You’ve seen it when shopping for new sheet sets – percale sheets. Or maybe you remember grandma’s crisp percale sheets as being the best to sleep on. Or perhaps a friend said it in passing but you didn’t want to be embarrassed and ask what exactly percale sheets were because everyone was nodding as if they all understood.
Regardless, there are a few misconceptions that we aim to clear up, starting with what exactly percale sheets are, followed up with why you might want to buy them or not. We’ll throw in some info about thread count and a few other things to keep it interesting. Let’s go.
What Exactly Are Percale Sheets?
Percale sheets are not actually a type of sheet in the commonly understood sense. Yeah, it might not make much sense at first, but stay with it and you’ll see.
The term “percale” actually refers to a particular weaving method. It is a very old method of weaving that produces strong, resilient and long-wearing sheets. The weaving method is such that one thread goes over another thread. Simple as that.
Contrast this with sateen, another weaving method that often gets mistaken for a fabric type. Sateen is woven in a way that four threads go over one thread. The sateen weaving will produce fabric that is smooth and luxurious to the touch.
Percale’s one over, one under weaving method, on the other hand, produces a criss-crossing latticework of threads resulting in a very tight pattern. This tight pattern is the source of percale’s legendary crispness and durability. The fabric is, by its very nature, woven to be tighter, longer-lasting and of a higher quality than many other fabrics.
Does that mean everything that isn’t percale is garbage? Of course not. But after you’ve caught your not-perfectly-pedicured toenail on a sateen sheet a few times and seen the pull that it creates, you just might start to think about something a little more durable.
What Material Are Percale Sheets Made From?
Since percale refers to a weaving style as opposed to a particular kind of sheet, they can be made out of a wide variety of material. Although originally 100% cotton, these days they are made from a range of fabrics, materials and blends, for example:
- 100% cotton
- 100% polyester
- 50-50 polyester/cotton blends
- Linen/Cotton blends
- Pure Egyptian cotton
As you might guess, the permutations are endless. This is part of what has led to the confusion about this type of sheets and given rise to many of the misconceptions.
Many people have distinct preferences about the material they like to sleep on, or under. Some prefer the comfort and breathability that 100% cotton provides. Others feel 100% cotton is too crisp and wrinkles like a bad dream. These people might enjoy the lack of ironing that 100% polyester provides. The 100% cotton crowd might recoil in horror at sleeping on pure polyester and its lack of breathability. Others might find a happy middle ground and enjoy the increased durability that a 50-50 polyester/cotton blend can provide.
The point we’re trying to make here is the choices and possible combinations for the fabric, and weave, that make up the sheets you buy are highly varied. Each person will walk into a purchase with their own set of experiences and expectations.
How Does Thread Count Factor Into This?
Thread count is a popular selling point these days that has been the source of too much confusion. Despite the protestations of sales staff across the nation, there are other things to consider besides just the thread count.
Weaving method combined with the type and quality of material have a large impact on the quality, feel and durability of sheets independent of the thread count.
Percale bed products will have a minimum of 180 thread count. While it is true that higher thread counts can increase the quality and durability of the sheets, there does become a point of diminishing returns when you start getting into the higher and higher numbers. Many people would be hard pressed to tell the difference between 600 thread count and 1000 thread count sheets, all other things being equal.
We’re not going to lie – in some cases higher thread count will go hand in hand with higher quality materials. Focusing solely on the number of threads used in the creation of the fabric is not going to result in better sheets, but it will likely result in more expensive ones. Whether the higher prices that often accompanies higher thread count are worth it will be up to the individual purchaser.
How Do They Feel?
As mentioned before, if you’re looking for crispness and durability, then you’re looking in the right place. The very method that defines percale sheets produces a very tight fabric. This tightness is often referred to as being very “crisp”. However don’t be misled – crisp does not mean uncomfortable. The final finishing of the fabric will often determine whether the finished product is comfortable or feel like pieces of paper.
Are Percale Sheets For Me?
The long and short answer are the same – possibly.
If you’re looking for old fashioned crisp percale sheets, long for grandma’s percale sheets or are simply looking for good-looking, hard-wearing sheets that are less likely to pill and get uncomfortable after a season or two of washing, then you’d best be taking a harder look at them.
Those who buy percale sheets and are happy with them tout their long-wearing strength, their light feel, the perceived feeling of quality, and of course, their crispness. Like all things these days, there are good and bad products in this range available. And unfortunately, you can’t really “try them out” because the proof is going to come down the road when any warranty is already long gone.
Reading as many reviews as possible, asking friends or family members for recommendations, shopping around and ultimately holding them and feeling them will result in the happiest customers. And of course, reading the OPS reviews in other places on this site.
Remember, percale sheets are great if you like a certain kind of sheet. Although they are not for everyone, they have retained a legendary following for literally hundreds of years. Try them out and you might be pleasantly surprised.