What is percale? The crisp, cool cotton that's ideal for hot sleepers

I've tested dozens of the best bed sheets. For cool comfort and a crisp finish, there's nothing like cotton percale

Cooling Percale Sheet Set on a bed.
(Image credit: Brooklinen)

If you've ever tried shopping for bed sheets, you might recognize the term 'cotton percale'. Perhaps you've spotted the words on a care tag or scrolled past them online. You might even own cotton percale bedding and still not understand exactly what you're sleeping on. 

While cotton denotes the type of fiber, percale describes the kind of weave. Cotton fibers are simply woven into a criss-cross pattern to withstand wear and boost breathability. Cotton percale sheets sleep cool and look crisp, so they're ideal for hot sleepers and neat freaks.

As a sleep writer, it's my job to break down the bedding buzzwords and help you choose the best bed sheets to suit your style preference and your sleep needs. This article should tell you everything you need to know about cotton percale, from how it's made to how to clean it. 

If you like what you see, and you want to invest in a set of cotton percale sheets, then you're in luck: I've rounded up a few of my favorites. These classic sets should suit all sorts of sleepers and complement any color palette.

What is percale?

Supima Percale Sheet Set on a bed.

(Image credit: The Company STire)

When you're choosing between bed sheet types, it's easy to get caught up in the materials. Percale sheets are made from cotton fibers, but they're woven in such a way that distinguishes them from their parent plant, as well as their smoother sister, cotton sateen. 

Percale sheets are simply constructed with a one-thread-over, one-thread-under weave. This criss-cross pattern leave a lot of interlacings, or points where the threads overlap. These gaps in the weave create tiny air pockets which boost breathability and wick moisture. That's why cotton percale sheets feel so light and airy, and how they keep you just the right side of cool and dry. 

What are the benefits of sleeping under percale?

Egyptian Cotton Percale Duvet Cover Set on a bed.

(Image credit: The White Company)

Thanks to its increased airflow and high absorbency, cotton percale could be a gamechanger for hot sleepers. In fact, many of the best cooling sheets feature a percale weave for natural thermoregulation. If you suffer from night sweats or hot flashes, or you live in a warmer climate, you would soon feel the benefit of cotton percale bedding. 

Cotton percale bedding is breathable, but it's durable, too. The fibers are tightly knit and should stand the test of time without breaking or pilling. That's why cotton percale sheets are commonly used in hotels: in part for their crisp finish, but mostly for the strength of their fibers. These sheets can withstand thousands of cycles in industrial washing machines, getting softer and smoother with each wash. 

What are the downsides of sleeping under percale?

Luxury Percale Core Sheet Set on a bed.

(Image credit: Brooklinen)

While percale sheets are easy to wash, they're much harder to dry. That's because these sheets are made from natural fibers and simply woven, which makes them more prone to wrinkling than smoother synthetic sheets. 

There are a few steps you can take to counteract creases before they set in. You should wash your cotton percale bedding separately, with plenty of room in the machine, and remove it as soon as the washing cycle ends. Instead of throwing your sheets in the dryer, you should hang them on the line out to air dry, and let gravity do the work for you. 

To maintain the crisp finish of cotton percale, you might need to iron your sheets. Since I already iron as part of my laundry routine, this isn't a dealbreaker for me, but it is time-consuming. It's often easier and quicker to iron sheets while they're still a little damp, so it might be worth stopping the washing cycle a minute or two early. 

This might all sound like too much work to you. If you like the feel of cotton sheets, but you're shopping for something a little easier to clean, you should consider cotton sateen. Featuring a four-threads-over, one-thread-under weave, these cotton sheets feel more like satin. They're softer, smoother, and far less susceptible to wrinkles. Sateen sheets also sleep a little warmer and might be more suitable for cool sleepers and colder climates.

Which are the best percale bed sheets?

Company Cotton Percale Solid Fitted Sheet on a bed.

(Image credit: The Company Store)

As H&G's resident sleep writer, I lead a team of expert testers, who sleep under sheets for weeks, if not months, to monitor their performance over time. We score each sheet set on the basis of comfort, the quality of construction, any thermoregulating properties, and the all-important price. We also strip the bed, wash the sheets, and make the bed again, to give you the fullest possible picture of what it might be like to use this product. 

I know that the best percale bed sheets should look good, feel good, wash well, and come cheap. I've listed a few of my favorite sets below to suit every style of room and size of budget. 

Percale FAQS

Is cotton percale better than cotton sateen?

We've written an entire feature on the pros and cons of percale vs sateen bed sheets. If you don't have time to read the whole thing, here are the headlines.  

Whether you should sleep under percale or sateen sheets is partly a question of personal preference, but more of a matter of sleep style. Cotton percale is more breathable than sateen, so it sleeps cooler, which makes it more suitable for hot sleepers and warmer climates. Cotton sateen feels smoother and softer than percale, which can feel a little stiff and starchy. I'd recommend cotton sateen sheets to sleepers with sensitive skin. Sateen is also easier to wash and dry than percale, which might prove a little high-maintenance. 

Do cotton percale sheets get softer?

Yes. At first, cotton percale sheets might feel stiff and scratchy against your skin, especially if you're used to softer, synthetic sheets. The good news is that cotton percale should get softer after each wash, though it might take a few cycles to break them in. 

Final thoughts

Once you've bought a set of the best percale bed sheets, it's important to take good care of them. It's worth learning how to wash bed sheets, and how often, to maximize comfort and hygiene.

If you know you need new sheets, but you just can't decide between crisp percale and smooth sateen, then you're in luck: we've laid out the pros and cons of all the best bed sheet types to help you find the set that suits your sleep needs. 

Emilia Hitching
Sleep Editor

Emilia is our resident sleep writer. She spends her days tracking down the lowest prices on the best bedding and spends her nights testing it out from the comfort of her own home – it's a dream job. Her quest to learn how to sleep better has taken her all around the world, from mattress factories in Arizona to sleep retreats in Scandinavia. Before she joined Homes & Gardens, Emilia studied English at the University of Oxford. She also worked on the other side of the aisle, writing press releases for regional newspapers and crafting copy for Sky.