Sheets are like the jeans of your bed. People feel they can use them over and over without cleaning them; that fine layer of accumulation is just making them more comfortable, right? Not really. There are all sorts of microscopic reasons to throw your sheets in the machine — way, way more often than every three or four months. And sorry, freezing your bedding won’t work any better than it does with jeans.
“People should wash their sheets at least once a week, more frequently if they are sick or if they are caring for children, pregnant women, or [the] elderly,” Robin Bechanko, Senior Microbiologist at NSF International, tells Digital Trends. A recent video titled “10 Disgusting Things That Live in Your Bed” highlighted a few reasons why you should be sanitizing your sheets: bed bugs, dust mites, mold. While you can put away the garlic-and-bile mix, as it’s unlikely you have MRSA in your bedroom, the mites are pretty ubiquitous. And that doesn’t even take into account the dead skin, drool, sweat, and pet dander that’s also coalescing in your linens.
To help de-germ your sheets, you should be washing them on the machine’s “hot” cycle. According the NSF’s certification protocols for allergen reduction, the washer’s water temperature has to reach 131 degrees Fahrenheit (55 degrees Celsius) for at least three minutes during the sanitation cycle. That’s just too hot for the dust mites, which are a trigger for many people’s allergies. It’s not just those critters that die off in the hot water, though. “Certification means that NSF scientists have tested the sanitization cycle to ensure they effectively reduce harmful bacteria such as Staphylococcus aureus, Klebsiella pneumoniae, and Pseudomonas aeruginosa that can potentially build up in bed sheets if they go unwashed for a long period of time,” says Bechanko. Blasting your bedclothes with the highest setting in the dryer also lowers the germ count a bit.
Of course, you should make sure your sheets can withstand the heat by checking the care instructions on the label. If you’re worried about wear and tear, it might be time to invest in another set, so you don’t have to wash them as frequently. Remember that your sheets aren’t a visible force field either, so some of the gunk from your sheets is making its way to your mattress and pillows. Get some covers for them; those you don’t have to wash as often, but aim for something more like quarterly, as opposed to annually.
Also consider what you’re putting into the machine. Color-safe bleach doesn’t have the same disinfecting properties as regular bleach, unfortunately. To kill any bacteria that are hanging around the washer, you can run a cycle without any clothes but with bleach.
So, go home and do a load of laundry tonight. And maybe throw those jeans in, too.