After 120 hours of researching and testing flannel sheet sets, including washing and sleeping on 10 of them, we’ve concluded that our favorite so far is L.L.Bean’s Ultrasoft Comfort Flannel Sheet Set. These sheets offer the best combination of softness and durability at a really good price. They’re among the plushest sheets we tried, and this is one of the few sets that never made us sweat.
At about $100 for a queen set right now, L.L.Bean’s Ultrasoft Comfort Flannel sheets are an investment. But the high-quality, long-staple cotton flannel should stay soft over many seasons, and the sheets come with L.L.Bean’s famous customer service and return policy. These sheets are also a favorite of several Sweethome and Wirecutter staffers, who have used and loved them for years.
Target’s Threshold Flannel Sheet Set is a solid choice if you’re on a budget. These sheets are bulkier than the L.L.Bean Ultrasoft sheets, and not as soft, but they are the softest and warmest budget sheet set we tested. We think over long-term use their softness won’t hold up as well as our main pick’s. But the Threshold sheets come in great colors and prints, and they will definitely keep you warm. And at a typical price of less than $30 for a queen set (and even less than that during Target’s frequent bedding sales), it’s not a big deal if they don’t hold up over the long run.
If you want an even softer set that may also retain its fluffy texture longer, we recommend the L.L.Bean Premium Supima Flannel Sheets. These flannels are almost twice the price of the L.L.Bean Ultrasoft, but in our tests they were the softest sheets overall. They are beautifully constructed, thicker than the L.L.Bean Ultrasoft (and an ounce weightier per yard), with minimal shrinkage and pilling. We think they’re a great investment that will stay soft for many years. And L.L.Bean sells them by the piece, which is useful if you’d like to mix and match your bedding fabrics seasonally.
For best temperature control and wear, read “How to Mix and Match Your Bed Sheets for the Season.”
We spoke with Shannon Maher, an assistant professor in the Home Products Development department at the Fashion Institute of Technology, and former product designer for The Company Store. She helped us define what flannel is, gave us some tips on what to look for, and suggested a couple of brands to try. We looked at reviews of flannel sheets from ConsumerSearch and Apartment Therapy, and we combed through customer reviews, noting the qualities sheet buyers want (as well as the flaws that were dealbreakers).
I wrote The Sweethome’s guide to the best duvet cover, so I’m familiar with the brands that test well for duvet covers and for regular sheets. I’m also a quilter with a decade of experience, and my quilt work has been published in Generation Q magazine and for Cloud9 Fabrics (PDF). I can recognize good-quality construction, and I know how to test for color bleeding, shrinkage, and wear and tear.
Flannel sheets are ideal for cold weather if you don’t like that icy chill when you first get into bed. Just remember that cold is relative to different people. Catalog photos of flannel sheets tend to conjure images of wintry log cabins in New England or frozen lakes in the Midwest. But if you live in southern Florida and a 60-degree night has you turning on the heat, you might want to consider having a flannel set on hand for the chilliest nights. If you overheat easily or like cooler sheets year round, stick with one of the percale or sateen options from our recent sheets guide.
Through talking with Shannon Maher at FIT and conducting our own research, we found that the best flannel sheets feel soft and fuzzy out of the package and will continue to feel that way after many washes. Poor-quality flannels tend to be bulkier, will shed and pill more over time, and will ultimately lose that signature fluffy feel more quickly than finer flannels (we explain why that happens below). Flannel made in Portugal gets great reviews, and Maher recommended this kind as her favorite type of flannel for softness and longevity, so we looked closely at sheets that featured this fabric.
According to Maher, “Flannel is a woven fabric that is napped (brushed in the production process) on both sides of the fabric.” The napping brushes the fabric yarns, which raises and pulls the fibers up and creates a soft and fuzzy surface. If you have some yarn lying around, try taking a bristle brush to it. We tried this little experiment to get an idea of how napped yarn looks, and how flannel gets that fuzzy texture. Those raised fibers, Maher told us, create a thermal insulation through an entrapment of air that’s similar to the down clusters in a down comforter.
