Percale vs Sateen Sheets: Which to Choose? (2020)

bed linen sheets

When it relates to shopping for the best sheets and bedding sets, there tends to be a lot of confusion that abounds.  People just aren’t sure what to look for, and we don’t blame you a bit.  It can be hard to discern and decipher what is fact and what is fiction.  Today, we are going to be diving into a topic that should help you out a ton. 

We’ll be breaking down percale and sateen sheets, pitting them against one another by making comparisons in order to give you the answers that you need and crave.  Both of these are extremely popular, so there is a very good chance you will see a lot of them offered.  After our guide, you’ll be much better served to make a good, solid choice on which you should go with and why! 

What’s the Difference Between Percale and Cotton Fabric?

While it may not sound or seem like it, both percale and sateen sheets come from cotton.  Cotton, of course, is one of the main materials used in the world for a range of things, including bed sheets.  Cotton is great at this for a lot of reasons, but one of the things that makes cotton stand out compared to other materials is that it does offer a wide array of products within it. 

Two of them are percale and sateen, which are referring to the type of weave that they utilize.  This weave helps to give off many of their unique properties, therefore, helping the two stand out apart from one another.  Let’s take a look at how they differ in the following section. 

The Weaves

The materials you use are just one aspect of making a product- any product for that matter.  You can use the best, most expensive materials, but if you don’t construct them wisely, then you’re going to left with less than stellar results, shall we say.  In much the same way, the weave is where this comes into play with cotton sheets.  Percale sheets are epitomized by a weave that is “one over and one under,” while sateen sheets are characterized by “three over and one under.” 

This sounds like technical mumbo jumbo to you, but it does actually matter.  As you can probably tell, the percale is the more ‘simple’ of the two weaves, meaning that less is going on.  It’s for this reason that they have diverging qualities.  So let’s jump right into it! 

his sounds like technical mumbo jumbo to you, but it does actually matter.  As you can probably tell, the percale is the more ‘simple’ of the two weaves, meaning that less is going on.  It’s for this reason that they have diverging qualities.  So let’s jump right into it! 

Differences in Durability

It would be a wise thing to begin the comparisons by talking about durability, as so many people can’t stand to purchase something that just has no lifespan.  And who can blame you?  It’s the worst to get something that just does not withstand the test of time.  The good news with both percale and sateen are pretty good relatively speaking at this.  The cotton backing pays off big time here. 

With that said, there is a clear winner between the two with durability in mind, and that is going to be percale.  Both are made using long staple fibers, but percale is going to edge out sateen by being better balanced than sateen.  With so much going on in the sateen weave, it is more likely that an area or two will be overlooked, not made to be quite as strong as others.  With percale, this is not very likely to take place, meaning it is quite strong. 

Sheet Feeling and Comfortability

No one wants an uncomfortable set of sheets, sure, but inside the comfort debate, there wages a war between those that want and like a more standard feeling and those that want something a bit softer.  While both percale and sateen are comfortable to most people, it is going to depend greatly on your own preferences regarding which one you like.  So, we can’t judge this for you, nor will we even try.  If you like a more crisp feeling, then percale is the way for you to go. 

This does, for some people, present a problem in that it can make crinkling noises when you move, though, so that is one possible reason you might not like it.  On the other side, you have sateen.  Sateen is going to be smoother to the touch, as a result of the weave, which promotes this touch.  Sateen can also make a noise when you move about it, so if you are a light sleeper, you may find yourself being advised to give something else a go. 

The other part of this is going to be the thickness of the sheets.  The thickness is also going to produce a certain feeling, and that could determine whether you like them or not.  With sateen, you are going to get a thicker sheet, thus making it heavier.  This makes sense considering that it has more ‘weave’ to it, making it more substantial. 

When we get to breathability in a bit, this will continue to add up more and more in your head.  Percale, meanwhile, is going to be lighter, and thus less heavy and thick on you.  Again, some people like one thing and others like the alternative, so don’t be afraid to go for what you prefer.  You’re the one that’s gonna be sleeping on them, after all! 

Pilling Options

To some people, pilling and durability are one in the same, but we have decided to separate the two as they are really two different issues.  You can still use sheets when they are pilling, so you don’t have to automatically throw them out.  Of course, there is a fine line and you definitely don’t want to make yourself uncomfortable in any way.  All of that aside, percale again tops sateen here by being better.  It is more crisp to begin with, but that actually helps reinforce it, virtually.  Sateen, though, is going to start off soft and will not hold up nearly as well as a result of that, as well an the imbalance we talked about earlier. 

