Egyptian cotton vs Percale

Image by, courtesy of National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH)

Cotton goods are often sold according to whether they are Percale or Egyptian cotton. The differences are subtle but can be understood easily once you have some basic information. One term refers strictly to the type of material the sheeting is made from and the other is concerned with the weave of the fabric.

What is Egyptian cotton

Egyptian cotton refers to cotton exclusively grown in Egypt along the Nile River. The special growing conditions, high humidity and rich soil found in the area result in an extremely long-fibered cotton 3.7 to 5.6 cm (1 1/2 to 2 1/4 inches) long. When woven into cloth the fabric is very strong and smooth to the touch. Thread count is 200 or higher. The thread count refers to the number of warp and weft threads to be found in 6.5 square cm (1 square inch) of fabric.

Pima cotton

The American version of Egyptian cotton is known as Pima cotton named for the Pima Indians who originally began growing it around 1900. The thread count is similar to that of Egyptian cotton but due to regulation it cannot be sold as Egyptian cotton.


Percale is a term that refers to the weave of the fabric as opposed to the fibre content. Percale is woven in a plain weave method which has the warp and weft threads intertwined to produce a checked effect on the surface of the fabric. This results in a very strong, medium weight fabric that holds up well in the wash. The thread count of percale is generally around 200. This fabric can be made from 100% cotton or can be a blend of cotton and polyester.

Dying and printing

Egyptian cotton is an extremely good fabric to use for dying and printing. The long fibres soak up liquid readily and set the dye well allowing superb colour fastness. These factors also make it ideal for printing. Percale also performs well in dying and printing when made from 100% cotton. The polyester blended Percale will not accept the dye as well.


Percale can be made from Egyptian cotton, this will be a very strong luxurious fabric and is highly valued for bedding. Since the term Egyptian cotton refers to the actual fibre it cannot be automatically assumed to be Percale. Egyptian cotton can be woven in any of the three usual methods not just in the plain weave of Percale. The other two types are satin weave and twill which each produce a distinct finish or sheen to the cloth.