How Bad is It If You Don't Wash Your Sheets Once a Week?

How Bad is It If You Don't Wash Your Sheets Once a Week?

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Shifrah Combiths
Mar 19, 2018
(Image credit: Justin Levesque)

I grew up being taught that bed sheets were supposed to be washed once a week. Now, with five beds that have people sleeping in them every night, I admit that I don't get this chore done every single week. But it nags at me; that one-week timeline is etched into my sense of responsibility. I wanted to find out if washing, say, every other week is really that horrible and what I'm chancing if I stretch the prescribed weekly routine a bit.

Washing bedding is obviously very important for overall cleanliness. If you think about it, your sheets are almost like an article of clothing you wear every single day. And most of us wouldn't wear the same shirt more than a couple times without washing it. Pants, yes, might go a bit longer. But depending on how much you wear while you're sleeping, your sheets are more or less a pretty intimate garment insofar as contact with our bodies goes.

Not only so, but our beds provide a unique environment for a host of unpleasant microscopic entities to thrive. According to Business Insider, we produce about 26 gallons of sweat each year as we sleep. These moist, warm conditions, complete with human skin cells as a food source create an ideal home for bacteria, fungus, viruses, and allergens.

Microbiologist Philip Tierno of New York University told Business Insider that our beds can quickly become a "botanical park" of bacteria and fungus. In addition, a study published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology found that of thousands of American homes, almost 75 percent of households had 3 to 6 allergens present in their bedrooms. Even if you don't have allergies, these allergens, especially when you're snuggled up to them in bed, can produce allergic responses like sniffing and sneezing.

Tierno says that all the undesirable junk in our sheets can become "significant" in as little as a week and recommends weekly washing:

"If you touched dog poo in the street, you'd want to wash your hands. 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?'"

No. No, I don't.

Another microbiologist, Laura Bowater, corroborates and gets even more specific. As stated in Well and Good, "Dozens of different types of bacteria and viruses can survive on your bed sheets, including E. coli, ringworm, salmonella, herpes, norovirus, athlete's foot, and the flu." She allows that a bi-weekly washing schedule could be enough but cautions that "just one more night in dirty sheets actually can make a difference."

Sheets get yucky especially quickly if you skip a shower before getting in bed, share a bed with someone else, are sick, or you allow pets to sleep with you.

Bottom line: I will continue to do my best to wash our sheets every week and feel remiss when I don't. I'm convinced that washing sheets once a week is the best practice, and I'll keep making my kids strip their beds on Saturday mornings.

How often do you wash your sheets?

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