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Percale vs. Sateen Sheets

Quick Overview

A restful night of sleep depends upon the right set of bedding as much as it does on the right mattress or pillow. However, there are many other considerations involved in choosing the right sheets for you, such as softness, pliability, sheen, temperature, and durability.

This guide will take an in-depth look at two common fabrics that can affect your sleep comfort: percale and sateen. While both are typically made of Egyptian cotton, the weave, feel, and temperature of each sheet type is unique. Read on to learn more about important considerations when shopping for these fabrics and choosing the one that works best for you.

What Is Percale?

Percale sheets feature a classic, one-over-one-under weave pattern. It’s important to note that percale is a weave pattern, not a fiber, so while high quality percale is usually made from cotton (a natural, rather than synthetic, material), it may be woven using a variety of fibers, such as cotton, polyester, or various blends. It is made from both carded and combed yarns.

Percale has a crisp, clean feel, often compared to a pristine white button-down shirt that has just been ironed. Percale has a thread count of about 200 or higher, and it is noticeably tighter than the standard type of weave used for bedsheets. This gives it a matte finish, and it continues to soften over time as it is laundered.

If you often get hot at night, or if you live in a region with consistently high temperatures or very warm summers, percale makes for a great choice for your bedding, as it is lightweight, breathable, and cool to the touch.

Pros and Cons of Percale Sheets

  • Crisp hand feel
  • Gets softer with use
  • Highly breathable
  • Very durable
  • Easy to care for

Cons

  • Prone to wrinkles
  • Louder rustling sound

What Is Sateen?

Sateen is a fabric made with spun yarns with a sheen and very soft feel. This sheen comes from the weave structure, called a satin weave, that is used in its production. Unlike percale, which uses a one-over-one-under weave pattern, sateen typically uses four-over-one-under weave. The face of the yarn running mostly in one direction produces a fabric which is soft to touch and scatters less light, thus increasing shine.

Modern sateens often use rayon as a substitute for cotton, because rayon is a cheaper material. But no matter what fiber is used, the feel of sateen may work better for you if you have highly sensitive skin, as it’s not as rough as other sheet types. Many people prefer its shiny appearance, as well.

Another benefit to this style of weave is that it is naturally wrinkle-resistant. While it has a softer feel that many people find soothing and pleasant, it does not breathe as well as percale and does not hold up as well to repeated washings due to its weave structure. It’s slightly less durable than percale, though you can still expect to use your sateen sheets for several years.

Pros and Cons of Sateen Sheets

  • Smooth hand feel
  • Shiny appearance
  • Slightly more wrinkle-resistant
  • Softer on sensitive skin

Cons

  • Less durable
  • More susceptible to pilling
  • Shine fades over time
  • Less breathable than percale

How do Percale and Sateen Compare?

What’s the main difference between the two kinds of sheets? It all comes down to the weave, not the fiber itself. Most people prefer percale sheets to sateen sheets when given the choice. Percale is the more durable option, and is easier to find in stores. Its breathability means that it’s comfortable no matter the temperature of your sleep environment.

However, sateen is high-quality and offers an additional level of luxury — it just doesn’t last as long and isn’t usually preferable if you’re concerned about breathability. Considering that it feels silky smooth against your skin, you may want to try this material if you prefer sleeping with lighter pajamas or in the nude.

Category Criteria Percale Rating Sateen Rating
Durability With proper care, a sheet set can last for several years – but in many cases, regular use and frequent washing/drying cycles can cause the material to deteriorate. The more you wash percale sheets, the softer they will get. They will last through years of wash/dry cycles. Sateen sheets are prone to pilling, and the sheen will eventually decrease with use and repeated washes.
Temperature neutrality Breathable sheets and pillowcases provide better temperature neutrality than those made from fabrics – often synthetics – that trap heat and cause sleepers to feel excessively warm. Percale sheets are more breathable for better temperature regulation. They are good for both warm and cool nights. Sateen sheets are better in cool and dry climates. They are sometimes preferred by those who wear lighter or less clothing to bed.
Comfort and feel Excessively thin sheets often bunch up and cause comfort issues, while inflexible sheets tend to snag around the sleeper’s body; the ideal sheets offer a balance of softness and flexibility. Percale sheets have a crisp feel, like a clean cotton shirt. The sheets become softer the more they are washed and dried. Sateen sheets have a very smooth hand feel. The material feels silky against bare skin, and is better for sensitive skin.
Cleaning and care Although most sheets are made from materials that can be washed and dried in machines, some require more extensive cleaning and care. Percale sheets are easy to clean. There's no need to worry about heavy-duty washing machines, though the material is prone to wrinkles. Gentle cycles work best for sateen. The material is more wrinkle-resistant.

Cost

The cost of both fabrics is remarkably similar. You can find basic sheets starting around $20-$40 and high-end sheets that cost hundreds of dollars. For both percale and sateen sheets, you can find a range of prices, depending on factors like thread count and style.

Lifespan and Warranty

You should expect several years of quality use from either percale or sateen. Percale will have a longer lifespan and will actually become more comfortable as you wash it more often. Sateen might pill over time and will eventually lose its sheen.

Most sateen sheets come with a one-year warranty. This is also the typical warranty for percale sheets, but it is not uncommon to find two-year warranties for percale. Nonetheless, you can expect either sheet to last several years.

Cleaning and Care

If wrinkles are a concern for you, then sateen is a better choice, especially if you don’t want to spend extra time ironing. Both sheet types are suitable for machine washing and drying. If you have a washing machine with a delicate cycle, it will come in handy for sateen sheets in particular, as it can lengthen their lifespan.

While both sheet types are highly durable, percale may be a better choice if you are doing your laundry at a laundromat or if you don’t have a delicate cycle setting on your household washer and dryer.

Final Verdict

Both percale and sateen are typically made of cotton and have roughly the same price-point. However, there are key differences that can help guide your decision between them. Percale becomes softer as you wash it, whereas sateen starts off extremely soft but is quicker to wear out and weaken over time.

Material Percale Sateen
Pros Durable Breathable Easy to care for Luxurious feel Noticeable sheen Very soft
Cons Prone to wrinkles Noise potential Prone to pilling Less durable
Feel Percale has a feel like a nice, crisp, cotton shirt that’s just been iron-pressed. Sateen is smooth to the touch and luxurious to run your hand over.
Average Cost $20 and up $20 and up
Average Lifespan 2-3 years 1-2 years

You Should Buy Percale If…

  • You are concerned about breathability.
  • Durability matters to you.
  • Ease of care is a consideration for you.

You Should Buy Sateen If…

  • You have sensitive skin or skin-related health conditions.
  • You like a sheen on your sheets.
  • Wrinkles are a consideration.
  • You prefer a satin-like feel.
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