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In the quest to create the perfect sleeping environment, sheets are often overlooked. The type of material and weave you choose for your sheets can have a significant impact on the quality of your sleep. A fabric that might work wonderfully for one sleeper might feel coarse, warm, or uncomfortable to you.
To help you choose the right type of sheets for your needs, lifestyle, and preferences, we’ve created a series of posts comparing different sheet materials and weaves. Sheet materials typically refer to a specific variety of fiber that a sheet is crafted from, while weave refers to the pattern in which those fibers are woven into fabric.
In this post, we’ll compare both a common sheet material and a common sheet weave: Egyptian cotton and sateen.
Because sateen is a weave and Egyptian cotton is a material, the two are not mutually exclusive — meaning it’s possible to purchase Egyptian cotton sateen sheets.
Derived from a species of cotton plants known as gossypium barbadense, Egyptian cotton is a sister plant to Pima cotton. Although plant did not originate in Egypt, the Nile River Valley’s unique climate allows for its fibers to grow extra long — specifically, up to 2 inches. In addition, Egyptian cotton is typically hand-picked rather than machine harvested, ensuring that the fibers remain straight and undamaged. The untreated, extra-long staple (ELS) fibers create a finer yarn than the shorter fibers of other cotton sheet varieties, making Egyptian cotton sheets softer, smoother, and more durable in comparison.
Egyptian cotton sheets often feature a high thread count, which helps them resist tearing and thinning. In addition, true Egyptian cotton won’t pill, even with repeated laundering. Egyptian cotton can last for more than four decades with correct care.
Egyptian cotton sheets come in a variety of weaves, which affects their feel and durability. The four most common types include:
While different weaves may result in a slightly different feel, any sheets made with Egyptian cotton tend to be breathable while still being able to lock in heat when the weather turns cold. Initially, Egyptian cotton sheets may feel stiff or coarse to some sleepers, but the sheets should soften after several washes. As one of the most popular luxury bed choices, Egyptian cotton is also one of the most expensive types of bed sheets. Similarly, Egyptian cotton sheets may be more difficult to care for than other sheets and is not shiny or easily drapable.
Sateen is a very smooth, wrinkle-resistant weave pattern often used in luxury sheets. Although many sets are advertised as simply “sateen sheets”, sateen can refer to sheets made from several different types of materials. A sateen sheet can be woven from the fibers virtually any type of cotton plant. Modern sateens also sometimes use rayon as a substitute for cotton, since rayon is a less expensive material.
A luxury type of weave, sateen is woven in the same method as traditional satin to create a silky surface and glossy sheen. However, while satin is typically woven from filament fibers like silk or nylon, sateen sheets are typically woven from cotton.
Sateen is woven in a dense one yarn under, three or four yarn over weave, giving it a heavier, slightly warmer feel than other cotton weaves like percale. This weave structure also gives the fabric its distinctive sheen and softness. Its soft feel makes it suitable for those with sensitive skin. Since it has a higher ratio of warp to weft threads, it is also more prone to snag and pill than other weaves commonly used with cotton, such as percale.
Sheets made from sateen are generally silky smooth and do not require any ironing or complicated upkeep. Most sateen sheets are machine washable. Many people prefer sateen’s shiny, lustrous appearance and flowy drape. Since sateen traps heat well, sateen sheets work well for those who live in colder climates or generally sleep cold at night.
Finer, durable, and made from a rare, luxury fabric, true Egyptian cotton sheets are the most expensive sheets on the market. Pure Egyptian cotton could cost upwards of $500, and low-priced sheets labeled “Egyptian cotton” are likely fake or blended.
Sateen sheets may also be pricier than other varieties of sheets because of their elaborate weave. Depending on whether they are made from rayon or Egyptian, Supima, Sea Island, Asiatic, or Upland cotton, you can expect to pay between $50 and $500+ for sateen sheets.
As noted, Egyptian cotton is celebrated for its durability and may last several decades if cared for correctly. A reputable Egyptian cotton manufacturer should provide a substantial return policy or warranty on their sheets, though most coverages will not exceed five years.
Sateen sheets generally offer good durability. When well cared for, sateen sheets may last several years. Most come with a one-year warranty.
Now, let’s take a closer look at recommended care procedures for Egyptian cotton and sateen sheets. Egyptian cotton should be washed regularly on a gentle cycle with delicate detergents, and air-dried away from direct sunlight to avoid fiber deterioration. If you must dry Egyptian cotton sheets in a conventional machine, be sure to keep temperatures low and remove sheets as soon as they become dry. Egyptian cotton should be stored folded in a well-ventilated space away from direct sunlight.
Similarly, sateen sheets can be washed every seven to ten days in a conventional machine using mild detergent on a gentle cycle. No fabric softeners or special treatments are necessary in order for them to drape properly. Once clean, you can dry sateen with your dryer’s no-heat, air-dry cycle. Store dry sateen sheets in a cool, dry, well-ventilated area with no exposure to direct sunlight.
While you may encounter products labeled “Egyptian cotton sheets” and “sateen sheets” on the market, these terms ultimately refer to two different sheet characteristics. Egyptian cotton refers to sheets made from the ELS fibers of special cotton plants grown in warm climates, while sateen refers to sheets crafted from a unique weave pattern of fibers that could include Egyptian cotton, in addition to Supima, Sea Island, Aisatic, or Upland cotton, or even rayon.
To select the best type of sheets for your needs, our advice is to determine the weave of sheets simply marked “Egyptian cotton” or look at the fibers used to make products advertised as “sateen sheets” to make sure you purchase exactly the type of sheets you want.
You may want to favor sheets made from Egyptian cotton due to their superior durability, temperature regulation, and resistance to tearing and pilling. Similarly, regardless of the fiber, you may want to choose sateen if you enjoy a bedsheet with a shiny look and feel that also drapes well and traps heat.
You should buy Egyptian Cotton if…
You should buy sateen if…