It's probably more often than you think.
A recent survey conducted in the UK found that almost half of single men wash their sheets once every four months. How do your bed linen habits compare? Maybe you aren’t quite as neglectful as these bachelors and are in the habit of washing your sheets once a month. Or maybe you don’t have a set schedule; you can just tell when it’s time.
According to germ experts (yep, they exist), it’s important to wash your sheets regularly. Otherwise, you’ll be sleeping in a bed of bacteria—literally. But how often should you really change your sheets? Keep reading to find out.
How Often Should You Wash Your Sheets?
While there aren’t any scientific studies on people’s bed linens at home, Dr. Charles Gerba, PhD., a professor of virology in the Department of Environmental Science at The University of Arizona, says that there have been studies of sheets in hospitals. Dr. Gerba says that these studies have found that bacteria from the human skin is transferred to bedding and about one-third of this bacteria is fecal bacteria (E.coli). “Fungi also appears to be common,” he adds.
“Sheets are a great place for bacteria to reside and grow. All they need are water and food, which our bodies provide,” says Jason Tetro, a scientist and author of The Germ Files. If you go too long without washing your sheets, Tetro says that the bacteria will continue to grow, which could then potentially lead to skin irritation and possibly infection.
Tetro says that in a laboratory, bacteria can multiply as quickly as every 20 minutes. In the real world, he says it takes several hours. With this in mind, Tetro recommends washing your sheets every two weeks. If you tend to sweat in bed or eat in bed, both experts recommend washing them even more often. “What matters more is the amount of bacteria transferred—the inoculum if you wish,” Tetro says. “If you are not sweating much, the inoculum won’t be too significant from night to night and two weeks should be sufficient. If you tend to sweat a significant amount, then the nightly inoculum goes up and you may want to clean them every week.”
Interestingly, Tetro says that polyester has been found to hold more bacteria than cotton. “It also took in more of the body’s natural secretions meaning the bacteria would be able to grow to higher numbers,” he adds. So if your sheets are made of polyester, you may want to wash your sheets more often.
What About Pillowcases, Blankets and Comforters?
You may want to wash your pillowcases even more often than you wash your sheets. Dr. Gerba says that’s where most bacteria and fungi are found.
As for comforters, duvets and throw blankets, Tetro says that anything that comes in direct contact with the skin regularly should be washed as frequently as your sheets. But if your throw blankets or comforter is coming into contact with the sheets instead of your skin, he says they can be washed less frequently, roughly once a month.
Even with all this in mind, if you’re still debating whether or not you should throw your bed linens in the wash, Tetro says to give them a sniff. “One can never discount the smell test,” he says. “Bacteria tend to stink once they get to high enough numbers. If your sheets—and clothes for that matter—tend to have an odor, then there’s a good likelihood that there's a high bacterial count and a wash may be needed.”
Put this advice into practice and you’ll be able to sleep easy. (And maybe pass the info along to the single men in your life too.)