Most People Machine-Wash Their Sheets Wrong

This story is part of Home Tips, CNET’s collection of practical advice for getting the most out of your home, inside and out.

There’s nothing better than climbing into your comfy bed after a long, exhausting day. Wiggling down in the sheets and covering up with a warm blanket is a simple yet luxurious pleasure. But ask yourself this: When was the last time you washed your bedding?

If you can’t remember, that heavenly oasis can quickly feel less blissful. 

Bedding, especially sheets, can easily collect dead skin, dust mites and a slew of bodily fluids. And that’s not to mention how pillowcases are often soiled with makeup, lotions, and hair and skin products. With this in mind, you need to make washing the bedding part of your weekly routine.

To help get you started, here’s the best way to wash your sheets. (You can also check out our recommendations for the best mattresses and best duvet covers you can buy, and how to wash your pillow without making it lumpy.) 

How often should I change or wash my sheets?

The common rule of thumb is washing sheets every other week. Ideally, sleep experts recommend changing sheets every week, but agree that every two weeks is the absolute longest one should go sleeping on the same set of sheets. 

Why do we wash our sheets and bedding?

Hygiene is always important — even when it comes to our bedding. Just because you can’t see stains or smell any odor doesn’t mean your sheets are clean.

Sheets can accumulate dead skin, mites, animal dander, pollen, makeup, bodily secretions and more grim, which may cause discomfort or skin rashes. One of the biggest reasons to regularly clean sheets is due to sweat. In a May study, 41% of participants reported experiencing night sweats in a month, and generally, people tend to run hot when covered in blankets or living in warmer climates.

Sweat can soak into the sheets which can clog up the fibers and make the sheets smell. 

Man and dog putting bed sheet on bed

You should wash your sheets more often if you have a habit of sleeping with your pet. 

Elena Grigorovich / EyeEm/Getty Images

You should also wash your sheets more often if:

  • You have allergies or asthma
  • You have sensitive skin
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  • You sweat or overheat frequently 
  • You sleep naked
  • You sleep with a pet
  • You eat in bed
  • You get in bed before showing
  • You lay in bed wearing clothes you wore out in public
  • You have an infection or open wound that touches the bedding 

What’s the best way to machine wash my sheets?

Most bed sheets are machine washable and aren’t much of a hassle to clean. Cotton and linen bed sheets are especially easy, while silk and satin are a bit more temperamental, requiring cold temperatures and slow spin cycles. It’s best to always check the care tag on your sheets, but this is the best method to machine wash the majority of sheet sets:

  1. Don’t overwhelm the machine

It can be tempting to just throw every pillowcase, fitted sheet and comforter right into the machine, but throwing everything in at once may be too much and you may not get a good clean.

I recommend washing the fitted and flat sheets together with your pillowcases, and then washing any heavier comforter, quilt or throw blanket separately.  And definitely don’t throw in any clothing or towels in with your bedding because it could leach color or have buttons and zippers that will damage delicate sheets. 

Washing machine door with rotating garments inside

Bulkier items like duvet covers should be washed alone. 

iso_petrov/Getty Images

2. Check bed sheets for stains

Stains are better taken care of pre-wash, so take a few minutes to examine your sheets or pillowcases for stubborn blemishes.

You can use a gentle dish soap and water, or baking soda and water mixture to let sit for a few minutes if you spot a dark mark or makeup stain

3. Measure out detergent

Less is usually more when it comes to using detergent. Too much detergent can lead to the machine using excess water or cause build-up in the washing machine’s pipes.

Most detergents are acceptable to use on cotton and linen sheets, but choose a detergent for delicate fabrics to wash silk and satin sheets. There are many silk or satin-friendly detergents on the market.  A good rule of thumb is to use 2 ounces (1/4 cup) or half a cap full of liquid laundry detergent for a regular sized load of bedding.

You can also use 4 ounces (1/2 cup) or 1 full cap of liquid laundry detergent for a larger load of bulkier items.  I also recommend skipping the fabric softener since it can weaken the fabric. 

4. Adjust the settings

I always recommend checking the care label for the ideal washing temperature since some fabrics can shrink in the wash.

It’s best to use the hottest temperature the sheets can tolerate since hot water most effectively kills germs and bacteria. Colder cycles may not fully get rid of the grime.  Polyester blends are best in warm water, while cotton can tolerate hot water.

Silk and satin sheets should be washed on a cold, gentle cycle. 

5. Dry completely

For most sheets, you can use the dryer on a low to medium heat. Satin and silk sheets would do best to air dry since they can be easily damaged even on a low-heat dryer cycle. 

You can also throw in a few dryer balls with your bedding since they allow gaps, helping the bulkier sheets to dry more quickly and evenly (I always hate when I think I’m finally ready to make my bed and I realize one whole section is still damp from being bundled up).  You can avoid cleaning your bed sheets as often by making it a habit to not eat in bed, not sleeping with your pet and only cuddling down in the sheets after a shower. While it may seem like a hassle to strip your bed every week, it’s well worth the extra effort, so you can sleep and relax a little easier. 

For more hacks, check out how to remove makeup stains from bedding and our sleep experts’ favorite bed material

More cleaning and laundry tips

The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice.

Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.

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