Maher also told us that long-staple cotton makes a stronger yarn (and therefore a stronger final product), and what we found while researching our sheets guide and our duvet covers guide bears that out. Because the individual cotton fibers are longer, when woven together they lie flatter and don’t have short ends that stick up out of the weave. In a regular sheet, that long length helps make the fabric smooth and adds strength. In a flannel sheet, it helps keep the fabric from pilling or thinning in spots over time because it leaves fewer stubby fibers sticking up on the surface to catch and wear down.
Flannel sheets are measured by weight in ounces, not by thread count. When you see a set of flannel sheets that are 5 or 6 ounces (typical weights for good flannel), that means the weight in ounces per square yard of fabric. By comparison, the average weight of cotton percale and sateen sheets we tested for our main sheet guide was between 3.5 and 4 ounces per square yard. In general, with all types of fabric, the heavier the fabric, the warmer it is. A 6-ounce flannel is considered warmer, and judging from our research, it’s also more expensive.
In reading customer reviews, we noticed that pilling and shedding were common complaints. Because of the napping process, Maher told us, all flannel will pill. And some fibers will become loose, causing extra lint in the dryer. The effect is amplified on sheets because people toss and turn at night, which creates more friction on the surface. A better-quality flannel will have less shedding and pilling.
When searching for sheets to test, we looked at the brands that performed well in our main sheet guide to see if any of them offered flannel sheets. We informally polled friends about their favorite flannel sheets and looked closely at customer reviews on the sites of major retailers, including Bed Bath & Beyond, Costco, Eddie Bauer, Garnet Hill, Lands’ End, L.L.Bean, Target, and The Company Store. Flannel sheets are a particularly seasonal item, and many of the budget retailers weren’t carrying them when we started testing. We tried only sheets that are available year round. (We’ll be testing some of the cheaper, seasonal sets this fall.)
For testing, we measured the sheets out of the package, washed them, dried them, and remeasured them to account for any shrinkage. We examined the seams to check for sturdiness, and we compared the feel of each set of sheets, noting which sheets were rough, dense, or extra soft. We spent a night sleeping naked on each set with the air conditioning at 68 degrees, the same conditions we used for testing in our guide to comforters. This was a necessary step to gauge warmth, since we were testing flannel sheets in July. We noted which sheets felt heavy to sleep under, which sheets allowed for natural movement in the night, and which sheets kept us warm without making us sweat. After a wash and a night’s sleep, we also checked each set to see if any pilling had started from the natural friction that comes with normal use.
For its very reasonable price, we think the L.L.Bean Ultrasoft Comfort Flannel Sheet Set is the best flannel sheet set for most people. We did try softer sets, but the Ultrasoft sheets were among the plushest and the least expensive. They’re constructed really well, and in our tests they shrank less than others. And unlike some of the other sheets we tried, these never made us sweat or feel overly constricted. They also come with an unbeatable lifetime guarantee.
The L.L.Bean Ultrasoft sheets were fuzzier and much softer than the more expensive Garnet Hill Signature Flannel Bedding and Lands’ End 6oz Flannel Sheet Set. Only two sets we tried were softer (our upgrade pick, the L.L.Bean Premium Supima set, and The Company Store’s Velvet Flannel Bedding). L.L.Bean doesn’t specify what kind of cotton the Ultrasoft set is made from (as it does with the Premium Supima set), but the company does state that all of its flannel is made in Portugal with long-staple cotton. The longer cotton fibers mean these pieces are less prone to pilling at the surface than cheaper flannel made with lower-quality cotton.
All of the softest sheets we tested—those from L.L.Bean, The Company Store, and Lands’ End—were made in Portugal. In testing we could definitely feel the difference. Garnet Hill’s Signature Flannel is made in Germany, another country with a long history of producing flannel, but we thought those sheets felt rough and stiff, like sleeping inside a lumberjack flannel shirt. FIT’s Shannon Maher agreed with our testing results. “I, too, have always preferred the Portugal flannels over the German flannels,” she told us. “The difference would be in the fibers, spun yarn, and the machinery used.”
The stitching at the seams on the Ultrasoft sheets is made with nice thick thread, and the stitches look perfectly even. We think this will help them last through many washings. Our test set was finished beautifully—it had no thread tails hanging at the end of the seams, which you see sometimes on sheets. We saw one on the Garnet Hill set. I never think those tails are a good sign. It tells me the seams weren’t finished as tightly or as neatly as they could have been, and if you were to tug on or cut that tail of thread, you could possibly open the last stitch, which would prompt the seams to start unraveling in a short amount of time.
