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Shopping for the best sheets is tricky enough, but throw in technical terms like percale and sateen and it can make it that much harder to decipher which set is best for you. While these terms can be confusing, they’re actually pretty simple: They describe the weave of the fabric. While the fibers — which can range from cotton to linen to microfiber and more — let you know one aspect of the fabric, the construction is just as important to consider.
The Good Housekeeping Institute Textiles Lab tests dozens of sheets each year, evaluating them for aspects like softness, durability, appearance and more. We put them through the wringer using our specialized lab equipment, then have consumer testers provide in-depth feedback during real-life use. We’ve tested hundreds of both percale and sateen sheets in the past five years to find the best options for every type of sleeper. Here’s how to decide which weave is right for you.
What’s the difference between percale and sateen sheets?
Percale sheets are light and crisp, while sateen sheets are silky smooth. The difference is due to how the yarns are woven. Even though they’re made with same materials — cotton or cotton blends — the structural differences result in very different textures and physical properties for each material.
Percale sheets have a basic one over, one under plain weave that allows for more interlacings — points where the threads overlap — making it one of the more durable fabrics used in bedding. This structure also provides percale’s signature light and crisp feel while offering the necessary breathability to maintain a comfortable body temperature. On the other hand, sateen sheets typically have a four over, one under satin-like weave that provides a smooth feel and nice sheen. Plus, it doesn’t tend to wrinkle as much as percale.
Both types of sheets are available in a wide range of thread counts. While higher thread counts don’t usually translate to better quality sheets, we’ve found that sheets in the 300 to 500 range have a great balance of softness and durability.
What is percale?
Percale sheets are known for their crisp feel and lightweight quality and are often compared to button-down shirts, which typically have the same 1:1 weave. This classic sheet is also airy and breathable, making it a great option for hot sleepers or those who live in warmer climates. The downside to percale sheets is that they can feel rough or scratchy compared to sateen sheets and tend to wrinkle more because of their crisp, durable nature.
- Feels lightweight and crisp
- Wrinkles more easily
- Can feel rough
But while percale can often feel rough compared to sateen, L.L. Bean’s Pima Percale Sheet Set still earned high softness ratings with consumer testers, thanks to the premium Pima cotton, and excelled in durability testing in Lab. Testers also loved the breathability and raved about the cool-to-the-touch feel. If you’re on the search for an even softer percale sheet, ope for Parachute’s Brushed Cotton Sheet Set. It earned high marks for softness while maintaining a comfortable sleep temperature, making the brushed percale material a tester favorite.
For a more durable fabric with a lived-in look, i.e. not wrinkle-free, choose the Gryphon Comfort Washed Sheet Set, which testers described as not too soft or thick. Or if you prefer something organic, Coyuchi’s Organic Percale Sheets have the same relaxed look with GOTS-certified organic cotton that one tester called “soft, luxurious and yet crisp and cool.”
What is sateen?
Sateen sheets stand out for their smooth feel and slight sheen, with some fabrics having a slippery or silky texture. Sateen bedding is ideal for those who prefer softness over crispness. The fabric is also inherently more wrinkle-resistant compared to percale and some sateen sheets are even treated with a wrinkle-resistant finish for an iron-less, picture-perfect look. But keep in mind that sateen sheets can feel heavier or thicker than percale sheets, so they’re best suited for someone looking for a cozy, soft sheet, and don’t provide the same breathability afforded by percale.
- Silky and smooth feel
- Slight sheen
- Tends to wrinkle less than percale
- May feel too thick for some
- Not great for hot sleepers
The Brooklinen Luxe Core is one of the most popular sateen sheet sets available with quality fabric that’s both smooth and durable. Not to mention, the fitted sheet includes game-changer “short” side and “long” side labels for easy bed making. And if you want effortless, wrinkle-free sheets, take a look at Garnett Hill’s Wrinkle-Resistant Solid Sateen Bedding, which earned top marks for smoothness and wrinkle resistance in Lab without any ironing.
For an even softer feel, The Company Store Legends Hotel Sheets earned some of the highest softness ratings across all other cotton sheets in our tests, with testers calling them “ultra-luxurious.” Or if you’re looking for organic sheets, opt for the Delilah Home Organic Cotton Bed Sheets. Not only are they GOTS-certified organic, soft and lightweight but they’re also under $200.
So which is better: Percale or Sateen?
Our testers typically prefer the feel of sateen in side-by-side comparison tests, but ultimately it’s a matter of personal preference. Our evaluations show that while percale fabric is inherently stronger and sateen is inherently softer, both sheets perform well in Lab and at home with consumer testers.
- If you love a light, crisp sheet with good breathability and aren’t bothered by wrinkles, go with percale.
- If you prefer a soft, smooth sheet with a little more wrinkle resistance and thickness, go with sateen.
Why trust Good Housekeeping?
Grace Wu joined the Good Housekeeping Institute in 2022 as a textiles product reviews analyst with a focus on hands-on testing and evaluating consumer data. Prior to working at Good Housekeeping, Grace earned a Master of Engineering in Materials Science & Engineering and a Bachelor of Science in Fiber Science from Cornell University, with extensive research in chemistry and nanotechnology. With a strong background in textile engineering, Grace has evaluated all sorts of bedding products including sheets, pillows, silk pillowcases and more using specialized laboratory equipment in the Good Housekeeping Institute’s Textiles Lab and feedback from hundreds of consumer testers.
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