Whether you’re a once a week sheets washer or you wait until you do a sniff test, you’ve probably wondered exactly how often you should be changing your sheets. It can be a hassle and, often, you just want to fall into bed without an extra trip to your linen closet.
Like many of the big questions in life, the answer isn’t so straightforward, so that’s why we’re breaking it down for you.
Why do we need to change our sheets?
“There are a lot of things that can get in your sheets,” says Dr. Robb Akridge, Co-Founder of Clarisonic and Skin Expert, PhD in Microbiology specializing in Immunology and Infectious Diseases. “First, you need to understand that everyone has tiny mites all over their bodies and these mites feed off dead skin. (You can’t see them, but they are there.) For our skin to be healthy, we need these mites on the body. When these mites — commonly known as dust mites — excrete feces, it is the fecal matter that then causes irritation, inflammation and other allergy responses. When we shower, we wash off the feces, which is often why we can minimize irritation. When you sleep, you often shed skin and mites into your sheets, and remember, dead skin is food for these dust mites which are transferred from your skin to the sheets. If you don’t change your sheets, you create a breeding ground of mites (and they breed very rapidly), and the more mites, the more feces. The more feces, the more likely you will have irritation, especially if you are more sensitive to this.”
But that’s not the only thing you have to worry about. You also could have fungi that can grow within your sheets. “For example, if you have athlete’s foot, the fungi can live in your sheets and can be passed on to someone who you are sharing a bed with,” Akridge says.
What type of sheets are best?
“It is important to use sheets that are breathable,” Akridge says. “Cotton is really the best. Also, if you have any skin infections, acne or mite allergies, you should stick to white cotton sheets. That way you can clean them with super-hot water and bleach. You obviously cannot use bleach if your sheets are colored, so this is something to consider when purchasing. Bleach and extremely hot water will help to get rid of the mites and kill microbes in the sheets.” To deal with dust mites, you need to use water that is at least 130 degrees Fahrenheit and the highest heat setting on your dryer.
If you don’t have a mattress cover, you’ll want to get one. They are designed to keep your mattress safe from mites and prevent their feces from going into the mattress. “You can get an allergy mattress cover and allergy pillowcase covers,” Akridge says. “Your mattress and pillows have ample area for dust mites to expand and multiply, and therefore, over the years, if you don’t have a protective cover, it can easily become the source of irritation and other allergy-related symptoms.”
And just like how cotton sheets are best, the same holds true for pajamas, since they also need to be breathable. Avoid anything made with polyesters, since they aren’t breathable.
Should people with skin conditions wash their sheets more often?
If you have acne, eczema or other skin conditions, the answer is probably yes. “With acne, it’s generally better to do it weekly,” says Board Certified dermatologist Dr. Dhaval G. Bhanusali. “Oil, dead skin cells and pollutants can populate on the pillows and sheets and ultimately lead to clogged pores and breakouts. With sensitive skin and eczema, it depends on a person by person basis. Many are sensitive to basic laundry detergents and need to be careful with overdoing it.”
Plus, if you have acne, you should change your sheets and pillowcases more often because you may be transmitting the oil and makeup from your face onto your pillows. This can then transfer back to your face and cause pore congestion, cautions Akridge. “If you are a heavy makeup user or if you forget to take your makeup off before bed, then you should wash your pillowcases more often. But washing it once a week regardless is essential.”
What if my pet sleeps in my bed with me?
Then your sheets should be hitting the washing machine more frequently. “We see lots of skin rashes and conditions due to pets,” Bhanusali says. “It’s better to do at least once or twice a week to minimize the chance of negative effects.”
What other factors should I consider?
If you shower more often, especially before you go to bed, you can get away with changing your sheets less often. But if you toss and turn a lot, it’s back to the washing machine. “The more you move in your sleep, the more likely that dead skin cells will shed from your body and onto the sheets,” Akridge says. “Since dust mites feed off dead skin, I am guessing that this would increase the presence of them.”
Another factor is your climate. People tend to shed more dead skin cells when they are in a dry environment. You are always shedding dead skin cells, but when you are in a dry environment, your skin tends to be drier and will flake more, explains Akridge.
And even though it’s always good to be tidy, making your bed every day won’t make a difference when it comes to washing your sheets.
So how often should I be changing my sheets?
“Overall, the amount of times you change your sheets really depends on your lifestyle, personal habits and living conditions,” Akridge says. “For example, if you are active or if you are someone who perspires a lot when you are sleeping, then you should change your sheets at least once a week. Also, if you have acne, then you may want to change your sheets more often.” To be on the safe side, aim to wash your sheets once a week, but try not to stretch it past two weeks.
A version of this story was published May 2019.
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