Percale vs. Sateen: What's the Difference?
Among the many terms related to sheets you've probably heard of are "percale" and "sateen." The names for different fabric weaves, each type makes a sheet with a very different look and feel.
Not sure which fabric weave is right for you? Here, we break down the differences between percale and sateen and the pros and cons of each type of sheet.
Percale vs. sateen: What's the difference?
Percale and sateen refer to two different ways fabric is woven on a loom. You will see these two terms used to describe cotton sheets. Briefly, percale is a more traditional “one-yarn-over, one-yarn-under" pattern, while sateen is a more luxurious looking “one-yarn-over, three-yarn-under" weave, which yields a smoother and more lustrous finish.
Warp in red, weft in blue
Here's how it works: On a loom, there are "warp" threads and "weft" threads. Warp threads are those that run lengthwise, while weft threads are run perpendicular to warp threads and are woven into them. In a one-yarn-over, one-yarn-under pattern (percale), each weft thread passes over one warp thread and then under the next warp thread. In a one-yarn-over, three-yarn-under weave (sateen), each weft thread passes over three warp threads and then under one warp thread.
So, which is better: percale or sateen? It comes down to personal preference, as neither is better than the other. Both of these weaves produce excellent fabrics, but their characteristics are slightly different. Percale produces a slightly airier and more lightweight fabric, while sateen is shinier and smoother. Depending on what type of sleeper you are, one might work better for you than the other. You might also want to switch things up depending on the season.
Pros and cons of percale
Percale creates a matte finish with a crisp and soft feel that stands up well to everyday use. Think: your favorite crisp white shirt. Percale tends to be lighter and cooler than sateen. Because this type of weave allows for better airflow between the threads, it makes the material more breathable and more suitable for hot summer months or for people who tend to sleep hot.
Percale is more prone to wrinkles than sateen. Putting your percale sheets in the dryer should help get rid of post-wash wrinkles (but do always check the care instructions first). Percale also tends to soften with every wash. It's typically more durable and less prone to pilling than sateen. Just stay away from percale sheets with a very low thread count (in the 100s), as these will have a rough texture.
Related: The best sheets to keep you cool
Our Best Sateen Sheets
Pros and cons of sateen
Sateen is characteristically smoother and silkier than percale. That's because the three-yarn-under, one-yarn-over weave exposes more thread surface, producing a silky and smooth fabric that's a bit heavier than percale.
Sateen's tighter weave is also slightly less breathable than percale so it might not suit hot sleepers or people living in very hot climates. Sateen is less prone to wrinkling than percale, and it tends to be a quieter fabric to sleep on (an important detail for sleepers with very sensitive ears). If you crave the silky and smooth feel under your skin and don't sleep particularly hot, go with sateen.
Sateen sheets are also typically naturally resistant to mildew, due to the finishing process they undergo, so they may be more suitable for people with allergies or sensitive skin.
Beyond percale and sateen
Finally, remember that while weave is important when choosing sheets, it's not the only factor. You should also pay attention to:
- Thread count: This number signifies how many horizontal and vertical threads a sheet has per square inch. The National Sleep Foundation recommends choosing sheets with a thread count between 200 and 400 for optimal comfort and coolness. Anything higher than that means the fabric won't breathe as well and will result in a hotter sleep.
- Staple: This term refers to the length of the cotton fiber. Longer fibers make for a softer and more durable fabric, even at a lower thread count.
- Ply: This is a reference to how many yarns are twisted together to make a thread. Single-ply threads are longer and stronger than multi-ply ones. Single-ply threads result in lightweight, soft, durable sheets.
- Cotton type: Cotton can be produced conventionally or organically. Organic cotton is grown without any chemical insecticides or synthetic fertilizers, meaning it's better for your health, and runoff won't have a negative impact on rivers and local water systems.
Need more help choosing the perfect pair of sheets for your bed? Our definitive guide to buying sheets will help you find your match.