Spring is in the air! (Well, okay...in about six weeks or so, but we like to get a jump on these things.) And if you're like most people, that means at least a smidgen of renewal, freshening, cleaning, and a general gussying up of the homestead. Which of course means fresh new sheets for the beds and linen closet. But where on earth to start? All you know for sure is that you want your sheets to look great, feel great, and wear great. And when faced with the question of "Do you prefer a percale or sateen?" by a salesperson, your empty stare says it all: How should I know?
So here we go! The quick guide to Percale vs. Sateen, and how to choose...
Percale sheets are constructed with a plain weave. The warp (vertical) and weft (horizontal) threads are interlaced evenly into a basic basket weave. (Over one/under one, over one/under one, etc. Remember “weaving” potholders in summer camp? That’s a percale weave!) It’s the more durable of the two, due to the closer, more compact weave. (See left image above). The “hand” (or feel) of the fabric is light, crisp, and rests gently upon the body. A percale weave provides a great deal of airflow and thus breathablilty; perfect for warmer climates, or for those perennial "warm sleepers."
Sateen sheets (cotton satin weave), have multiple weft threads “floated across” a single warp thread in say, over four/under one pattern. (See right image above). The result is a drapier fabric with a shiny finish on top (due to the top threads providing more light reflection), and a dull, matte finish back. It also allows for less airflow, meaning you'll be toastier beneath sheets with a sateen finish. Additionally, they're less prone to wrinkling than percale.
So there it is: Hot sleepers with a penchant for the crisp and cool: a percale is probably for you. Prefer something more smooth and supple? Go for the sateen finish...perfect for the always-cold sleeper who likes to snuggle in with something soft and silky.
Moral of the story? Know how you sleep, temperature-wise; know how you like fabric to feel against your skin for up to eight (hopefully more on weekends!) hours at a time, and always buy the best quality sheets you can afford. From the moment you crawl into bed at night until it’s time to (sadly) push back the covers in the morning, your body will thank you.