When shopping for bed linens, it is easy to become confused with so many names attached to what appear to be essentially the same item. Bedspreads, comforters, and duvet covers are all in the same family of bed cover, but each is unique in some way. Comforters and bedspreads are both bed linens that comprise the top layer of a bed, covering the sheets and any other blankets, but each has distinctive features that classify it as one or the other.
Size is one of the most noticeable differences between these items. A comforter is designed to sit on top of the bed, covering just the top mattress. A bedspread is designed to cover the entire bed and hangs low enough to cover the box spring. This means a comforter is usually smaller and requires a bed skirt to cover the box spring area. Both come in specific sizes for twin, full, queen, or king size beds, but sizes between each of these categories differs.
Another difference is that comforters are designed to stay on the bed during the night. They are extra thick because they have the functional purpose of providing warmth. Bedspreads are strictly ornamental. They can certainly be used as an extra cover on a cold night, but they are not made to be as durable and hence, may have more complicated cleaning instructions or be made with more delicate fabrics that will not withstand soiling and use as well as a comforter.
Sometimes, duvet covers are erroneously tagged as a "duvet," but they are not a stand-alone bed linen. A duvet cover is used in conjunction with a comforter, but not a bedspread. These are made with one side open to insert a comforter, and this end is then closed with buttons or another closure, which allows washing of the duvet cover more frequently than the entire comforter. This, in turn, lengthens the life of the bed linen. Duvet covers also allow for frequent decorative changes, as a comforter can be used without one, with one, or with several that are swapped out when the mood changes.
Comforters are quilted and reversible, while bedspreads are not. Some people use both, but generally not at the same time. A comforter can be kept in a chest, folded on the end of the bed, or tucked away in a nearby closet during the day to be used at night when the bedspread is removed.