Here's What Actually Happens If You Don't Wash Your Sheets Weekly

dust mites, illustration
What Happens When You Don't Wash Your SheetsJUAN GAERTNER/SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY - Getty Images

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Crawling into bed with soft, freshly laundered sheets (preferably straight from the dryer) is one of life’s little luxuries. But you’ll also sleep better at night knowing that washing your sheets weekly is a good hygiene habit that minimizes gross things in your bed like dirt and dust mites.

After all, you’re in bed for at least 56 hours a week if you’re getting eight hours of shuteye a night. During that time, all types of things can build up in your sheets, such as bacteria from sweat if you’re a hot sleeper and dander from your pets if they’re allowed on your bed. While washing your sheets or changing them out weekly is a pretty universal recommendation, the average person only does so every 24 days, reveals a survey from Mattress Advisor—yikes.

So what happens if you don’t keep up with this weekly chore? The most common substances that will accumulate in your bedding include sweat, dead skin cells, skin oils, residue from makeup and skincare products, and dust mites, says Dr. Ekama Carlson, M.D., a board-certified San Francisco-based dermatologist, specializing in dermatology, dermatologic surgery, and all things skin-related.

Unlike, say, the self-tanner that rubs off on your sheets and is noticeable, dust mites are teeny-tiny and you can’t see them without a microscope, yet they’re probably the most problematic things lurking in your sheets. These insect-like pests thrive in warm, humid settings and, Carlson explains, they feed on dead skin cells.

“While dust mites are not harmful to humans, their waste products when inhaled or when they come in contact with skin may cause allergic reactions in some individuals,” Carlson explains.

If you wake up sneezy or stuffy, dust mite allergens could be to blame, as they tend to settle into fabrics like your bedding and mattress. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention cautions that if you have asthma and are allergic to dust mites, they can also trigger asthma attacks. The CDC’s top recommendations for avoiding dust mites includes using an allergen-proof mattress and pillowcase covers in addition to washing your sheets weekly.

Carlson says people with sensitive skin, allergies, or hyperhidrosis (a condition where there is excessive sweating) may benefit from washing more frequently than once a week, while others who live in dry, non-humid climates may opt for less frequent washing.

But what about the rest of your bedding? The National Sleep Foundation recommends the following laundry schedule for your other bedding:

  • Pillowcases: once a week

  • Duvet covers: once every two weeks to a month

  • Comforters: once every two to three months

  • Blankets: once every two to three months

  • Pillows: once every four to six months if they are washable.

If you want to give your sheets a deep clean, try adding Oxi-Clean to your load of laundry, suggests Abigail Fuller, a Thumbtack pro with Candice Cleaners. Check your linens’ care label, but most sheets, including cotton ones, should be washed on the hottest setting—and make sure you don’t overload your washer with bedding. If you need to get rid of some persistent stains, a homemade paste with vinegar and baking soda can help, Fuller says.

If you can, hang dry your sheets outside—sunlight is a natural disinfectant. With a once-a-week sheet-changing routine, you’ll rest easy knowing that your bedding doesn’t just look spotless, but is actually clean.

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