Shop for best sheet pretty tricky, even if you know you prefer cotton over other materials. But while searching the best cotton sheets out there, you’ll probably find technical language like “percale” and “sateen” that can make it difficult to find what you’re looking for. While these terms may seem foreign to some, they are quite simple once you learn what they mean. Percale and sateen describe the weave of the fabric, which is as important as knowing what fiber (cotton, linen, silk, etc.) the sheet is made of.
Fortunately, Good Housekeeping Institute The Textile Lab is full of expert analysts with textile science backgrounds who are constantly testing sheets. In fact, we’ve evaluated over 250 sheet sets in recent years for everything from softness and wrinkle resistance to fabric strength, shrinkage and more. In addition to testing the sheets through standard Lab tests using specialized equipment, we’ve worked closely with hundreds of consumer testers who tried them at home before providing thorough feedback on their experiences. The results speak for themselves, and we’ve found the best percale sheets and the best sateen sheets available for every bed type. Here’s how to decide which weave is right for you.
What is the difference between percale and sateen sheets?
Percale sheet light, airy and fresh, while saten sheets feel silky smooth and substantial. The difference is due to how the threads are woven. Even if they are made from the same material — cotton or a cotton blend — the structural differences result in very different textures and physical properties for each fabric.
Percale sheets have a basic one-over-one weave that allows for more braiding – the points where the threads overlap – making it one of the more durable fabrics used in bedding. This structure also gives percale its signature light and crisp texture while offering the necessary breathability to maintain a comfortable body temperature. On the other hand, sateen sheets usually have a four-part, one-down, satin-like weave that gives it a smooth feel and a nice sheen. Plus, it doesn’t tend to crease as much as percale.
Both types of sheets are available in a wide variety thread count. Contrary to popular belief, higher thread counts often do not result in better quality sheets, but we have found that sheets in the 300 to 500 range have a good balance of softness and durability.
What is percal?
Percale sheets are known for their crisp feel and lightweight qualities and are often compared to button-down shirts, which are usually the same 1:1 weave. This classic sheet is also airy and breathable, making it a great choice for hot sleepers or those living in warmer climates. The downside to percale sheets is that they can feel rough or itchy compared to sateen sheets and they tend to wrinkle more due to their crunchy and durable nature.
Feel light and fresh Breathable Long lasting
Wrinkles easier Can feel rough when new
But while percale can often feel rough compared to satin, the Pima Percale Sheet Set from LLBean still earns high softness ratings with consumer testers, thanks to premium Pima cotton, and excels in durability tests in our Lab. Testers also liked the ease of breathing and raved about the cool feel to the touch. Or, if you’re looking for something a fraction of the price without compromising on quality, Sweave’s Egyptian Cotton Percale Sheets are a great choice. Just note that our experts cannot verify the claims of Egyptian cotton.
Looking for a softer percale sheet? Choose The Crisp Sheet Set from Tuck. It earned top marks in the blind softness test, thanks to the feel of a cotton-lyocell blend. Or if you prefer organic bedCoyuchi Organic Percale Sheet has the same relaxed look GOTS certified organic cotton that one tester called “soft [and] posh yet fresh and cool.”
Top Tested Percale Sheet
Best Overall Percale Sheet
LLBean Pima Cotton Percale Sheet Set Credit: LLBean
Best Value Percale Sheets
Sweave Egyptian Cotton Percale SheetCredit: Sweave
The Softest Percale Sheet
Tuck The Crisp Sheet SetCredit: Tuck
The Best Organic Percale Sheets
Coyuchi Organic Crinkle Percale SheetsCredit: Coyuchi
READ MORE: The Best Percale Sheets, Tested by Experts
What is saten?
Satin sheets stand out for their silky texture and slight sheen, with some fabrics having a slick or smooth texture. Sateen bedding is ideal for those who prefer softness over crispness. The fabric is also inherently more wrinkle resistant than percale, and some sheets of sateen are even covered with a wrinkle resistant coating for a picture-perfect iron-free look. But keep in mind that sateen sheets can feel heavier or thicker than percale sheets, so they are best suited for someone looking for a comfortable, soft sheet. They don’t provide the same breathability as percale.
Feels silky and smooth Slight sheen Long lasting Tends to wrinkle less than percale
May taste too thick for some people. Not great for hot sleepers
Brooklinen Luxe Core is one of the most popular sateen sheet sets available in quality fabrics that are smooth and durable. Not to mention, the bed sheet comes with game-changing “short” side and “long” side labels for making bed making easy. California Design Den’s Everyday Soft Sateen Sheets is also an excellent choice, outperforming other sateen options by more than four times the price, and available in a wide variety of colors at an affordable cost.
For a softer feel, Riley’s Organic Cotton Sheet Set earned some of the highest softness ratings of all cotton sheets in our tests, with testers calling it “soft yet airy.” Although, if organic factors are important to you, we are unable to verify if the set is fully organic. For a fully certified organic option, consider Delilah Home Organic Cotton Sheets. Not only is it GOTS certified organic, creamy and light, but it’s also under $200.
Top Tested Sateen Sheet
Best Overall Sateen Sheet
Brooklinen Luxe Core Sateen Sheet SetCredit: Brooklinen
Best Value Sateen Sheet
California Design Den Everyday Soft Sateen Sheets
Now 32% Discount.
Credit: California Design Den
The Softest Sateen Sheet
Riley Organic Cotton Sheet SetCredit: Riley
Best Organic Sateen Sheet
Delilah Home Organic Cotton Sheets
Now 20% Discount.
Credits: Delilah House
READ MORE: The Best Sateen Sheets, Tested by Experts
Final verdict: percale or saten?
Our testers generally preferred the saten taste in side-by-side comparison tests, but ultimately it’s a matter of personal preference. Our evaluations showed that while percale is inherently stronger and sateen is inherently softer, both sheets performed well in our Lab and at home with consumer testers.
If you like sheets that are light and crunchy with good breathability and aren’t bothered by wrinkles, use percale. If you prefer soft, smooth sheets with slightly less wrinkling resistance and thickness, use sateen.
Why trust Good Housekeeping?
Grace Wu joined the Good Housekeeping Institute in 2022 as a textile review analyst with a focus on live testing and evaluation of consumer data. With a strong background in textile engineering, he has evaluated all types of bedding products including sheet, pillow, silk pillowcase and more using specialized laboratory equipment and feedback from hundreds of consumer testers. Prior to working in Good Housekeeping, Grace earned a Master of Engineering degree in Materials Science & Engineering and a Bachelor of Science degree in Fiber Science from Cornell University.
Textile, Paper & Apparel Lab Product Analyst
Grace Wu (she) is a product review analyst at Good Housekeeping InstituteTextiles, Paper and Apparel Lab, where she evaluates fabric-based products using specialized equipment and consumer tester data. Prior to starting in Good Housekeeping in 2022, she earned a master’s degree in materials science and engineering and a bachelor of science degree in fiber science from Cornell University. While earning her degree, Grace worked in research labs for smart textiles and nanotechnology and interned at the Open Style Lab and Rent the Runway.