These sheets also had one of the better averages for shrinking after the first wash. The Ultrasoft sheets shrank an average of 2 percent overall, landing in third place for the least shrinking behind the Lands’ End 6oz Flannel Sheet Set (0.45 percent average shrinking) and The Company Store’s Velvet Flannel Bedding (1.04 percent average shrinking).
The Ultrasoft set kept us warm but didn’t make us sweat, which is a fine line to walk for flannel sheets. In contrast, the Lands’ End sheets clung and made us sweat. The Company Store’s Velvet Flannel pieces were the warmest sheets overall in testing, but the two L.L.Bean sets were the softest—and still plenty warm. With the Ultrasoft flannels and a duvet, we never woke up with a chill or felt like we needed to add more layers to the bed.
And they feel fantastic when you first crawl under the covers. The cold shock that comes with getting into bed with regular sheets when it’s freezing outside is replaced by an instant toasty feeling. These sheets gave us plenty of room to move around while sleeping on them, compared with the Garnet Hill Signature Flannel sheets, which felt restrictive and made it hard to get comfortable.
The Ultrasoft sheets shed the most lint in the dryer of any of the sheets we tested, and they were also the thinnest sheets we tested overall. This makes some sense, since they are a lighter-weight 5-ounce flannel instead of 6-ounce flannel. But The Company Store’s Velvet Flannel is also a 5-ounce variety, and those sheets felt thicker and more dense—like a blanket. We saw no pilling after washing and sleeping on the Ultrasoft sheets, and the thinness made them feel lighter and less weighty while we slept. We do worry, however, that over time all that shedding, plus the thinness, may eventually cause the softness to wear out. We’ll keep an eye on that possibility as we continue to test this set over the long term.
The Ultrasoft sheets are L.L.Bean’s best-selling flannel sheets. They come in seven solid colors and a range of prints available in various colors. They also come with L.L.Bean’s famously good return policy. For the price, performance, and that guarantee, we think they’re a great buy that will last many winters.
This set is technically made of flannelette—which means the sheets are napped (brushed) on only one side of the fabric. We didn’t pick up on this when we were testing a solid-color set, but we noticed it clearly when we went to a Target store and looked at the printed sets (which are also printed on only one side of the fabric). But the Target Threshold sheets are still much softer on both sides of the fabric than the flannelette sheets we tried from Walmart.
In our experience, the construction on most Target Threshold textiles is impressive, and these 100 percent cotton sheets are no exception. We picked Threshold sheets for our guide to the best sheets under $50, and I’ve used Target Threshold sheets for several years at home. We found the stitch quality to be better than that of the Garnet Hill flannel sheets we tested, a set that costs six times as much.
We did find that these sheets shrank the most out of all 10 sets we tested—4.1 percent overall, versus 2 percent for the L.L.Bean Ultrasoft set. And the Target Threshold flannel is definitely a bulkier fabric than the fine material of the L.L.Bean Ultrasoft set and our upgrade pick, the L.L.Bean Premium Supima sheets. According to our expert from FIT, Shannon Maher, thicker flannel is made with a shorter cotton fiber that could lose its softness more quickly. We think the Target set won’t keep its softness as long as our two more expensive picks from L.L. Bean, though our long-term testing will tell us for sure. These drawbacks are significant, but they don’t take away from the strengths of these sheets for the price.
The Target sheets shed minimally after our first wash, and they didn’t shed at all while we used them (in contrast to the budget Seasons Collection sheets, which shed like crazy and set our allergies off). And the Target sheets were surprisingly soft, breathable, and warm. We slept soundly through the night during testing, with no cold toes, overheating, or clingy, uncomfortable fabric. They were warmer than the significantly more expensive Lands’ End and Garnet Hill sheets we tested.
The only budget sheets we tested that came close to the Target Threshold sheets for warmth and overall quality were the polyester Micro Flannel sheets, and they were clingier to sleep under and twice the price. If you don’t need or want to invest $100 in a higher-quality, longer-lasting set of flannel sheets, the Target Threshold Flannel Sheet Set is a great alternative.
