Flannel vs. Percale Sheets

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Are you currently in the market for a new set of sheets (or several) and not sure what type to choose?

You’ve probably heard about both flannel and percale sheet sets before. But if you’ve never tried them, you might not know what sets them apart from each other or what makes the two similar.

You’ll love FLANNEL sheets if:

  • You need a set of winter sheets or live somewhere cold
  • You tend to sleep cool and don’t suffer from night sweats
  • You want a set of durable, super soft sheets
  • You’re on a tight budget and don’t mind replacing your sheets every few years

You’ll love PERCALE sheets if:

  • You need summer sheets or live somewhere warm
  • You tend to sleep warm and/or suffer from night sweats
  • You want hotel crisp sheets that are soft and super breathable
  • You want longer lasting sheets and don’t mind spending a little more

Continue reading for more information to help you choose between flannel and percale sheets, including explanations for each type, the pros and cons, how to care for them, and an in-depth comparison.

What are Flannel Bed Sheets?

A stack of clean coral patterned flannel bed sheets.

Many people typically mistaken the term ‘flannel’ as referring to a specific fabric, but it refers to the brushing process used to soften the fabric.

Flannel sheets are usually made using loosely knit fabric woven from a combination of cotton, wool, and sometimes synthetic fibers.

The process of making flannel was discovered in the 1700s by Welsh textile workers who developed leftover sheep’s wool into warm, moisture wicking, and comfortable clothing.

These flannel items became popular with Welsh farmers who brought them to America, where they were adopted by the working class.

Over the years, flannel has become a bit of a fashion statement and is also frequently used to make warm bedding in a variety of vibrant colors, patterns, and prints.

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Flannel Sheets: Pros & Cons

Here are the main advantages of sleeping on flannel sheets.

  • Extra soft and cozy
  • Warm during winter months
  • Wrinkle resistant
  • Breathable and moisture wicking
  • Encourages and traps body heat to stay warm all night
  • Affordable
  • Variety of colors and patterns
  • Durable
  • Doesn’t irritate skin or trigger eczema

Cons

Here are the main disadvantages to flannel bed sheets.

  • Not for warm sleepers or those with night sweats
  • Can be prone to shrinking/pilling/color bleeding
  • Need to be replaced every 2 to 3 years

How to Care for Flannel Sheets?

Laundry: White sheets being taken out of the washing machine

Flannel sheets are relatively easy to care for. Most set can be machine washed and dried or hung up to dry in the fresh air. Always remember to wash your sheets in warm water instead of hot, since hot water may increase shrinking and pilling.

For best results you should wash your flannel sheets alone. To avoid issues like shrinking, pilling, and color bleeding, add ½ cup of white vinegar to your detergent when you wash your sheets for the first time. Never use fabric softener on your flannel sheets because it can make them stiff and make them pill faster. Instead we recommend you use tennis balls into the dryers instead of a softener.

Ideally you want to air-dry your sheets whenever the weather allows.

It’s important to note that because of the way they are brushed, some pilling over time is normal. When your flannel sheets start to pill a lot it’s time to get some new ones. Buying multiple sets of sheets helps prevent overuse and over-wear. Be sure to follow the specific care instructions that come with your sheet set to make sure they last!

What are Percale Bed Sheets?

A beautiful sheets and pillowcase set of crinkled percale sheets in color alpine white
Crinkled Percale sheets are even softer and lighter.

Percale bed sheets are made using a tight one over and one under weave. This weave is known for creating sheets that have the same softness and matte finish on both sides.

Historically, percale sheets were made in India in the 17th and 18th centuries and exported to nearby countries. Later, French manufacturers streamlined the percale making process and helped increase the weave’s popularity/affordability.

Most percale sheets are made with 100% cotton material or a blend of two materials like cotton and polyester or bamboo. Mixed fiber sheets may have added benefits like fewer wrinkles or added breathability and are often more affordable than 100% cotton.

Amerisleep Percale Cotton Bedsheet Set

A bed with mix and match percale sheets and matching pillowcases

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Percale Sheets: Pros & Cons

Here are the main advantages and disadvantages to sleeping on percale bed sheets.

Pros

  • Crisp, hotel-quality bed sheets
  • Sheets that won’t slide out from under you
  • Very breathable
  • Moisture wicking
  • Great for people who sleep hot or suffer from night sweats
  • Less likely to pill

Cons

  • Thin if you sleep cold
  • Make noise when you move
  • Prone to wrinkles

How to Wash New Percale Sheets?

