Do You Know How Often You Should Wash Your Sheets?
If Steve Harvey were to ask you to name one thing you probably don't wash as often as you should, one of the top answers — along with your bras and makeup brushes — would definitely be your sheets. Seriously, in a survey of 2,000 people in the U.K., almost one-third of respondents admitted to cleaning their bed sheets just once a year. 🤢
Even if you head to bed straight out of the shower, that substandard sheet-washing routine isn't going to cut it. "Unbelievably, skin sheds 200 million dead skin cells per hour, which equals 9 pounds of dead skin cells annually," says Melanie Palm, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist and the founder of Art of Skin MD in San Diego, California. "Given the sheer number and weight of this cellular debris, it is easy to then understand how bed sheets can become dirty easily without regular cleansing."
But what does "regular cleansing" mean, exactly, and how often should you wash your sheets? Here, experts share how frequently you should toss your bedding in the washing machine — and how to get them as clean as possible.
The Risks of Sleeping On Dirty Sheets
In the best-case scenario, sleeping on dirty sheets night after night can cause skin irritation, but in the worst-case, all the dead skin cells sitting on your bedding act as "food" for dust mites, says Dr. Palm. ICYDK, dust mites are microscopic, insect-like pests that often live in the dust on your mattress, bedding, upholstered furniture, carpet, and curtains, according to the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. The problem: Their poop is a major allergen, and they're known to worsen conditions such as asthma, hay fever, atopic dermatitis, and eczema, says Steve Xu, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist and assistant professor in Dermatology and Pediatrics at Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine. Allow those dead skin cells to multiply on your sheets, and the presence of dust mites in your home will also increase, adds Dr. Palm.
There's also a possibility that infection-inducing bacteria and fungi can be transmitted if sheets aren't washed frequently enough, says Dr. Xu. If someone has a fungal nail infection, for example, "skin shedding could easily allow the fungus to spread to bed partners," adds Dr. Palm. While studies investigating this transmission are limited, it's just another reason to erring on the side of caution and sticking to a regular sheet-washing schedule, says Dr. Xu. (Related: Woman Found 100 Mites In Her Eyes After Not Washing Her Pillowcase for 5 Years)
So, How Often Should You Wash Your Sheets?
Despite the relatively simple question, there isn't one clear-cut answer as to how often you should wash your sheets, says Dr. Xu. Currently, there isn't much clinical evidence from medical literature supporting a specific washing frequency, but Dr. Xu and Dr. Palm both recommend cleaning your sheets weekly. "I think aiming for once-weekly is a great goal and likely covers any potential skin- or health-related risks," says Dr. Xu. "But I think if you don't have any issues with dust mites, skin sensitivities, etc., going longer — like once every 2 weeks or once monthly — is unlikely to cause any harm."
Still, there are some cases in which you may want to wash your sheets more frequently, such as if you're using an ointment to treat a skin condition, as the bedding may get soiled, says Dr. Palm. The same rule applies if you're experiencing excessive sweating throughout the night, she says, as the combo of sweat, dirt, oil, and bacteria that may be present on your bedsheets (much like your workout clothes) could lead to body acne, according to the American Academy of Dermatology.
Similarly, more frequent washing may be needed if you (or your bed partner) has a contagious skin infection or a mite infestation such as scabies, says Dr. Palm. "If someone is unfortunate enough to get a mite infection, not properly cleansing clothing and sheeting can allow re-infection," she explains. And this goes for non-human bed partners — like fur babies — too; pets can harbor fungal organisms (e.g. ringworm) and mites that can be transferred to humans and cause skin issues, and cleaning sheets more often may help reduce the risk of transmission, according to the Cleveland Clinic.
How to Properly Wash Your Sheets
Regardless of your washing schedule, Dr. Palm recommends cleaning sheets in hot water to destroy any infection-causing microbes and allergy-inducing dust mites. Washing bedding — including sheets, pillowcases, and blankets — once weekly in hot water (think: 130°F) has been shown to kill mites and remove the allergens they create, says Dr. Xu. "When you use warm water or cold water, the mites often survive, but you likely reduce the allergens they produce," he explains.
If washing in hot water is out of the cards, try tumble-drying your sheets at a temperature higher than 130°F for at least 10 minutes, as dust mites can't survive those temps, says Dr. Xu. (For context, a standard GE dryer's normal, cotton, and permanent press settings all have a set temp of 135°F.) If you have sensitive skin, consider degunking your sheets with a detergent that's devoid of fragrance or potentially irritating cleansing agents, such as All Free Clear detergent (Buy It, $19, amazon.com), suggests Dr. Palm.
That said, you can't control dust mites by washing your sheets in hot water alone. If you have an allergy — or the idea of nearly invisible pests crawling around your bedding freaks you TF out — you'll need to take a multi-pronged approach, starting with using dust mite covers for your pillows (Buy It, $30, amazon.com) and mattress (Buy It, $36, amazon.com), says Dr. Xu. These covers are made with a material that's pores are too small to let dust mites (and their poop) through, preventing them from colonizing, according to the Mayo Clinic. Just take care to wash them monthly, adds Dr. Palm.
Using a dehumidifier (Buy It, $230, amazon.com) to keep your house's humidity levels below 50 percent — though 30 percent is optimal — can also help keep the pests in check, as dust mites are vulnerable to dehydration, says Dr. Xu. "In addition, things like vacuuming, cleaning drapes, [and] making sure your HVAC system has solid filters and [is] maintained well, all help," he says. (P.S. these are the germiest spots in your house.)
TL;DR: The answer to how often you should wash your sheets depends on your skin conditions, allergies, and tolerance toward dust mites. And if you're thoroughly grossed out by this point and want to just ditch your current bedding and start over, you can always splurge on a brand new set and save the grunt work for later.