Hands down, the softest sheets we tested were the L.L.Bean Premium Supima Flannel Sheets. They’re thicker and softer than the L.L.Bean Ultrasoft Flannel Sheet Set, giving a slightly sturdier and more plush feeling. We’re confident that both L.L.Bean sets will hold up well to multiple washings, but the Premium Supima version felt a little more heavenly to sleep under. They’re also almost twice the price, however, at nearly $180 for a queen set, so they’re worth the cost only if you want the ultimate warmth and softness against your skin.
While most of the sheets gave us that great cozy feeling when we first crawled into bed, L.L.Bean’s Premium Supima sheets were so plush and cozy that we couldn’t stop smiling and wiggling our toes against the sheets’ texture. We didn’t think we could actually feel joy crawling into flannel sheets in the dead of July for this guide’s testing, but these sheets made us giddy. They were just so soft, and one of our absolute favorites to sleep on.
Like our main pick, the Premium Supima sheets are made of Portuguese flannel. We found the quality of the flannel to be a little higher, as these pieces pilled less than the Ultrasoft. This set is made from Supima cotton, meaning the cotton itself is grown in the United States and then sent to Portugal to be milled into flannel. The Premium Supima set weighs 6 ounces per square yard, versus the Ultrasoft’s 5 ounces, and we could definitely feel the increase in quality from that small weight increase between the two. The seaming on the Premium Supima set is also stronger than on the Ultrasoft set. These sheets’ extra plushness, weight, and better construction may give them a longer life than the Ultrasoft pieces. (It’s hard to say by how much, though, because it depends on how often you use them and on how you wash and dry them.)
In choosing a luxury set, we had a tough call between the L.L.Bean Premium Supima Flannel Sheets and The Company Store’s Velvet Flannel Bedding, a 5-ounce flannel. Both felt extremely soft and warm, but the Velvet Flannel sheets were warmer and a little more like a blanket than a sheet. We liked that the Premium Supima sheets clung to us just a bit more while we slept—they felt cozier.
L.L.Bean offers only five solid-color options for the Premium Supima sheets, as well as two prints (geometric and botanical) that come in a few colors each. This amounts to fewer choices than you get with our top pick, the L.L.Bean Ultrasoft, as well as with The Company Store’s Velvet Flannel Bedding, which comes in 10 vibrant solid colors.
The Premium Supima sheets shrank a little more in the wash (2.08 percent average) than the Ultrasoft sheets, but definitely not more than the 5-percent-average guideline that we learned is a good rule of thumb from our reporting for our other bedding guides. And the Premium Supima’s shrinkage was also not as much as that of the Garnet Hill sheets (3.98 percent average), which shrank the most overall. The Premium Supima pieces shed the least amount of lint of any of the sheets we tested, which we thought was interesting since the L.L.Bean Ultrasoft set shed the most. But both retained their softness after use, and the Premium Supima sheets felt even better after the first wash. They felt a little loosened up and relaxed, but still impressively soft.
Overall, we think these sheets are a fantastic upgrade pick if you’re looking for long-lasting softness plus L.L.Bean’s excellent customer service and return policy. These sheets will make you excited for a cold winter night.
Because we were putting this guide together during the summer months, some companies just didn’t have flannel sheets available. We found this to be especially true with more-affordable retailers such as Target and Walmart. Everything we tested for this guide is in the $100-and-up price range for a queen set, which we know isn’t what everyone wants to spend for sheets that may see use for only a few months out of the year. We will be revisiting this guide in the fall, when flannel sheets are more widely available and we can try some budget-friendly options.
With any bedding, how you wash and dry your sheets affects how long they last. It’s important to follow the care instructions on each set exactly. The sheets have been tested for durability according to those washing instructions, so you may not see the same results if you stray from the manufacturer’s recommendations.
I do think of washing as a scale, though. If a product says “wash in warm water,” I assume that means I can wash it in cold or warm water, but not hot. The tags on most of the flannel sheets we tested recommended washing in cold water and tumble-drying on low. That can take a really long time in the dryer, but it will absolutely help with their longevity. If you’re like me and don’t have the time or patience to wait for huge bed sheets to dry on low heat, just know that cranking the temperature up to high could shorten the life of all that softness you’re paying a premium for.
