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How Often Should You Wash Your Sheets to Keep Germs Away?

If you asked ten different people how often they washed their sheets, you’d probably get ten different answers. And at least one of those people would likely say, “Not as often as I should.”

From dead skin cells to makeup to body fluids to sweat, a lot of stuff can transfer from your body to your sheets in the night. And if you’re getting the recommended seven to nine hours of sleep a night, you’re spending 49 to 63 hours between your sheets every week. We turned to Brandie Beuthin, RN, regional infection prevention director at Banner Health in Arizona, for an expert answer on how often to wash your sheets. Here’s what she told us.

What’s the recommended timeframe for washing your sheets?

“For most people, washing your sheets once a week is a good general rule of thumb,” she said. People with severe allergies or asthma may want to wash their sheets every three or four days. More frequent washing can help remove dust, dander and pollen that can trigger symptoms.

And if your pets sleep in your bed, you may want to go with that every three-to-four-day schedule. That’s because pets can add body fluids and dander to your sheets. You may also want to wash your sheets more often if you eat in bed or sweat a lot.

It’s a good idea to wash your pillowcases, towels and blankets on the same schedule.

And you should wash new sheets since they may contain chemical residue from the manufacturing process.

What health problems could you develop from dirty sheets?

“Two of the best researchers in the field of environmental microbiology at the University of Arizona, Drs. Kelly Reynolds and Chuck Gerba, have done extensive research on laundry and reducing the risk of getting sick,” Beuthin said. The researchers found that dirt, skin cells and bodily fluids such as mucus and saliva help germs and dust mites survive.

  • Dust mites can make allergy symptoms flare.
  • Dirty sheets can make eczema and acne worse.
  • Bed bugs, fleas and lice can breed in the dead skin cells in dirty sheets. They have to get into your home from elsewhere, but dirty sheets can give them a place to multiply.

How can you wash your sheets properly?

When you wash your sheets, it removes the debris that helps germs survive and reduces your risk of exposure and getting sick,” Beuthin said. You can check the instructions on your sheets for any special care when laundering. In most cases, washing your sheets on a typical wash cycle with detergent is sufficient to clean your sheets properly.

One tip: You can pick up germs on your hands when transferring wet laundry from the washer to the dryer. So, after you put your clothes in the dryer, you should wash your hands.

What steps should I take if someone in my home is sick?

Germs from respiratory viruses can live a few days, while some that cause diarrhea can live for weeks. Bacteria can live for weeks and can even multiply. You should wash any soiled bedding as soon as possible and wash sheets regularly when someone is sick.

The bottom line

Washing your sheets regularly—once a week for most people—can get rid of the dead skin cells, makeup, body fluids and sweat that can build up on them. If you think you might have skin problems related to your sheets, connect with a Banner health care provider for advice.

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