Bedding can be a rewarding thing to shop for, but it can also be incredibly confusing. There are a lot of terms used in the textile world that you have probably heard of and maybe know a little bit about, but don’t truly know what they mean. Take sateen and percale. You’ve probably seen these words describing sheets before, but do you actually know what the difference is between sateen and percale? We’ve broken down the important distinctions between the two so you can make a decision as to which is best for you.
When I think of luxury sheets, I think of sateen. If you want to get into the (k)nitty-gritty process of fiber weaving, a specialized process is used to achieve the stain-like texture of sateen sheets. This process, called mercerization, involves stripping off the outer layer of fabric after a quick dip in a lye solution. The long strands of fabric end up shiny and able to absorb a lot of dye, which is why sateen sheets tend to be more richly colored than other sheets. These long strands are then woven in a similar pattern as satin, which is how the shiny finish is maintained. The sheets are soft and smooth as a result. And, because of the mercerization process, the sheets tend to be resistant to mildew and hypoallergenic.
When it comes to who sateen sheets are best for, that can get tricky. They’re soft and durable, but like I’ve said a few times above, they’re shiny. Noticeably shiny. If that’s something you just cannot stand, they’re not for you. The shine will not decrease after washing them. That being said, they’re smooth and cool to the touch, which is useful for people who sleep hot. They’re breathable and don’t tend to wrinkle or smell stale if you forget to wash them enough.
Our favorite sateen sheets:
Nest Bedding’s Organic Cotton Sateen Sheet Set
Scouted contributor Gideon Grudo swears by these fair trade-certified sheets that stay cool no matter the weather.
Luxe Core Set
I find Brooklinen’s sateen sheets to be soft, breathable, and durable. They even got a reluctant nod of approval from my sateen-hating boyfriend.
To start off, percale refers to the type of weave and not the fabric (the fabric is cotton). Percale was “originally imported from India in the 17th and 18th centuries,” This old school weave is woven similarly to that of a rug, which isn’t that surprising as it has connections to Persia and India.
It’s durable and smooth to begin with, but will be even softer after a few washes. Because of the strength of weave, percale sheets tend to feel crisp and cool, which is great for hot sleepers or those who live in a climate that gets hot. They’re also pretty resistant to pilling. Though, the crispness of the sheets can often feel a bit stiff, especially if it’s a darker color dye. That being said, if you want sheets that will soften to your liking and are as matte as can be, this is the weave for you.
Our favorite percale sheets:
The Hudson Sheet Set
These crisp percale sheets feel sturdy but not stiff. They soften after just one wash and come in a handful of hotel-inspired styles.
Riley Home Percale Sheet Set
If you just cannot stand having to wash your sheets to soften them, these come basically pre-softened. They’re nice and cool on the bed, too.