Shannon Maher of FIT told us that true flannel is napped on both sides. If it’s napped on only one side, the fabric is technically a flannelette. Flannel quality also relates to the type and size of the yarn, along with the napping process. Not all flannel sheet sets specify ounces or whether they are napped on both sides, but we paid close attention to those that did.
“Finer flannels will use smaller-sized yarns with lighter napping, while bulky flannels will use larger-size yarns with heavier napping,” Maher said. For most low-end and midlevel fabrics, manufacturers use larger-size yarns so that they’ll withstand the napping process, which can be more aggressive than with a finer flannel. We deduced this from the price range of finer flannels to bulkier flannels. If a finer flannel is more expensive and is noticeably softer, the manufacturer is investing in a more expensive flannel-making process, probably with higher-end machines for the napping process. And according to Maher, “If the napping process is pulling on the fibers of the yarn, if the yarns are too thin they would have the tendency to break and weaken the fabric.” So those heavier yarns become important to hold up the napping process on lower-end flannel sheets.
Maher also told us the general feeling among flannel manufacturers is that American buyers prefer bulkier flannels with larger yarn sizes and heavier napping. She added that finer flannels can actually be stronger than their bulkier counterparts. “In order to create a fine-gauge yarn, the fibers need to be longer. Longer fibers, when spun, create stronger yarns.” She noted that some finer flannel manufacturers add the extra step of shearing after the napping process to remove or trim the raised surface fibers, making those finer flannels a little smoother and less likely to pill.
“This is not to say that lower- to middle-level flannels are not durable,” Maher said. “But as the majority are made with coarser (thicker) yarns, these yarns would most likely be spun using shorter fibers.” Maher told us that the shorter fibers would make the fabric look more plump, because more fibers would come to the surface during the napping process. “Short fibers pull away easier from the yarn.” We took this into account and looked at some companies known for producing sturdy, long-wearing products.
The Company Store’s Velvet Flannel Bedding ran a close second to the L.L.Bean Premium Supima Flannel Sheets as our upgrade pick. Justin Sonfeld, general merchandise manager for The Company Store, told us by email that the Portuguese flannel for its Velvet Flannel Bedding starts life at 5 ounces, just as its lower-priced 5-ounce flannel sheets do, but the raising and shearing process gives the Velvet Flannel a more luxurious feeling. And we agree: The result was definitely luxurious. We were comfortable and warm with the Velvet Flannel sheets alone and no additional blankets—they are that thick and dense. And they are still soft and weighty for a lighter-weight flannel. But they aren’t as soft and cozy as the L.L.Bean Premium Supima sheets, and they come with a shorter return policy (90 days). They come in more colors than either of our L.L.Bean picks do, so if that extra warmth and those extra color options are appealing to you, we definitely think you’d be happy with this set from The Company Store.
The Lands’ End 6oz Flannel Sheet Set is well-constructed, with some of the nicest stitching we saw in testing. And the pieces feel soft and not too thick out of the package. Plus, like the L.L.Bean Premium Supima sheets, these also use Supima cotton grown in the USA and then milled into flannel in Portugal. But once we slept on these, we had a harder time recommending them. The 6-ounce flannel feels almost like a jersey knit. One of our testers felt overheated under these sheets, waking up very sweaty—something she experienced only with these sheets. They are also the most expensive sheets we tested, at around $190 for a queen set at this writing. They do feel nice, but if you are prone to sweating at all from certain kinds of sheet material, these may not be for you.
Garnet Hill Signature Flannel Bedding comes in seven solid colors and some great prints, and it’s made with German flannel. Garnet Hill’s website says the company has been using the same flannel from the same German family mill for decades, and the customer reviews show a lot of loyalty to this brand over the years. But in testing we preferred Portuguese flannel overall, as it felt softer and handled better in the wash. These sheets shrank the most of any of those we tested (3.98 percent average), and they were rough for sleeping. We felt restricted lying on these, like we couldn’t move as freely, and we disliked the feel of them right against our skin. Considering this set’s price at the time (more than $160 for a queen set), we thought there were better options.
