Selecting bed sheets can be daunting. Even if you’re walking into your local department or big box store, you’ll be met with an overwhelming wall of bed linens, and with so many sheet companies online now, it’s easy to find yourself in a state of analysis paralysis.
With such a saturated market, it’s going to be pretty hard to know exactly what sheets you want without doing a little research. We’ve already covered thread count, and why it shouldn’t be your key determining factor in selecting sheets—and it certainly shouldn’t be where you start. But you have to start somewhere, and one of the easiest questions to ask yourself when you want to narrow the field is: “Do I want sateen or percale sheets?” (Of course, there are other kinds of sheets on the market, like flannel, microfiber, or linen, but because these two weaves are the ones you’re most likely to encounter while shopping, we’re going to stick with those for now.)
Of course, to answer that question, you have to understand the distinction between the two.
The key difference between sateen and percale sheets is the way they’re woven. Percale fabric is tightly woven in a one-over-one-under style. (If you had one of those potholder looms growing up, you know exactly what this means.) Sateen, on the other hand, is more loosely woven in a three-over-one-under weave pattern, meaning that a weft (horizontal) thread will pass over three warp (vertical) threads before crossing under one. Despite its looser weave, sateen sheets tend to be thicker than percale because thicker yarn is used.
These differences in weave style and yarn diameter contribute to the very different looks and feels of percale and sateen sheets. If you’ve ever stayed in a hotel, you’ve experienced percale. These sheets are crisp and matte to the touch and tend to be lightweight and cool. Sateen sheets, on the other hand, have a smooth, almost glossy appearance and touch, and they’re heavier and warmer to sleep in. If you live in a warm climate or you tend to get hot when you sleep, you’ll probably find percale to be more breathable and less likely to cause night sweats.
Of course, the downside of that lightness is that the finer threads used in percale bedding can make for some awfully wrinkly sheets—even right out of the dryer. Sateen’s heavier weight means it’s less likely to wrinkle (unless you leave it in the dryer or laundry basket for a while, but anything can wrinkle when you do that), so if you don’t like the look of rumpled sheets and don’t want to put in the effort to iron them, then you might decide to abandon delicate percale in favor of sturdy sateen.
Quality sheets can be a bit of an investment, so your comfort is important. Having a good idea up front of what matters to you in terms of the look and feel of the sheets will help you narrow your options and find the sheets that are perfect for you. There’s no universally right answer to the sateen vs. percale question—but now that you know the difference, maybe you’ll be able to settle on the right one for you.