Percale vs. Sateen Sheets

Shopping for the right finish on your sheets can be a little confusing—especially when you’re shopping online and can’t feel the difference in person.

Of all the ways to weave a sheet, percale and sateen weaves are often the most likely to be interchanged even though they are actually quite different in feel and construction. Before we dive too far into the differences, let’s quickly overview some important vocabulary.

Warp The threads of a woven piece of fabric that stay stationary on a loom, running vertically through the fabric.

Weft The threads of a woven piece that are moved through the vertical warp threads, over and under, to create the type of weave.

Staple length The length of a cotton fiber that determines the feel of the finished product.

What is percale? If you’ve ever run your hands over a crisp cotton dress shirt, you have a good idea of what brand new percale feels like. The cotton is tightly woven in a flat, smooth grid pattern that makes for a strong, even sheet. Some sleepers prefer to iron their percale for the pristine, pressed look, while others like to leave it a little wrinkled for a softer, more live-in feeling. Percale is cool to the touch and very breathable, despite being a tight weave. The warp and the weft threads are woven over and under evenly, creating a uniform pattern.

The quality of the cotton matters when it comes to percale—a long staple length cotton is softer and creates a smoother finish than lower-quality cotton with shorter, fuzzier staples. Over time, a good percale weave will soften up without pilling and maintain the matte, crisp feeling.

What is sateen? Sateen weaves are known for a buttery smoothness and overall heavier feel. They are made of a 3 over 1 pattern, so the weft threads move over three warp threads and under the fourth. This looser weave actually creates a warmer sheet in the end, perfect for those looking for something with a little heft in a colder climate. Sateen is generally known for a shinier finish and is less prone to wrinkle because of the heavier fibers.

Sateen sheets utilize thicker yarn to create a warmer sheet and often have a signature striped pattern within the weave. The sheen of these sheets will fade with washes, but they should maintain their slicker feel. The heavier fabrics are generally less durable and sleep hotter than other fabrics.

Is percale or sateen better? While sheets are a personal choice and totally up to your own preference, knowing why percale or sateen sheets might be better is helpful while you’re shopping.

Percale is great for you if you’re looking for a light, airy sheet that breathes well and breaks in over time. Sateen sheets are great if you’re looking for a warmer, silkier feeling and don’t mind if the initial sheen fades over time.

Our percale sheets are created with luxurious Supima® cotton and are designed to only get better with use. If you want a crisp, lived-in look and feel to your sheets, percale is a great choice for you.

You can read more about our percale sheets here.


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Shelly Weaver-Cather
Shelly Weaver-Cather

Shelly Weaver is part of the Content Team at Tuft & Needle, leading the writing and editing of our blog. Not quite a Phoenix native, (They take that sort of thing super seriously.) Shelly has spent most of her life in the Phoenix Metro area and has no plans of leaving anytime soon. She made the unexpected jump out of wedding photography and onto T&N’s team in 2016, and found a passion for the people that keep the lights on. She still finds herself shooting in her free time, though these days there are less bridal portraits and more masterpieces of her first child, Duke, a lab-pit mix with an unparalleled love for both T&N mattress hogging and couch destroying.

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