Percale sheets are a must-have in every bed sheet set. This breathable, thin, and matte-feel fabric is used in most popular bed linens. Apart from the look and feel, they get softer with every wash, are guaranteed to be durable, and are an affordable staple for every home. It sounds like a dream, but what are percale sheets exactly, and what makes them such a popular option?
Percale sheets originated as an Indian export that took the European textile industry by storm and remains on the market across the world today. They are usually made with cotton but can have other fabrics added into them to help prevent wrinkles. Percale is known for its tightly weaved pattern that creates cooling, lightweight, and breathable bed sheets. This guide will give you all you need to know on the percale weave, material, thread count, and care guidelines so that you can make your purchase confidently.
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The word “percale” doesn’t actually refer to the material of the bedsheet. Rather, it is the type of weave pattern used. The actual material of these linens is typically cotton, although it can also contain polyester or bamboo. For an extra luxurious feel, some cotton percale sheets are made with Egyptian cotton. An Egyptian cotton sheet differs from a normal cotton fiber because it is stronger and is also longer in terms of strand length, which also results in a higher thread count. Think of those soft, cooling, white hotel bed sheets. Those are a prime example of high-quality Egyptian cotton percale sheets. Pima cotton is another type of higher-end percale. Some percale linens contain percentages of polyester or silk, which are wrinkle resistant, to help maintain the sheets.
Another reason that this luxury linen appeals to many is for its good thread count. If you aren’t familiar with the term, thread count refers to the amount of horizontal and vertical threads per square inch of cotton.
Many believe that a higher thread count equals a higher quality sheet. However, this isn’t always true; any sheet that boasts a thread count higher than 500 or so may not feel as comfortable as you might think.
Luckily, percale sheets are in the “Goldilocks zone.” They’re typically in the 200-400 thread count range, ensuring that they’re soft and breathable, not cheaply made. Better yet, there is a minimum standard in the USA for thread count so that a percale sheet set can be labeled as percale (180).
Percale Weave: What Makes it Popular
You may be wondering what it is exactly about this specific type of weave pattern that has given percale its popularity. The plain weave follows a simple warp thread and weft thread over/under pattern that is woven very tightly. Think of a tightly bound crisscross or grid-like pattern. This gives the sheets a familiar matte, smooth feel. The upside of this tight weave is durability — these sheets are guaranteed to last a lifetime, even after repeated washes.
One downside to percale sheets is that they may need to be ironed to stay wrinkle free after washing. However, they remain perfectly durable after repeated washes. In fact, due to their material, these sheets actually get softer the more you wash them, so you can fall asleep with even softer sheets after every cycle and get that brand new feeling each time.
You can machine wash and dry percale sheets without worry. After drying, you may need to iron them to smoothen any wrinkles, and then they can be folded back in your closet or placed on your bed. If you don’t want to iron, you can place them on your bed flat right after drying while they are still warm to help smooth them.
Percale vs. Sateen
Sateen is percale’s alternative. There’s many differences between the two, and ultimately, the choice is yours. First, the threading pattern used in sateen sheets produces a shiny linen, similar to a satin sheet. On the other hand, cotton percale sheets are matte.
Instead of one over/under — the weave pattern used in percale — the sateen weave use a single thread under three or four others. This results in the shine, but note that this may fade over time. Sateen sheets also trap heat more than breathable percale sheets, which may potentially be uncomfortable.
A sateen sheet is generally cheaper than percale, but can wear down with repeated washes over time. Percale may get wrinkled with washes, but it also gets softer. Although both are soft, the thread count range for sateen sheets will generally be higher than that of percale. Lastly, sateen is heavier and thicker while percale is more breathable. Both are made of cotton and are equally quality sheets.
Here’s a basic rundown of the main differences between the two:
Percale: matte, prone to wrinkles, durable and washable, single yarn over/under weave, more expensive option.
Sateen: shiny, smooth, wears down over time, single yarn under three or four others weave, cheaper option.
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Purchasing Cotton Percale Sheets
Percale sheets are available year-round from both online and brick-and-mortar retailers. They are typically packaged in sets that include other cotton percale items, such as a matching matte pillowcase. But if you’re only looking for one addition to your bedding, you can purchase pillowcases, fitted sheets (the sheets that go on top of your mattress/mattress pad), and flat sheets (the ones that go above fitted sheets) separately.
For a complete percale bedding setup, you’ll need a mattress, mattress pad (not made of percale) to prevent spills and stains, a percale fitted sheet, percale flat sheet, percale pillow case, and then top everything off with some decorative pillow shams and a comforter or duvet set.
Percale sheets and sets can be distinguished by thread count, color, and size. You can purchase them in sizes ranging from crib all the way to California king, and from thread counts ranging from the 180 minimum up to 400 or more in some cases. They come in all sorts of decorative styles and colors to match any bedroom color scheme and are safe for sensitive skin and young children (with the exception of babies that are too young for bedsheets).
Before making your purchase, make sure you know the dimensions of your mattress so you can match them up with the correct size of sheets. If you haven’t yet invested in a mattress pad or topper, consider getting one to put underneath your percale fitted sheets.
It’s convenient, affordable, easy to clean, and has it all in terms of look and feel. If you’ve been considering switching up your old bedsheets, percale may be the best replacement.