You can find Shavel’s Micro Flannel at many retailers, including Bed Bath & Beyond, Costco, Kohl’s, and JCPenney. Made from 100 percent polyester fleece, they are the only non-cotton sheets we tested. Although they were our favorite budget set after the Target Threshold sheets, we didn’t love the feel of the material: The sheets are brushed on only one side, and the other side clearly feels like slinky, cool polyester, which doesn’t feel great when a stray arm brushes against it. When I spoke with Jon Shavel, whose family invented Micro Flannel and has a patent pending, he described the fabric as a cross between jersey and fleece, and we think that sounds right. We also found that these sheets stretched—making the bed was tricky.
Pinzon flannel sheets are from Amazon’s private label, and at about $65 for a queen set as of this writing, they don’t come at a terrible price. In our tests they weren’t as soft or as warm as the Target Threshold, Seasons Collection, or Micro Flannel sheets. Several of the flannel sheets we tested took a minute to really warm up our toes on a cool night, but the Pinzon sheets never fully warmed up. I woke up a few times during the night with cold feet, which is exactly the opposite of what you want from a good set of flannel bedding.
Bed Bath & Beyond’s Seasons Collection Flannel Sheet Set was one of the softest budget sets we tested (when we checked, the regular price was about $50 for a queen set). After we received a set for testing, however, the retailer marked this collection down for clearance, and at the time we published this guide, only the California king size was available. Also, these sheets shed more lint in the dryer than any other set we tested overall, and they were the only one of the 10 total sets we tested that shed while we were sleeping.
Walmart’s Mainstays Flannel Bedding Sheet Set typically comes at a great price of about $25 for a queen set. But these sheets were nowhere near as comfortable to sleep on as the Target Threshold, Micro Flannel, or Seasons Collection sheets we tested. They didn’t keep us very warm in testing, and the material wasn’t as soft or plush as that of the other budget sets. Also, these sheets are technically flannelette, as they are brushed (and printed) on only one side.
Other sets we looked at but didn’t try:
A friend recommended the BrylaneHome Cozy Cotton Flannel Sheet Set, but we don’t know much about the company. The customer reviews on BrylaneHome’s site gave these sheets an average score of four stars (out of five) at the time we checked, with a few common complaints of pilling, shedding, and loss of softness. To be honest, we saw similar criticisms for a lot of flannel sheets, with the majority of customer reviews being positive except for a few with those same issues. Without knowing more about BrylaneHome’s reputation, we passed on testing these sheets.
The Company Store’s 5 oz. Flannel Bedding sheets have far fewer reviews than the Velvet Flannel Bedding, and when we checked, those reviews were not great. The average score was 2.8 out of five at that time, with complaints about pilling, loss of softness, and even some holes right out of the packaging. We decided not to test these sheets.
One of the challenges of assembling this guide involved gathering sets to test in the summer, before some companies have updated their inventory for the cold-weather season. Cuddledown’s German Flannel Solid Bedding sheets were available only in white and ivory at the time, and we had trouble getting information about availability for the upcoming winter.
The customer reviews for Eddie Bauer’s Portuguese Flannel Sheet Set mentioned a lot of pilling, heavy shedding, and lower quality than that of previously purchased Eddie Bauer flannel. That last criticism—that what is currently for sale isn’t as good as what used to be available—was a common gripe about many sheets we saw. We had less information overall about these sheets, and since we were already testing several that cost more than $100 for a queen set, we passed on testing these.
5oz Velvet Flannel Sheeting is the lower-priced flannel-sheet offering from Lands’ End. We decided to test the higher-end 6-ounce flannel because, while these sheets have been featured on The Today Show and in Good Housekeeping (a fact that Lands’ End mentions on its website), the customer reviews gave these sheets only a 3.3 average (out of five) at the time we checked. And these sheets were almost completely sold out online. Lands’ End is great about restocking perennial favorites each season, but we thought the 6-ounce version looked like a better option to test.
The Vermont Country Store’s Super Soft Flannel Sheet Set is another set of Portuguese flannel with strong customer reviews (at this writing, a 4.8 average out of five, across 27 reviews). But inventory was limited during our research and testing phase, and we didn’t get a response from the company about what it would offer for this upcoming winter.
The West Elm Flannel Sheet Set is made with Portuguese flannel, but we couldn’t find any reviews for these sheets. And only one color was available at the time we tested
(Photos by Michael Hession.)
Originally published: October 19, 2016