This Is How Often You Should Wash Your Bed Sheets
Your home habits could be creating more bacteria than you think.
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When I was in college, my mother dreaded coming to visit my dorm. Although it was one of the smaller dorms on campus, her complaint was always the same: "It smells like a gym with all of these unwashed sheets." She wasn't wrong. It was just that I didn't notice it. I know for a fact that my roommate washed her sheets once a semester. And I, too, would sometimes go a month or more before I washed my sheets. It was just such a hassle. But my roommate, my entire dorm, and I were wrong; we were letting our sheets sit on our beds for far too long.
To get to the bottom of this dirty habit once and for all, I connected with a few experts to find out exactly how often should you wash your sheets and why you need to wash them in the first place.
How often should you wash your sheets?
According to certified holistic health coach Alessandra Kessler, founder of Healthy Body Healthy Mind, a site that focuses on how to have a healthy and clean lifestyle, "Your sheets [should be washed] every week to keep them clean, hygienic, and healthy." Why? Well, there's a boatload of bacteria on them.
"Your bed sheets have a lot of stuff that you can't see with a naked eye, such as fungi, bacteria, and skin cells," says Kessler. "This stuff may be harmful to you in many ways as it may cause skin rashes or other types of infections or allergies." But while Kessler and other experts say that sheet-washing should be done on a weekly basis, a 2012 poll by the National Sleep Foundation found that 91% of respondents wash their sheets every other week. And some experts agree with this; it just depends on your home habits.
For instance, if you have dust or pollen allergies or have pets, you may want to consider cleaning your sheet at least once a week. Or, according to Tsippora Shainhouse, M.D., FAAD, a board-certified dermatologist in Beverly Hills at SkinSafe Dermatology and Skin Care: "If you tend to be a night sweater, change them once or twice a week or more frequently if they are not able to dry out easily," she says. "Be sure to leave your bed unmade to let damp sheets dry out, and consider washing the underlying fabric mattress protector if it gets wet as well." Dr. Shainhouse also says that if you're sweating the nights away in mid-summer with an air conditioner, then two times a week is definitely the way to go.
Peter Bailey, M.D., a family practice physician, also believes in washing your sheets more than once a week. "The sheets you sleep in are like the clothes you wear every day. You sweat into them, the oil from your skin absorbs into them, and they generally collect odor and bacteria like any other garment," Dr. Bailey says. "It is extremely unhygienic to sleep in sheets that are coated in sweat. As such, they should be changed frequently. Precisely, they should be cleaned weekly, if not more often, in my opinion."
But Dr. Bailey does leave some wiggle room for those who have regular nighttime hygienic practices, explaining that if you shower before bed, you can extend the amount of time between sheet cleaning or changing, but you should still wash them no less than once a week. The same goes for those who sleep fully dressed in pajamas and wear socks to bed. But if you crawl into bed and sleep in your underwear or even sleep naked, those sheets need to be cleaned more often.
How often should you wash your pillowcases?
"It's ultra important if you have acne or acne-prone skin to wash your pillowcase regularly," says Cheryl Woodman, scientist and award-winning skincare formulator at Honesty for Your Skin. "I recommend once every four days for active acne [when sleeping for] two days on each side [of the pillowcase]. For acne-prone skin, once a week, so three to four days [sleeping] on each side [of the pillowcase]. It can also be helpful to buy separate antibacterial pillowcases, which, for example, are made with antibacterial silver fibers."
Even if your skin is not acne-prone, if you tend to have greasy or oily hair, Dr. Shainhouse recommends changing pillowcases twice a week to prevent possible future breakouts.
While we may think of our beds as sanctuaries, they're sanctuaries that need to be kept clean. If you're going to spend a whopping 33 years of your life in bed, on average, and 26 of those years sleeping (the other seven will be you trying to sleep), according to a 2017 study, you definitely want that sleep to be free of bacteria, thousands of dead skin cells, and whatever else might be growing on those unwashed sheets. And when you do wash them, make sure they're in 150-degree Fahrenheit water and dried on the highest level of heat your dryer has. Trust me, your skin and your roommates—if you have them—will thank you for it.