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How to Wash, Dry and Properly Care for Percale Cotton Sheets

overhead photo of cream percale
Written By
PARACHUTE TEAM
Photographs By
JESSICA SCHRAMM FOR PARACHUTE
@parachutehome

There’s nothing like tucking yourself into warm, cozy percale sheets at the end of a long day. There’s also nothing like tattered, scratchy, pilled sheets — and not in a good way. The truth is, bed sheets wear out if they’re not properly cared for. Even the most high quality percale bedding will age much faster if you don’t wash and dry it the right way. Nobody wants to put up with fraying sheets that are wearing down on their side of the bed. 

The good news is, bedding that’s made to last will last with the proper care. The right maintenance will greatly prolong the lifespan of your bedding, reducing signs of aging and keeping it extra-cozy. This guide will teach you everything you need to know about percale bedding care, from how to wash percale sheets and remove stains to the reason proper storage makes a major difference. A little bit of extra love goes a long way.

What is Percale Cotton?

Percale refers to the type of weave used to make sheets and other bedding. It’s a woven fabric in a criss-cross weave that gives it a crisp, cool matte look (as opposed to the shiny look of a Sateen Sheet). Think: a classic button-down shirt. There’s a reason it’s a staple, but just as you wouldn’t throw your favorite button-down into a high-heat wash and dry cycle, percale bedding requires special care, too.

How to Wash Percale Sheets

Percale bedding care isn’t difficult, but as a rule, washing percale sheets on the wrong setting is a quick way to wear them down, leading to potential pilling and shrinkage (a sore subject for anyone who’s ever battled a too-small fitted sheet). This is where temperature and spin comes in.

What Temperature to Wash Percale Sheets?

Many sleepers wonder whether to wash percale sheets in cold or hot water, but we recommend using cool water — neither cold nor hot. Hot water can fade colors and damage fine threads, but cold water may not properly clean your sheets. It’s better to err on the side of caution to maintain the integrity of your bedding.

The wrong detergent choice can also wear down percale cotton. Fabric softener might make your bedding feel cozy up front, but over time, it can put extra strain on the fibers. The same goes for bleach, which makes whites brighter, but weakens the cotton fibers in the long run. We recommend using a mild liquid laundry detergent at half the amount recommended by the manufacturer, since too much detergent also ages percale bedding. If you must use bleach, go with a non-chlorine option or try brightening your sheets by adding vinegar and baking soda to the wash cycle.

How to Dry Percale Sheets

Percale bedding can go into your regular dryer at home, but we recommend only half-loading the machine to prevent twisted bedding, which can cause stretching and tears. 

Additionally, you should always use a low heat setting to avoid overheating the fibers, which can make them stiff, fade the colors and cause your sheets to shrink. Like all 100% cotton fabrics, percale can shrink if it’s not properly dried. In this case, the best course of action is to take your bedding out of the dryer when it’s just ever so slightly damp (as opposed to bone dry) and immediately put it on your bed, smoothing out the creases as you go. This fights wrinkles and helps you avoid using too much heat by accident.

Another great way to prolong the lifespan of your percale sheets is using dryer balls instead of dryer sheets. Our Wool Dryer Balls act as a natural fabric softener (i.e. no harsh chemicals) to help reduce static and wrinkles. Their main draw is that they greatly reduce drying time, not only because wool is very absorbent, but because they help separate fabrics, letting air circulate more evenly. The less time your sheets spend in the dryer, the less they’ll pill and the longer they’ll last.

How to Iron Percale Sheets

To increase the lifespan of your percale bedding, avoid ironing as much as possible. As mentioned, you can reduce wrinkles by using dryer balls or by putting your sheets on your bed when they’re slightly damp. That’s not to say you can never iron percale — just do so with care.

You’ll want to iron your percale bedding when it’s still damp to avoid burning the fibers. This also makes it easier to smooth out wrinkles. Always use low heat, which may make the process slightly longer, but preserves the integrity of the fabric in the long run.

How to Get Stains Out of Percale Sheets

Stain removal is the one place where your percale bedding may encounter harsher than normal chemicals. We recommend spot cleaning with OxiClean. If it’s not a particularly tough stain, you can try treating it with a bit of detergent, rubbing it into the affected area until it foams and letting it sit overnight. Rinse as normal in cool water until the suds are gone. Remember to test any stain removers in an inconspicuous area to make sure they won’t leave a ring.

Caring for Percale Bedding When the Laundry Is Done

Knowing what settings to wash percale sheets is only part of caring for them. How you actually use your sheets can greatly affect their longevity. For example, face creams, serums, soaps and makeup can contain chemicals that act like bleach and will stain sheets and pillowcases. If you opt for colored pillowcases, you may want to avoid face products containing benzoyl peroxide, Retin-A or alpha hydroxide. If you regularly use acne-fighting or personal care products with these ingredients, white sheets may best suit your lifestyle.

How often to wash percale sheets

The goal with percale bedding care is to wash your sheets as little as possible. Frequent washing breaks down cotton fibers. How often to wash percale sheets, pillowcases and duvet covers depends on your use. As a rule, run the laundry every seven to 10 days. You can stretch the time between washes by:

  • Showering at night instead of in the morning (less oils on your sheets equals less frequent washing)

  • Avoid placing shoes, handbags and dirty clothes on your bedding (these transfer oils and germs).

  • Avoid eating in bed (as comfy and cozy as it is, spills happen).

  • Keeping your bed made to stave off dust mites

  • Keeping your room cool and dry to limit how much you sweat

Storage is also important. Direct sunlight can cause yellowing, so store in a well-ventilated closet, armoire or trunk. Never store your sheets in a plastic container (which traps moisture and leads to mildew) or a cardboard box (which may transfer chemicals and acid onto the fabric).

The Higher the Quality, the Longer They’ll Last

If you know how to wash percale sheets the right way, you’ll extend the lifespan of your bedding. But at the end of the day, buying high quality bedding is the most surefire way to make your sheets last. As a woven fabric, percale is already one of the longest-lasting on the market. Egyptian cotton, like the kind used in the Percale Fitted Sheets, Percale Top Sheets and Percale Pillowcases you’ll find at Parachute is generally considered the highest-quality, and thus the softest and longest lasting. 

To find the right percale sheets for your bedroom, you can browse through Parachute’s premium Percale Sheet Sets and Percale Duvet Cover Sets. The percale at Parachute is always durable and lightweight, and gets softer as it ages.