How to Clean Bed Sheets and Comforters

A clean bed is a happy place to be.
A clean bed is a happy place to be.
Photos.com/Thinkstock

If you sleep an average of 8 hours a night, then it's safe to assume you'll spend about a third of your life in bed. Based on that math, it's worth making your bed a nice place to be. Bedding is a lot like clothing: You have a wide range of options in a few different fabrics. Sheets range from your inexpensive, run of the mill, 300-thread count on up to your considerably more expensive 1,200-thread count Egyptian cotton. A higher thread count generally means softer and smoother sheets, but even lower thread counts can produce some nice softness. Whatever your thread count of choice is, you want to make sure they last a while. And just as with clothing, following proper laundry instructions will help keep your sheets and comforters in working order for longer.

Beyond washing your bedding for the sake of clean sheets, there are also health matters to consider. While you sleep, your body is shedding hundreds of thousands of dead skin cells, which make a nice meal for dust mites. Dust mites cause a lot of allergy problems, plus they're just gross. If you like to eat snacks in bed, then you can count on some food crumbs, which are begging for bugs. Also, natural body oils and sweat inevitably end up on sheets, not to mention other body fluids, like saliva and blood. None of this is pleasant to think about, so think of it as a gentle reminder to make those trips up and down the stairs to the laundry room even on days you don't feel like it. If you wash your bedding regularly, you can keep these issues in check. Read on for tips on washing your bed sheets and comforters.

Tips for Washing Bed Sheets

Dry your sheets outside for a fresh scent.
Dry your sheets outside for a fresh scent.
iStockphoto/Thinkstock

For health purposes, it's recommended that bed sheets and pillowcases get changed once a week. More washing and drying means more wear and tear on your sheets, so ideally, you'll have at least two complete sets that you alternate each week. Your typical set of sheets in the 300-to-500 thread count range should be washed in hot water with regular detergent and then dried on a hot setting. This is especially important for allergy sufferers, because the hot temperatures help kill dust mites. But once you're up in the 1,000-thread count range, most of which are considered luxury sheets, the washing instructions are a little different. High thread count sheets use cotton threads that are thinner than regular yarns, so when they're exposed to high temperatures, they're much more likely to break. These sheets should be washed in warm water and dried in the dryer on a cool setting. If you prefer your sheets to be wrinkle free, then you're probably going to have to do a little ironing.

When washing sheets, it's important not to overload your machine because the rinse cycle won't be able to get all of the soap residue off. Leftover soap means your sheets won't feel as soft. If you wash a full load, you may want to consider running an additional rinse cycle. It's important not to use chlorine bleach or detergents with brighteners on your bed linens because they can weaken the fibers. If you want to naturally brighten white sheets, just add a quarter cup of lemon juice to your load. If you use powder detergent, be sure to dissolve it in the water before adding your sheets to the mix. And try not to wash sheets with towels.

Tips for Washing Comforters

If your comforter is made of cotton or a cotton and polyester blend that fits in your washer, you can most likely wash it at home. You should always check the laundering instructions on the tag before proceeding. Before you get it wet, you'll want to make sure it's colorfast, meaning that the colors won't run. To do this, wet an area that won't be very noticeable. Unless your comforter comes with specific instructions, you should wash it in warm to hot water and dry it on low heat so it won't shrink or scorch. Adding a clean tennis ball to the dryer will help keep filling from clumping together. You can also save on your electricity bill by hanging it outside to air dry. Do keep in mind that a wet comforter can get really heavy, so determine if your machines can handle the weight. If you're not sure, consider taking it to the laundromat and using one of their commercial machines.

Not all comforters are good candidates for the washing machine. King-sized comforters may be too large for your machine and some materials, like silk or velvet, shouldn't get wet. And if you have an heirloom quilt that is old and fragile, it definitely shouldn't get tossed around in your washer. So, you have two options: hand washing or dry cleaning.

To hand wash, start by spreading your comforter out and vacuuming off any dust and dirt with a brush attachment. Then, fill a large utility sink or your bathtub with warm, soapy water and submerge your comforter fully. Agitate it in the water, making sure that the entire surface is wet. You may have to scrub any stains or spots with a sponge. Drain the soapy water and fill with clean water to remove the soap. You may have to repeat this step once or twice until the soap is gone. And then hang your comforter on a clothing line to dry. If there are materials on your comforter that can't get wet, then you'll have to spot clean the areas that can.

However, if you're ever in doubt about the fabric, or you know the fabric is too delicate for a normal cleaning, then you should take your comforter to the dry cleaners and let the professionals handle the job.

How to Clean a Down Comforter

A down comforter can become very uncomfortable if it's cared for improperly.
A down comforter can become very uncomfortable if it's cared for improperly.
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While a down comforter sounds like something that should be cleaned professionally, you might be surprised that you can actually handle washing it yourself. The typical down comforter is filled with little down feathers that are held in place by stitched patterns. Most newer down comforters are heavy duty enough to be washed just like a regular, cotton comforter, but with a little extra care. You do need a large capacity, front-load washing machine, so if you don't have one at home, you should take your comforter to the laundromat.

Down comforters should be washed on a gentle cycle with a small amount of mild laundry detergent, because using too much soap may strip the down. After the wash cycle is finished, run two more rinse cycles to make sure all of the soap is rinsed out. Next, you'll want to dry your comforter on low in an extra capacity dryer. It may take a while on a low heat setting, but you want to make sure that the comforter is dried completely so the feathers don't get moldy. Add a couple of tennis balls or a clean sneaker to help break clumps of feathers up, and take it out a few times during the drying cycle and fluff it by hand. If you want to avoid sitting at a laundromat for a couple of hours waiting for your comforter to dry, you can hang it out to air dry, but you'll still want to put it in the dryer for a little bit to fluff up the feathers. Down comforters shouldn't be washed more than once a year, so use a removable duvet cover to help keep the comforter clean.

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Sources

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