We’ll cut straight to the chase: You should be changing your bed sheets once a week.
“The longest you should wait before changing out your sheets is two weeks,” says Carolyn Forté, executive director of the Good Housekeeping Institute Home Care & Cleaning Lab “Weekly is even better.”
That’s because bed sheets can accumulate so many things you can’t see, like dead skin cells, dust mites, germs and even fecal matter. Moreover, if you allow your pets to sleep in the bed or anyone in your household has dust or pollen allergies, sweats excessively or is experiencing an infectious illness, you’ll probably want to consider washing your sheets even more frequently.
What happens if you don’t change your sheets once a week?
Considering we spend one-third (or more!) of our lives in bed, it’s not hard to envision why it’s not OK to only wash your sheets once a month! Of course, bedding doesn’t wear like gym shorts or underwear, but you do spend a lot of time in it — and night after night, germs, sweat, pet dander and body oils accumulate quickly, meaning it’s not particularly hygienic to sleep in dirty sheets. Plus, while dust mites aren’t harmful to humans per se, they can trigger allergies and asthma attacks, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. If changing your sheets once a week seems like a hassle, we recommend purchasing multiple sheet sets so you’ll always have clean ones on hand.
What’s the best way to wash sheets?
Just as important as how often you wash your sheets is making sure you’re using the right methods to get your sheets really clean and extend their life. We asked Forté to share her best advice for how to wash this bedding essential.
Treat stains prior to washing
“If there are no stains, there’s no need pretreat the sheets,” says Forté. “But it’s always a good idea to check pillowcases for makeup residue.” If there are noticeable stains, she recommends using a prewash stain remover like Shout Advanced Ultra Gel to help get any spots out. Or, if you’re dealing with a really tough stain, try OxiClean Max Force Laundry Stain Remover Spray.
Then add a top-performing laundry detergent, like Good Housekeeping Seal holder Persil ProClean + Stain Fighter Liquid Laundry Detergent — but just be careful not to overload your machine. “Sheets needs to circulate to get clean,” says Forté. “Today’s enormous washers can probably hold several sets, but you should never cram them in. And if your washer has an agitator in the middle, don’t wrap the sheets around it. This can cause them to wrinkle or tear. Instead, lay them in separately without wrapping them.”
Wash with higher temps on a normal cycle
To boost cleaning (which helps if you suffer from allergies), increase the water temperature. Choose a cleaning cycle that uses the hottest water safe for the sheets’ fabric (check the care tag). “The hotter the water, the more germs you kill,” says Forté.
Note that some new washers have dedicated cycles just for washing sheets. But if yours doesn’t, select the “normal” or “casual” cycle instead of “heavy duty.” Choosing a heavy-duty cycle isn’t necessary, unless your sheets are a serious mess. “Sheets don’t need excessive agitation to get clean, and the heavy-duty cycle can cause tangling and wrinkling,” says Forté. “It’s fine to wash sheets on the normal, regular or colors cycle. These options are gentler and shorter than heavy duty and, depending on the machine, will cool water gradually for less wrinkling.”
Tumble dry sheets on low
While bedding might take a little longer to dry than a regular load of clothes, leaving sheets in the dryer longer “just in case” is a mistake. It’s best to tumble dry sheets on low heat for the shortest time possible to avoid over-drying them — and yes, this could take some trial and error to get right! “This is the best method to minimize shrinkage and reduce wrinkling too,” says Forté.
You also may want to keep your sheets separate to avoid over-drying issues, since not all linens are created equally. “Sheets dry faster than towels, so when the sheets are dry the towels will likely still be wet if you dry them together,” says Forté. If you’re aiming to combine loads, she says it’s probably okay to put some light cotton fabrics in with sheets, but towels are problematic.
Lauren is a senior editor at Hearst. She was previously the senior editor at WomansDay.com and the home editor at GoodHousekeeping.com and HouseBeautiful.com. Her book club, ramen, and jean jackets are a few of her favorite things.