If you're in the market for new sheets but can't decide between sateen or Egyptian cotton, you aren't alone. Sateen is soft right away while Egyptian cotton softens over time and after repeated washing. They are both produced from cotton and will last many years, which will help ease the pain of spending up to $500 on a set of Egyptian cotton sheets, for example. Sateen is usually less expensive, but still cost $100 or more for a set of sheets in 2009.
Sateen is a weave that produces lustrous sheets with a distinctive sheen. Sateen is woven from long fiber, combed or carded cotton threads. The cotton is mercerized, meaning it's soaked in sodium hydroxide (lye) and then soaked in acid, which produces the sheen. Mercerizing also makes the cotton stronger and able to take dye better. Sateen is extremely durable and should feel soft and have a high thread count.
Egyptian Cotton Defined
Egyptian cotton is made from the cotton plant gossypium barbadense, which grows well in America as well as in tropical climates such as the West Indies and Peru, where it originated. Egyptian cotton resists pilling because gossypium barbadense plants don't have a lot of lint. Egyptian cotton sheets are durable and will last 40 to 50 years with proper care, making the high price worth it.
Sateen refers to the method used to weave the sheets, not to the material, which is cotton. If you find inexpensive sateen sheets, there's a good chance that they were calendared instead of mercerized to produce the sheen. Calendared sateen sheets are pressed between 2 rolling pins to produce a glossy appearance that will fade after several washings because these aren't truly sateen sheets.
Manufacturers will label sheets Egyptian cotton when they are really a blend of various cotton fibers. This allows manufacturers to discount the price but won't give you the true Egyptian cotton experience. To avoid buying a blend, make sure the label states that the sheets are 100 percent pure cotton.
Sateen sheets have a tendency to pill and appear wrinkled, so if you prefer a crisp look, purchase Egyptian cotton sheets. Egyptian cotton sheets will feel coarse throughout the first several washings, even the most expensive and highest thread count sets. Egyptian cotton will soften after each washing and eventually feel soft, but if you want that soft and luxurious feel right away, purchase sateen sheets.
Sateen became popular in the early 1900s, mostly because it was cheaper to produce than silk and satin, more durable and machine washable. Sateen also became the material of choice for women's underwear because of its softness and durability.
The gossypium barbadense cotton plant was introduced to Egypt by Mohammed Ali Pasha, who ruled Egypt in the early 19th century. He sold the cotton produced to support his army. Egyptians didn't use the cotton fibers for clothing since linen was popular at the time, taken from the native flax plant.