A stack of clean white bed sheets

Percale sheets can be especially crisp and not so soft out of the package, but with proper care they can be softened to perfection.

One popular trick for your first wash is to use the baking soda/vinegar trick. Instead of detergent, throw your sheets in a warm water wash with one cup of baking soda and use a half cup of white vinegar during your rinse cycle.

To make your sheets extra soft, wash your flat and fitted sheets separately, without other laundry. If you cram too much into the machine the sheets won’t be able to move enough to be softened thoroughly.

Throwing your sheets on the clothesline outside to dry will make them exceptionally soft if you can! If your sheets can be machine dried, be sure to use a cool or warm setting so the sheets don’t get heat damaged.

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The Comparison: Flannel vs Percale Sheets

Flannel vs Percale Sheets

Percale and flannel bed sheets seem quite different at first glance but actually have quite a bit in common! To help you decide which type of sheet set best suits your needs, here are some key areas where you can compare them:

Breathability

Percale sheets are known for being cool and breathable. The simple weave and primarily cotton material helps wick away moisture and keeps you from overheating at night.

Flannel sheets are a little heavier and warmer than percale but are surprisingly breathable at the same time. This is in part because many flannel sheets are also made of cotton and have a loose weave.

Cost

When it comes to price, a lot of factors can affect what you pay for a set of sheets, like:

  • The materials used (and where they’re sourced from)
  • Whether the sheets have any handmade components
  • If they’re made ethically/are eco-friendly
  • The brand name or where they are sold

That being said, a good set of percale sheets typically costs anywhere from $50 to $150. A quality set of flannel sheets can cost as much as $200, while lower end sets sell for around $30.

Depending on your budget or if you need to buy sheets for several beds you may want to choose a less luxurious (but still nice) set of affordable sheets. If you can afford it and only need one new set of sheets putting in a little more money can get you better quality sheets that, if cared for properly, will last longer.

Heat Retention

If you’re looking for a sheet set that will keep you warm on cold nights, flannel is your better option. Flannel sheets are great because they’re breathable and moisture wicking. BUT they also warm you up and retain your body heat, so you don’t wake up feeling chilly in the middle of the night.

Percale sheets are cooler and thinner than flannel, so there is less heat retention. If you live somewhere cool or sleep chilly you can still use percale sheets, but you might need to add an extra layer to stay warm.

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Softness

In some ways flannel sheets are softer than percale due to the brushed finish that gives them a distinctive cozy, warm feeling.

Percale sheets are still soft but their simple one over, one under weave makes them more crisp than smooth. Of course, this comes down to personal preference and there are tricks to softening percale if that’s what you prefer.

Durability

Both percale and flannel sheets are durable, but percale sheets are a little more so. This is due to the tight weave used to make the sheets.

Flannel sheets are also durable and don’t tear easily, but they are prone to pilling because of their brushed fibers.

Ease of Care

In terms of ease of care, percale sheets are a little simpler to wash.

In both cases, the most important thing to do is follow the manufacturer’s instructions for washing. This will ensure that your sheets don’t tear, pill, or lose their softness, and last as long as possible.

Both percale sheets and flannel sheets should be washed in cool to warm water, ideally. But flannel sheets require extra gentle care to avoid issues like pilling. Since flannel sheets are typically more colored than percale you also need to wash them with gentle detergent and light colors, so they don’t bleed or fade.

Aesthetics

A bright and minimalist bedroom with a bed and light blue and white cotton percale bedding, green plant, white lamp and alarm clock.

One final way in which you can compare percale and flannel sheets is the general look or impression they give off.

If your décor is neater and more organized, without too many bright colors and you tend to go for more practical than fancy sheets, you may prefer percale. Percale sheets are matte (so not shiny) and tend to come in solid, lighter colors.

On the other hand, if you want your sheets to give off a warmer and more welcoming vibe, flannel is a great choice. Flannel sheets look snuggly soft and often come in vibrant colors and patterns that can brighten up your room and complement whatever look you are going for.

Percale vs Flannel Sheets: The Takeaway

Flannel and percale are both popular types of sheets that are soft and comfortable in their own way.

You may prefer one or the other depending on the type of sleeper you are, or even choose to alternate between them both depending on the season.