Definition of Cotton Percale

Cotton percale, a popular choice for bed linens, varies because of the different materials used to make the fabric. The thread count, the type of cotton and whether the cloth is a polyester/cotton blend defines cotton percale and determines the quality. High quality cotton percale is crisp, cool, long lasting and launders easily.


Cotton percale is a popular choice for sheets.

Percale was developed in the 17th century in India, which exported it throughout the 17th and 18th centuries. France began manufacturing percale during the 18th century. The popularity of percale in Europe soon spread to the United States. The Wamsutta Mills in New Bedford, Massachusetts, introduced percale as a choice for bed sheeting in the 1890s. Today, manufacturers still produce percale as a popular choice for bed linens ranging from bed sheets to duvet covers.


Percale is a medium-weight woven fabric, which is used to make bed linens and clothing. Percale may be a combination of combed and carded yarns, or it may be 100 percent combed yarn. Carded yarn has been cleaned to remove debris and to help straighten the threads. Combed yarn is carded yarn with all the short fibers removed, making it stronger, softer and more compact. Percale may also be a blend of cotton and polyester yarn.

Thread Count

Percale is also defined by its thread count. Thread count "is the number of horizontal and vertical threads woven in one square inch of fabric", according to the Missouri Families, part of the University of Missouri Extension. Thread counts must be at least 180 for the cloth to be considered percale, according to Apparel Search Glossary. Combed yarns have a thread count of 200; carded yarns have a thread count of 180. Cloth with higher thread counts is usually more expensive.

A higher thread count is not the only factor to consider when you choose bed linens. According to the Missouri Families Web site, “not everyone agrees that the higher count means a better sheet". Other factors that differentiate types of bed linen and garments are the percentage of cotton and the type of cotton. Sheet labels will give the thread count, percentage of cotton and type of cotton.

Types of Cotton

The type of cotton used to produce cotton percale can be confusing for the consumer. Egyptian cotton comes from the Nile River Valley and has long, strong fibers. Pima cotton also has long fibers and is produced in the U.S., Peru, Israel or Australia. Supima cotton is a tradmarked name; and is made from 100 percent American Pima. Supima is an abbreviation for superior pima. Egyptian, Pima, and Supima cotton percale cloths are soft, durable and breathable. Manufacturers use these cottons in cotton percale linens, as well as in high quality clothing items.


When you purchase cotton percale, it is important to check the percentage of cotton. The manufacturer may advertise the product as containing Egyptian cotton, but the item may contain only five percent Egyptian cotton. Higher percentages of Egyptian cotton provide a higher quality product. Cotton percale, which is made from a blend of cotton and polyester, is less resistant to wrinkling and less expensive, but the cloth is not as soft. When you purchase cotton percale sheets, consider 100 percent cotton, such as Egyptian, Pima, and Supima. According to Real Simple magazine, 100 percent cotton "wicks moisture away from your skin".

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