Breathability & Cooling in Warm Weather

There are a lot of aspects to picking out the right set of sheets, but one area where so many people go wrong (for them) is with breathability (especially those who live in warm weather climates).  Breathability is the concept of allowing air to flow, which makes sure that you are not sweating like crazy at night.  We have all been there, laying in bed, tossing and turning, with no semblance of relief.  Sometimes this is caused by the mattress, the sheets, or even the pillow that we use, as it suck in the air. 

Based on what we discussed earlier, the better of the two in our comparison today is going to be percale, in large part due to the simplicity of the weave.  Because there isn’t as much overlapping and under lapping going on, you see that air is able to flow better.  With sateen, this is not the case, as it traps air.  While we will say that sateen is still better than some other products when it comes to breathability, it is derived from cotton after all, it still falls well short when pitted against percale. 

Wrinkles and Wrinkle Resistance

One of the more annoying things you can go through is to get your sheets out of the wash and then find that they are all wrinkled up.  No one likes wrinkles, whether they are on your face, clothes, or sheets.  Unfortunately, due to the weave and other things, percale falls a little bit short to sateen in this arena, so to speak.  It’s not by a whole lot, to be fair, but sateen does a good job at warding off wrinkles in a lot of cases.  Of course, the best way to try and fight those off is to put them on directly out of the dryer when they are still warm.  But hey, not everyone has the time or motivation for that, do they!?

The Appearance

One of the things that are a massive give away when trying to tell percale and sateen sheet apart is going to be the appearance that they have.  Sateen sheets are going to be very similar, as the name implies, to satin.  Satin gives off a certain shiny look to them (similar to high end luxury bedding options), and sateen does that as well.  It is a material that is every designer’s dream as a result, and it means that you have a few more options to turn to for your styling and matching. 

Percale, on the other hand, does not have this glossy look to it.  It’s just kind of plain.  This is not a bad thing, really, it’s just a statement of facts.  The thing to be wary of is that sateen sheets’ sheen does tend to fade over time, so you may find it not worth your while to get them if that’s the only thing you have considered in opting for them. 

Pricing Options and Differences

As ever, price is a considering factor for everyone but the most elite of the elite.  Even those folks are going to be watching their money, seeing as how that is why they are where they are in the first place.  The good news about cotton is that it is usually an affordable option for you to purchase. 

Most people can find a very solid set of sheets for a low or middle price range, making it appealing for you to turn to.  However, there are a wide array of prices that you might find yourself paying inside of cotton.  And that’s the case within the realms of sateen and percale as well.  As we hinted at earlier, this has more to do with how the product is constructed that it does the materials used, so you will just have to do research yourself and set a budget for what to choose. 

Maintenance and Cleaning

Taking care of your bed sheets is a big part of making sure that they last a long time, and it’s also important for you to ensure that they remain as nice as they were when you first bought them.  With cotton products, there is a tendency for them to shrink up after the first wash, so with both percale and sateen you should watch out for this.  In honesty, neither are going to take a ton of work to take care of and maintain, but you also should not assume that you can do nothing to them and still see good results. 

Both require love and attention.  With that said, some people would lean toward sateen being easier to take care of due to the way they resist wrinkling a little bit more than percale.  Again, it’s something you are going to have to decide, but this tends to be the prevailing thought. 

Bed Sheet Fabrics for Sensitive Skin

We’ll close out our head to head here today by taking a look at the issue of sensitive skin.  Some of us are unluckier than others and have very sensitive skin that is hard to please.  If that sounds like you, then you will want to check out sateen sheets.  They do an excellent job at helping moisturize and pamper your skin.  And it’s not as if percale is bad for it, it’s just that it’s not quite as good. 

The satin like properties of sateen really helps it stand out and aid you and your skin.  With that being underlined, we do need to point out that not all of them are equal.  You may indeed find a very helpful blend, but it is not a guarantee.  It really depends on the materials and the processes it went through.  The use of too many chemicals might cause it to do a poor job for you, so that is a factor as well, in both percale and sateen weaves. 

Conclusion: Sateen and Percale Sheet Comparison

Despite the fact that many sheets are labeled with either ‘percale’ or ‘sateen,’ there is a whole lot more than meets the eye when you are considering the two.  The fact of the matter is that both of them are derived from cotton.  As you can tell by just these two products alone, cotton is a wide ranging plant that can produce a number of different outcomes. 

As such, it’s vital that you know the differences of the two so that you can make a much more informed answer to help you get the most out of your money and find the perfect set of sheets to improve your sleep.  Hopefully that’s what happens after you have taken in our guide and its contents! 

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