What is Sateen?

A Kaminsky

Sateen is a cotton fabric with a luster resembling that of satin. It is used for sheets and apparel and is known for its soft, smooth texture. The fabric is quite useful and durable, but it can also be more expensive than some other fabrics when produced with a high thread count.

Sateen fabric.
Sateen fabric.

Long-fiber, combed or carded cotton is used to make sateen. The cotton is then mercerized to bring out a sheen. Mercerization involves soaking the fiber in a bath of sodium hydroxide (such as lye) and then in an acid bath. The result makes the cotton fiber stronger and more easily dyed. It also adds a luster to the fibers.

Cotton is mercerized to make sateen, which is more lustrous than regular cotton fabric.
Cotton is mercerized to make sateen, which is more lustrous than regular cotton fabric.

This mercerized luster is one of the hallmarks of good sateen. The material should be very soft to the touch, with a high thread count, and should drape well. It uses the satin stitch in construction, which means the threads are mostly on one side of the fabric, giving that smooth look.

Sateen has been a popular fabric since the early 1900s. Being made of cotton, it is much cheaper than silk satin and is also more durable, as well as being machine washable. In the early 20th century, the material was often used for women's undergarments because of its durability and smooth feel.

People who want to more luxurious fabrics in their homes often choose sateen sheets for their silky qualities, and they've found that sheets with a higher thread count are very durable. They are more expensive than plain cotton sheets, however. Shoppers who like crisp, ironed sheets should probably look for percale in stores. Percale sheets are more like a traditional cotton fabric and some prefer their crisper feel and lower price.

Lining sateen is one version of this fabric, although it's not always made with cotton. When used for lining jackets or wraps, it is usually a heavy, luxurious, yet sturdy fabric. It may be made from silk, wool, nylon, polyester, or any other fiber that would produce the type of lustrous fabric required.

Sateen is commonly used for sheets and bedding.
Sateen is commonly used for sheets and bedding.

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Discussion Comments


As a consumer of old style, luxurious satin products, I can tell you that sateen is the "new and improved" satin -- not! Just another way that American companies are cheapening the old, beautiful fabrics that we used to be able to buy.

Sateen is a notorious snagger and looks terrible after just a few wears. Don't be fooled. Real satin is usually silk or cotton and does not snag easily. I had a satin robe years ago that I wore for over a decade.

What really makes me angry about sateen are the declarations by the companies that this is actually the better product. It's not. They are just trying to persuade us that the cheaper fabrics are just as good as the old.

I'm having a hard time finding real satin, but I refuse to waste my money on sateen.


are sateen fabrics good for someone with three cats?


We have sateen sheets and love them. The secret to get them "non-wrinkled" is to remove them promptly from the dryer and put them on the bed. If you let them sit too long they will wrinkle.


I purchased my first pair of sateen sheets and realized that they are much warmer to sleep on than traditional cotton sheets. They do feel soft and comfortable but I think that we will switch to our regular sheets for the summer and use our new sateen sheets in the winter.


Yes, I just bought my first pair of sateen sheets and I am very disappointed because they are extremely wrinkled after washing. I refuse to iron my sheets, so I won't do that again!


Does sateen wrinkle a lot? I'm not interested in sheets that feel crisp, but I hate the look of wrinkled sheets on a bed.

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