bed sheet

What Happens If You Don’t Wash Your Bedsheets?

No one likes making their bed, let alone washing their sheets—especially single men. In one survey, 55% of single men between 18 and 25 reported changing their sheets only four times a year. And to be clear, those are beds that you would not want to sleep in.

You shed about 15 million skin cells each night, but they don’t just pile up in your sheets. Because something else is already there waiting to gobble them up: dust mites. And the longer you wait between washes, the more food these critters will have and the more they’ll procreate and multiply. So if you don’t wash your sheets, you’ll be sleeping with hundreds of thousands of arachnids.

Your Bed Sheets Collect Gross Particles

The longer you skip laundry duty, the more your bed will start to resemble a “botanical park” of bacteria. Your pillows can carry up to 16 different types of fungus—and that’s not even counting the ones that hang out between your sheets.

bed sheet

Of course, sharing your bed with microscopic life sounds terrifying for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that it increases your risk of getting sick. Over time, bacteria from human sources like sweat and spit—and a few grosser ones that don’t need to be mentioned—join forces with those from foreign bodies such as pollen, lint, and dust mites. When you’re surrounded by these bacteria (like, say, during the third of your life that you spend snuggled in your sheets), they can trigger an allergic reaction and symptoms such as sniffling and sneezing—even if you don’t usually suffer from allergies.

Undercover Trouble

You spend a third of your life in bed. So clean bed linens should be one of your must-do chores. Think of the drool, sweat, dandruff, and other “stuff” you leave between the sheets. Ideally, you ought to launder them weekly, or at least every other week. But a recent survey found that Americans tend to be sheet slackers, going 25 days between washes.

Mite-y Gross

You shed 500 million skin cells a day. Many slough off while you roll around in bed. All those dead cells pile up on your sheets in between washings. Tiny dust mites love to feed on the shed cells. The critters and their droppings can trigger allergies, asthma, and cause your itchy eczema to flare. If you’re allergic to dust mites, wash bedding every week in hot water.

The pesky mites — which are part of the spider family and feed on flakes of skin that you can shed in your sleep — accumulate in any location that isn’t regularly cleaned. There are probably around 1.5. million in your bed each night. And they’ll leave their mark, in the form of welts on your neck, face, arms, and upper body, or problematic and tough-to-cure breathing issues. The longer you wait between washings, the harder it is to truly get rid of mites — or, even worse, bed bugs. Wash regularly, says Lu Xiong, co-founder of sustainable bedding brand Flaneur, “and remember to store linens in a cool, dry place away from moisture and light to avoid any bacterial build-up.”

Skin Irritation or Eczema

“In addition to attracting bacteria, dirty sheets rub against your skin while you sleep — and that friction can lead to skin irritation,” says Dr. Joshua Zeichner, an NYC-based dermatologist. Self-treating with greasy ointments or heavy creams can actually add to the problem, because those products are harder to absorb and will transfer to your linens, where they’ll stay even longer, putting you at risk for more bacteria. If you need to treat a skin condition like eczema, Zeichner advises speaking to your dermatologist about medications that won’t rub off and can be quickly (and fully) absorbed, so as to not worsen the germy wasteland that is your bed.

Allergies

Unsurprisingly, bacteria and dust mites can cause or worsen allergies, targeting a weakened immune system.” The three main things you want to avoid on your bedding are dust mites, mould, and mildew since they activate allergies or worsen existing ones,” says Dr. Carl Cricco, co-founder of the snuggly, a new L-shaped pillow that helps prevent back pain. Invest in bedding made from hypoallergenic materials, which wick away warm moisture so mould and mites can’t breed. Washing your linens will kill any bacteria that’s already on them, but make sure to replace synthetic pillows every two to three years and a down or feather pillow every five to six years, so bacteria or bugs don’t have a chance to build up. You can wash most down or synthetic pillows as well — just make sure to check the care label before doing so.

Pet Peeves

Do you sleep with your fur baby? Rover or kitty’s hair and dander on your bedding become extra buffet fare for dust mites. Dogs with a skin condition called mange can spread mites that burrow under your skin. You won’t catch human scabies, but your skin can turn itchy and irritated. Your pets also can pass on a fungal infection called ringworm of the scalp. Aim to change your sheets once a week.

Bacterial Bed Buddies

Dead skin cells, sweat, saliva, and more can turn your comfy bed into a petri dish for germs to grow. For instance, lab tests found that swabs from pillowcases unwashed for a week harboured 17,000 times more colonies of bacteria than samples taken from a toilet seat.

Bedbugs

Dirty or clean sheets don’t lure these critters. They’re attracted to you. They live in warm places close to people, so your bed is perfect. Bedbugs crawl out at night and feed on your blood. You may wake up with itchy bite marks. The bugs travel to your home from places that are infested, like a hotel or dorm room. Dry your bedding on high heat for 30 minutes to kill the bugs and their eggs.

