No matter how soft and luxurious your sheets are, they’re not going to be pleasant to sleep on if you don’t wash them. In fact, washing your sheets is just as vital to a good night’s sleep as buying high-quality bedding.
But how often should you wash your sheets? And more importantly, what happens if you don’t wash them enough? Below, we’ll answer all these questions and more.
Sheet Washing Frequency
Ideally, you should wash your sheets is once a week. You’ll need to follow the instructions on the care label. These instructions will tell you what water temperature and wash cycle to use, as well as whether you should tumble dry or line dry your sheets.
There are several reasons you might want to wash your sheets more often than once a week. If you don’t shower before bed, for instance, you’ll have skin oils and dirt on you when you go to sleep, and you’ll transfer that dirt and oil to your sheets. If you sweat a lot in your sleep, you might also need to wash your sheets more often to prevent moisture and oil buildup.
Eating or drinking in bed is another reason you might need to wash your sheets more than once a week. Not only will you need to take out stains from any spills, but you’ll also need to clean up crumbs that could attract ants or roaches.
Multiple sleepers might also require you to wash your sheets more often. More people means more body fluids like sweat and drool, as well as more dead skin cells and more shed hairs.
When washing your sheets, be sure to read the laundry care instructions first. Different types of sheets require a different temperature and cycle setting.
Other Bedding Washing Frequency
Not only do you need to wash your sheets, but you’ll also need to wash other bedding as well. If you use a top sheet (some people call them flat sheets), you can get away with washing your comforter or duvet cover once every couple of months. If you don’t use a top sheet, you’ll have to wash these items as often as you wash your fitted sheet and pillowcases.
If you have decorative pillows, you’ll need to wash their shams once a week if you sleep on them and once every month or two if you don’t.
What Happens When You Don’t Wash Your Sheets
Lots of unhygienic things happen when you don’t wash your sheets as often as you should. For one thing, sweat and body oils can cause moisture buildup, leading to a foul odor in your sheets as well as making them feel greasy and less crisp.
Dead skin cells and moisture also create an ideal breeding ground for all sorts of microorganisms from bacteria to fungi. Mold and mildew thrive in moist sheets, and bacteria can feed on dead skin cells.
If you skip the weekly washing, your allergies and asthma may also be exacerbated. Dust particles, dirt, pollen, and other allergens can accumulate in the fabric of your sheets, causing a runny nose, itchy eyes, and other allergy symptoms.
Pests are another problem that can arise in dirty sheets. Dust mites and bed bugs can set up shop a lot more easily in unwashed sheets. Washing helps get rid of these critters, but the heat from the dryer can kill them as well.
Finally, skin issues can crop up if you have bed linens full of irritants. Acne is a big problem, as oil and dirt can clog your pores and cause irritated skin. These irritants can also cause or exacerbate eczema (atopic dermatitis). See your dermatologist if symptoms persist after you begin washing your sheets often enough.
Do I have to wash my pillows too?
Yes. You have to clean your pillows. Some pillows (such as down, feather, and foam pillows) cannot be just tossed in the washing machine—they have to be dry cleaned. Other pillow types can be washed. Just make sure you’re following their care instructions.
Assuming you use a pillowcase or pillow cover (and you’re washing this once a week), you can wash or dry clean your pillows every 3 to 6 months. Make sure you’re washing your pillows by themselves (no bed sheets or bath towels), and use cool or warm water according to what the care label says.
How do I clean my mattress?
Washing your bedding won’t do you much good if you have a dirty mattress. If you use a mattress protector (and wash it at least once every couple of months), you can clean your mattress as little as once or twice a year.
There are a lot of different ways to clean a mattress. However, one of the best ways to get rid of dirt and odor is with baking soda. Sprinkle a good coating all over your mattress, let it sit for 5 to 6 hours, then vacuum it off. This will help lift dirt and neutralize smells in your mattress.
If your mattress has stains, you can spot clean it using things like lemon juice, white vinegar, hydrogen peroxide, or liquid bluing. The color and chemical composition of the stain dictate the method you use for removal.
Will washing my sheets kill bed bugs if I already have them?
Hot water and a hot dryer will kill the bed bugs in your sheets, but they won’t eliminate an established infestation. These creatures can hide in a lot of crazy places, from behind light switch covers to between carpet fibers. Killing the bugs in your sheets won’t do any good against bugs elsewhere in your house.
If you’ve got a severe bed bug infestation, you’ll probably need professional help. While there are a few ways to kill bed bugs in your mattress (like steam cleaning, insecticidal diatomaceous earth, and certain foggers), they’re resistant to a lot of pesticides, and it’s tough to get them all because they’re so good at hiding.
What kind of detergent should I use for my sheets?
The care label may give you some insight into the type of detergent to use. However, if it doesn’t, you’re better safe than sorry—use a mild detergent. Harsher detergents may contain abrasives or enzymes that can cause pilling, pull the dye from your sheets, or wear out the fabric faster.
How do I get stains out of my sheets?
Like with your mattress, getting stains out of your sheets really depends on the makeup and color of the stains. If your white sheets are yellowing, liquid bluing is one of the best ways to get them white again.
If you have an organic stain (such as food, beverages, urine, etc.), acidic or enzymatic stain removers are both good options. Oily stains are best removed with baking soda, cornstarch, or dish soap.
Washing your sheets is vital to maintaining your bedding and your good health. With all the risks you run if you don’t clean your sheets—from contracting bed bugs to whipping up your allergies to breeding bacteria and mold—there’s no excuse to skip laundry day.
Chris was a psychiatrist and neurologist with board certification in sleep medicine Clinical Associate Professor at the University of California. For over 10 years, he served and helped patients at Stanford Health Care-Stanford Hospital with their sleeping disorders.
After suffered from sleep disorders for years, Chris has been passionate about sleep health ever since. He wants to help others sleep better and wanted to make the world of sleep easy to understand for everyday people.