What’s the Difference Between Sateen and Percale Sheets, Anyway?

published Mar 19, 2019
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(Image credit: Nancy Mitchell)

Why schlep all the way to a store to touch stiff sheet set after stiff sheet set when there are plenty of direct-to-consumer companies who promise high-quality bedding at a fair, affordable price?

We’ve already shared the key things to consider when buying sheets online, but there are a few questions that remain. What color or pattern should you choose? And perhaps the more pressing question, which material is the best for you?

Most people know what to expect with silk or linen, but percale and sateen are less obvious—and we’re seeing those two fabrics everywhere, especially in the new guard of online-first bedding companies. Think: Brooklinen, Parachute, and Snowe.

So what’s the deal? What exactly is the difference between percale and sateen?

At first glance, the two fabrics aren’t as different as you’d think. According to Ariel Kaye, founder and CEO of Parachute, both percale and sateen are both made from cotton. The difference, however, lies in how the cotton fibers are woven together.

“Percale’s classic, one-over-one-under weave makes it an exceptionally crisp, breathable fabric with a simple, matte finish,” she explains, comparing Parachute’s sheets to a fresh button-down shirt.

Sateen, on the other hand, boasts a unique, four-over-one-under weave, which gives it a subtle, luxurious luster. While not all of them are super shiny—Kaye explains she calls her style “semi-matte”—you’ll probably notice a difference if you compare percale and sateen sheets side by side.

We know what you’re thinking: “That’s all great but what does it mean for me?”

The two fabrics vary slightly in look; however, you should choose sheets based on your sleep temperature.

“For hot sleepers, I typically recommend percale as its breathable nature makes it cool to the touch, and is especially forgiving during the balmy summer months,” Kaye says. “I often recommend sateen for cool sleepers, as the tighter weave will keep you warm throughout the night.”

But whether you prefer sateen or percale, it’s important to buy sheets that put quality first.

Thread count is largely a marketing gimmick,” she warns. “Manufacturers will frequently use low-grade thin cotton to cram more threads into a smaller space.

Oftentimes, Kaye explains, companies will twist multiple threads together, which will increase the thread count, but jeopardize the durability and softness. Instead, look for sheets made with natural fibers.

So tell us, are you team percale or team sateen? Sound off below!