You’ll probably spend about one-third of your life under the sheets, wrapped up in a blanket, head lightly placed on a pillow, lost in an endless dream. Your closest companions are what cover you: clothes, bedding, socks, pillows (aka linens and fabrics).
A typical adult spends 9,587.3 days sleeping over the average lifespan. That, my friends, is a lot of shut-eye. But while we’re all so concerned about how much or how little sleep we are getting, how much attention do we pay to our sheets and bedding? According to an article published in Everyday Health, researchers have found that sleep plays an important role in our body’s organs, but how do our sheets play a role in our lives?
I talked to a few of my friends about the subject. Dana* said she cleans her sheets every couple of weeks, and in the summer, she cleans them every week, while Robert* says he honestly can’t remember the last time he cleaned his sheets.
For myself, I honestly just forget and never find myself feeling grimy in bed, but I know I probably need to change them. Living in the city, laundry is expensive, and I don’t always have the means to clean my sheets regularly (excuses, excuses, I know). Since I struggle with acne, I try to change out my pillowcases every two weeks, which usually accompanies bedsheets as well.
Greg* says, “I haven’t changed my sheets since I moved into my apartment a few months ago.” Look, Greg, some of us might be crazy, but we aren’t that crazy.
Let’s move on to the science behind clean sheets. Mattress Advisor made it clear how much I’m pushing the boundaries when it comes to clean sheets. According to the brand, keeping your sheets clean also contributes to personal health. Twenty-six gallons of sweat are poured into our bedsheets every year. Additionally, humans shed 10 grams of skin each day. Basically, a breeding ground for bacteria. And as you can expect, in the summer months when it’s hot and humid, the bacteria on your pillow can house “16 species of fungus each.”
Microbiologist Philip Tierno from New York University even goes so far as to call it a “botanical park” of bacteria and fungus. The bacteria live between the folds of our sheets and can contribute to getting sick. The bacteria then find their way into our noses and mouths, where we react with sneezing and an allergic response. A study published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology found that 90 percent of American homes that they tested had “at least three detectable allergens.”
Mattress Advisor conducted a study of 1,000 Americans and their opinions of their bed-cleaning habits. Most people go 24.5 days without changing their bedsheets and 25 days before changing their pillowcases. Scientists think that this is way too low and suggest you clean your bedding every week. The study also found that most people found it gross if they go up to 35 days without a wash of their linens. That’s roughly five weeks of unwashed sheets.
Who cleans their sheets more? Male-identifying people go 29.6 days without cleaning their sheets, while female-identifying people go 19.4 days. People in relationships change their sheets a little bit more often than those who are single. Married couples change their bedsheets every 19.9 days, while single people go, on average, 37 days. You’re only responsible for your own grime when it’s you and you alone, right? The study also found that people who sleep in the nude wash their sheets often. For people who drool regularly, however, they wait 31.8 days to change their pillowcases.
What about after coitus? Female-identifying people wait 4.3 days to wash their sheets after sex, while male-identifying people wait 11.7 days. This number increased after a one-night stand experience for male-identifying persons and decreased for female-identifying persons. For men, they wait 18.1 days after a one-night stand and women wait 2.2 days.
I write this article from the comfort of my bed (a perk of being a freelance journalist), and I can’t help but wonder: Should I fit another laundry day in this week? Between the of of my sheets are skin, fungus and bacteria. It’s not an attractive and comfortable image to imagine as I’m nestled between my pillows and comforter.
Whether your bedding is washed or not is up to your personal standards — no judgment here — but I will leave you to ponder this quote from Tierno, which is sure to make you buy a new bottle of detergent and begin collecting your laundry coins.
“If you touched dog poo in the street, you’d want to wash your hands,” says Tierno. “Consider that analogous to your bedding. If you saw what was there — but of course you don’t see it — after a while, you have to say to yourself, ‘Do I want to sleep in that?’”
*Names have been changed.