Bedroom Breakouts

Is your acne worse and you can’t figure out why? Your dirty pillowcase could be to blame. The embedded dirt, dead skin, and bacteria can clog your pores. If you have bad breakouts, change your pillowcases every 2-3 days and the rest of your bedding once a week.

Pass out with your makeup on too many nights in a row? You’re doing a disservice to your face (think dry skin, early signs of aging, inflammation, and —fun! — infections) and your bed. “Not only will you get stains everywhere, but bacteria can start to build up in the fibres, which can cause annoying whiteheads and patchy pimples, or exacerbate already existing acne — even if you have cleaned your skin,” says Dr. Elizabeth Tanzi, director of Capital Laser and Skin Care. Tanzi suggests washing your face and body with a good cleanser before bed in addition to washing your sheets every seven to 10 days.

Sickly Sheets

If you or your partner has been ill, toss your sheets into the wash right away to kill any lingering germs. Most bacteria or viruses can survive on soft surfaces for minutes to hours. The duration varies based on the specific microbe. For example, flu viruses live on tissues for just 15 minutes, but some stomach bugs can survive on fabrics for 4 hours.

Pillow Toss

Where you rest your head at night can be full of fungus — some can be dangerous to those with asthma. If your pillow — the fluffy thing itself — can be washed, do so at least twice a year. Follow the care label on how to do it. Make sure to rinse and dry it thoroughly to prevent mildew. If you use a pillow protector, toss it into the wash along with your pillowcase.

Sheet Swaps

Some other things can add to the icky factor between your sheets. Strip the bed weekly (or even more often) if you:

You could end up in the hospital.

Okay, this one is a pretty long shot, but it’s still possible. As Vice pointed out, one of the bacteria that collect in dirty bedsheets is staphylococcus aureus, also known as staph. The staph bacteria live in the warm, moist areas of our body, and most of the time, it does not harm. If it enters the bloodstream through a cut, however, that’s a different story. Staph-based infections can range from urinary tract infections to skin boils, styes on the eye, cellulitis, and even MRSA. This antibiotic-resistant infection can be fatal in some instances, according to KidsHealth.

Some People Need to Wash Their Sheets More Often

There are exceptions to the once-a-week bed sheet cleaning rule. People who should wash their sheets more often are those who are sick, who sleep nude, and who go to bed without showering after a workout or being outside for a long time. You can introduce many germs and allergens to your sheets which are not going anywhere without being washed.

If that isn’t enough to inspire you to wash your bed sheets regularly, consider that more than 84 per cent of beds have dust mites, and they love to live in our sheets and feed off of our dead skin. Although experts recommend washing sheets at least once a week, even knowing there are dust mites might not motivate some people to wash their sheets. In a survey by home textile company Coyuchi, only 44 per cent of surveyors wash their sheets once or twice a month. Another survey found that surveyors waited around 25 days before cleaning or changing out their sheets—18 days too long. Find out how often you should really be washing your towels, too.

Tips about your Bedsheet

 

Let Your Sheets Breathe

You may have heard that the best way to kick start your day is to make your bed. But it might be wise not to rush. That’s because moisture builds in your sheets after each night of slumber. When you wake up, peel back the covers and give your bed a chance to dry. That makes it a less attractive nesting spot for bacteria and mites.

Wash Day Tips

washing bed sheet

Launder your bedding with the hottest water suggested on the care label. Afterwards, toss it into the dryer. Studies show the dryer’s heat can kill some germs that survive the wash. If it’s safe for the colour, use a germ-killer like bleach on your sheets, especially if you’re cleaning up after a sick person.

Dirty Duvets and More

Some comforters or duvet covers aren’t machine washable. So check labels before you launder. Stick to this cleaning schedule for a fresh bedroom:

  • Comforters, blankets, and duvet Covers: Once every 1-2 months. (If you don’t use a top sheet, wash them when you do your sheets.)
  • Mattress pad: Wash four times a year
  • Bed skirt: Every 3-6 months

Vacuum your mattress when you launder the bed skirt to suck away dust and dirt.

Now that you know the best way to get rid of all that yucky stuff is to wash your bedsheets a minimum of once a week remember to use the hottest temperature suggested on the care label. The hotter the water, the more likely you are to kill most of the germs, remove dust mites, and stop pollen from sticking to the fabric, which is especially important if you have allergies.

Leaving your sheets on for days on end can do more harm than you think. Experts recommend changing your sheets every seven to 10 days, or more often if you’ve been sick, sleep in the nude, sweat a lot, don’t shower before bed, or have a pet that sleeps with you. Launder your bedding on the hottest washer setting, followed by a tumble in the dryer, to kill mites and bacteria. Then you really can rest easy, knowing you’re both comfortable and clean.

Now that you’re going to be washing your sheets more regularly be sure to read up on our guide to how often you should wash other household items and garments, from dish towels to jeans. You may want to stock up on laundry detergent beforehand. 

So washing your sheets is pretty much saving your life and the life of anyone lucky enough to be joining you.

Scroll to Top