, is that it's important to clean the bedding that comes in direct contact with your body pretty often — in fact, Reynolds recommends washing it once a week. And not just washing it on a cold cycle. "It really takes a hot water wash and/or the use of the sanitizer in your laundry load, like bleach, hydrogen peroxide or detergents that are specifically formulated to sanitize laundry, to really get the sheets clean."

That's where the top sheet comes in. From a convenience standpoint, it's much easier to wash than a comforter or blanket. But also, not all comforters can be washed with bleach or hot water anyway. "If you're not able to really wash your blanket or comforter, then a top sheet is absolutely essential to be that collector of those germs," she said.

If you are really anti-top sheet, the one alternative solution could be to use a washable duvet cover to keep your bedding protected — but you’d still want to adhere to the above washing guidelines. Though, that being said, it’s easier to throw your sheets in the washing machine than it is to take off a duvet cover and put it back on (we all know what a struggle that can be).

If you’ve been convinced that it’s time to get a top sheet, we rounded up a handful of fan-favorite, machine-washable sheet sets.

Sheet sets with top sheets

Mellanni Queen Sheet Set

This bestselling sheet set comes with two pillowcases, a fitted sheet and, most importantly, a flat sheet. It has nearly than 250,000 five-star ratings, and reviewers say that they're "super soft" and "the only sheets you ever need." At less than $50, they're already an affordable pick, but right now you can get many of the color options for a discount.

Amazon Basics Microfiber Bed Sheet Set

When it comes to affordable sheets, it doesn't get better than this bestselling set from Amazon. One Shop TODAY writer who tried them said that they "are so soft and almost feel like silk," and they hold up after multiple washes (which is important given how often you should be washing your sheets!).

Room Essentials Microfiber Solid Sheet Set

Another affordable and highly-rated option, you can't go wrong with these sheets from Target. The set comes with one fitted sheet, one flat sheet and pillowcases and is available in five different colors.

CGK Unlimited Sheet Set

Currently the No. 1 bestseller in the Home & Kitchen category on Amazon, these sheets have more than 184,000 five-star ratings to back them up. "I love, love, love these sheets!" one shopper wrote. "They are so soft and silky smooth. They wash up like a dream. I bought another set for the guest room and my aunt loved them as well. I plan to buy more in the near future."

LuxClub Bamboo Sheets (Set of 6)

Another bestseller, these sheets have an impressive number of five-star ratings — more than 130,000, in fact. The sheets are made from a bamboo blend, so the brand says that they're softer and more breathable than cotton.

Coyuchi Organic Cotton Percale Sheet Set

If you're looking to splurge a little on your sheets, consider this option, which was deemed some of the best sheets to buy by Good Housekeeping. The sheets are made to look crinkled for a relaxed look and according to the brand, they get "softer and more inviting with every wash."

Brooklinen Luxe Core Sheet Set

Brooklinen is known for its ultra-comfortable bedding, and these luxe sheets are one of the brand's bestsellers. Made from a "rich" and "buttery-smooth" material, Brooklinen says that these are the softest and smoothest cotton sateen sheets in their lineup.

Meet our expert

Dr. Kelly Reynolds, PhD, is a professor and director of the Environment, Exposure Science and Risk Assessment Center (ESRAC) at the University of Arizona College of Public Health.