The Easiest Way to Sanitize Your Bed Sheets, According to a Laundry Expert

published Mar 23, 2020
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Credit: Joe Lingeman/Apartment Therapy

With more and more caution about spreading germs, many of us are doing our part and staying home until further notice—which may mean lots of extra time for chores like de-germing clothing, linens, and other garments. For those with a washer and dryer, sanitizing clothes and linens is as easy as throwing in a load of laundry. So what about people who usually venture outside of their homes to clean their stuff?

Don’t dismay: With the right supplies on hand, you can take care of your germ-ridden garments—including your bedding—in the comfort of your own home. Hand-washing (done right) will take care of most of the germs lingering on your clothes. Just use a little soap and warm water in the kitchen sink.

Sanitizing linens, like blankets and bed sheets, is a bit of a different story when you don’t have access to a washer. For one thing, you probably have more t-shirts than you have sheets and pillowcases, which means you’ll need to wash your bed linens a lot more often. It can also be hard to thoroughly clean something that large in the sink, especially if you’re doing it frequently. And even if you do hand wash (or launder) your sheets on the regular, you might want an extra maintenance step just to be sure you’re not sleeping in a literal bed of germs. 

Fortunately, laundry expert Patric Richardson, founder of the Minneapolis-based boutique Mona Williams, says you probably have a simple and surprisingly effective sanitizing solution already in your home—a steamer or iron. 

How to Use a Fabric Steamer to Sanitize Fabric like Sheets, Pillows, and Blankets

If you’re not able to access a washer and dryer and want to sanitize your sheets, pillow cases, or blankets—especially if someone sick is using them—all you need is some steam. (Assuming the fabric doesn’t have any major stains, since steaming can set-in the stain.)

“If you’re taking care of someone who’s ill or you’re sick yourself, steam from a steamer or an iron is enough to sanitize sheets,” Richardson says. According to the CDC, heat of 167 degrees or more is sufficient to kill respiratory viruses like the flu, and many steamers and irons can reach temperatures of 200 degrees or more. There’s one caveat: If you’re using an iron for sanitizing purposes, make sure to turn on the steam setting—it’s not just the high heat that’s killing the germs, but the actual steam penetrating the fabric. Steam also kills odor-causing bacteria and kills dust-mites.

If you do have a fabric steamer, it’s likely a more effective method than ironing alone. Steamers are also more versatile; for example, you can use them to freshen up your mattress or sofa if you’re worried about germs hanging out in those soft surfaces. Plus, with a steamer, you won’t risk burning your linens. 

Thankfully, steaming is relatively easy. Just drape your sheets over a clothes line or shower rod and fill your steamer with water. Once it’s ready, position the steamer head on the sheets, moving it around the surface of the fabric. Before you make your bed, make sure the sheets are totally dry. Now, you’ll have clean and wrinkle-free sheets you can feel confident sleeping in.