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Egyptian Cotton vs. Sateen Sheets

Quick Overview

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.

Egyptian Cotton is a specific variety of long-staple cotton known for its breathability and durability that is often used in luxury sheets. Egyptian cotton fibers are woven together to make sheets using a variety of weave patterns, but the most common are percale, sateen, pinpoint, and twill.

Sateen refers to a specific type of weave pattern rather than a variety of fiber. Sateen sheets are woven using a high ratio of warp to weft, usually in a three or four over, one under pattern that creates its signature silky, heavy feel. Sateen can be woven from cotton fibers of all varieties, including Egyptian, Supima, and Upland. Modern sateen is also sometimes made from rayon, as it’s a cheaper material than cotton.

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.

What Is Egyptian Cotton?

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. I

n 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:

  • Percale: Percale is woven in a symmetrical pattern with one thread over, one thread under. The result is a durable, crisp sheet with a matte finish.
  • Pinpoint: This durable, yet stiffer weave is created with two threads over and one under.
  • Twill: Twill features a diagonal pattern with varying thread counts over and under, producing a soft, fuzzy material.
  • Sateen: Made with a durable three over, one under pattern, sateen creates a heavier, smoother feeling sheet.

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 bedding 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 draped.

Pros and Cons of Egyptian Cotton Sheets

  • No pilling or clumping on fabric surface
  • ELS fibers result in smooth, soft sheets
  • Resistant to stretching, tearing and thinning
  • Breathable and moisture-wicking
  • Locks in body heat during colder months

Cons

  • High price-point
  • Requires more care than other types of sheets
  • May initially feel coarse before washing
  • Doesn’t drape as well as other sheets
  • Mislabeling is common

What Is Sateen?

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.

Pros and Cons of Sateen Sheets

  • Smooth hand feel
  • Shiny appearance
  • Softer on sensitive skin
  • Naturally wrinkle-resistant
  • Drapes well

Cons

  • Less durable than other weaves
  • More prone to snagging and pilling
  • Shine fades over time
  • May trap heat more than other weaves
  • Slippery to the touch and may bunch at end of bed

Buying Considerations

Cost

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.

Lifespan and Warranty

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.

Cleaning and Care

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.

Final Verdict

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 sleep hot
  • You prefer sheets that will last decades
  • you are comfortable paying for a quality product

You Should Buy Sateen If…

  • You like a sheen on your sheets
  • You sleep cold
  • You prefer a smooth, silky feel.
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