If you were presented with a pile of fungi, bacteria, mold, soil, crumbs, dander, bodily fluids, dead skin cells, dust mites and excrement, you probably wouldn't want to hop in and roll around. However, that's exactly what many people unwittingly do every time they climb into bed.
Surveys have repeatedly shown that people don't wash their bedsheets enough (which is to say, more than half in surveys wash their sheets a few times a month or just once a month). While that's convenient, it leaves folks exposed to many germs and pathogens that can have potentially serious effects, like wound or skin infections, pneumonia and urinary tract infections.
Dust mites, in particular, can wreak microscopic havoc because they feed on dead skin cells, which humans shed to the tune of 500 million every day. Unless sheets are washed frequently enough, the little guys will continue to perpetuate a thriving life cycle (gag) that can cause allergic reaction or negatively affect the immune system. This is hardly a problem for only the laziest launderers out there, with 84 percent of American beds playing host to dust mites.
Properly freaked out yet? If so, try not to panic. Keeping the sheets adequately laundered isn't a terribly frequent chore. Most experts agree that a weekly washing will suffice to maximize cleanliness and minimize the nasty.
"Once a week is often enough as we do sweat, shed dead skin cells and transfer dirt and bacteria onto the sheets when we sleep," explains Melissa Maker, author of "Clean My Space: The Secret to Cleaning Better, Faster, and Loving Your Home Every Day" in an email interview. "Our bodies are designed to withstand some bacteria but a buildup is definitely not good and can start to create stains and wear down the fibres of the sheets. If you have been sick, then sheets should be washed more frequently."
Mary Zeitler, consumer scientist with Whirlpool Corporation, emails sheets should be washed once a week or every two weeks, "depending on your lifestyle. You may want to consider more frequent washing if you tend to perspire more, during cold/flu and allergy seasons and if you have pets. This will help you cut down on the amount of allergens and soils."
How to Care for Sheets
Sheets are made of a wide variety of materials and thread counts, so make sure to read the care label before washing and drying yours. However, a couple of easy tips will ensure that you achieve maximum cleanliness level: "Washing and drying sheets in a separate load helps prevent other items in the load from getting tangled or balled up in the sheets," Zeitler says. "Sheets need a lot of room to get clean, so try not to jam too many in."
And although it seems instinctive to do your sheet washing and drying on the hottest settings to kill any little buggers present, that's actually doing more harm than good. Too high settings can shrink and weaken fibers, and thin, damaged sheets are more likely to allow transfer of harmful substances to the underlying mattress. "Cotton sheets can generally be washed in warm or cold water... and if they are light-coloured, you may want to throw in a scoop of oxygen bleach," suggests Maker. "Try drying on the 'less dry' or 'damp alert' setting to prevent these [shrinking] problems," Zeitler adds. "It also gives you a chance to check whether the sheets need to be untangled and tossed back in."