How Often You Really Need to Wash Your Sheets and Other Bedding

Plus the best way to clean your sheets, duvet cover, mattress, pillows and more.

woman changing sheets and bedding
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Pop quiz: What do sloughed-off skin cells and microscopic dust mites all have in common? Answer: They all accumulate on your bedding over time. In fact, researchers say that 35% of bacteria in human beds is from our own bodies. And, with enough time, this lifestyle debris may exacerbate allergies, eczema, and, potentially, acne.

Dust mites are not the only kind of buildup your sheets see either. Depending on you, your partner, kids, and pets, there’s a fair amount of fluid (drool, sweat, etc.), fecal matter (yes, sorry), and food crumbs (pet food or otherwise). Amerisleep conducted a bacteria test on mattresses and bedding and found that sheets that went unwashed for 4 weeks were dirtier than a toothbrush holder while a 4-week unwashed pillowcase was dirtier than a pet bowl. Not exactly the kind of wins you want for your sleep sanctuary.

Now for the good news: A simple spin in the washing machine can get rid of these creepy crawlers and cellular leftovers. As shivery as this information makes us feel, not all bedding bacteria is bad, which is why we don’t recommend washing your sleep stuff more often than once a week.

Instructions for how to clean your sheets will generally come with your items but if they’re unavailable, or if it’s just faster to trust us, we’ve got your back. Different components of your bedding do have their own cleaning schedule. Keep reading to find out exactly how often you should wash your sheets, covers, blankets, pillows, and more. And yes, we’re gonna cover how to clean your headboard, too.

As you read, keep in mind that you may need to wash your bedding more frequently than advised if you:

  • have a pet who sleeps with you, or naps in your bed  
  • are allergic or sensitive to dust 
  • sweat in bed easily 
  • sleep naked 

Once a Week: Wash Your Bed Sheets, Duvet Covers, and Pillowcases

The items your body comes into direct contact with in bed should go into the washing machine once a week. This includes your flat sheets, pillowcases, and possibly your duvet cover. If you use a top sheet, wash that weekly, and wash your duvet cover every two to three weeks, since the top sheet is a barrier between your body and the duvet cover.

How to wash your sheets: You’ll want to use hot water on your sheets to kill bacteria and any potential bugs but the temperature also depend on the type of sheets you have. Generally brightly colored fabrics should be laundered in cold water to prevent fading while white linen can be washed with hot water. Most other bedding, including cotton and flannel sheets, should be washed in warm water, as hot water can cause shrinkage.

The water temperature will also guide your choice of laundry detergents — powders don’t dissolve well in cold water, so you’ll want to opt for a liquid detergent for cooler washes.

When drying sheets, don’t just throw them from the washer to the dryer. Shake them out to help with even drying and use a low setting to prevent wearing your sheets out.

If you stick to this cleaning schedule, standard cotton sheets should last 2 to 3 years before needing to be replaced. (Note: thread count doesn’t affect longevity.)

Every 3 Months: Wash Your Duvet Interior, Comforters, and Blankets

Charles MacPherson, a household operations expert and founder of Charles MacPherson Associates, recommends separating your actual duvet from its cover to wash on a similar schedule to washing your pillows — every three months. This works best in a front-loading machine, since duvets tend to wrap themselves around central agitators, meaning that they don’t get as clean. If you have a down-filled duvet, make sure you’re using cold water with a feather-safe detergent.

For any extra blankets that are purely decorative (as in, ones you don’t actually sleep with), MacPherson recommends laundering or dry cleaning once a year.

Blankets and quilts that are purely decorative — along with the covers to decorative pillows —can be cleaned once a year, according to MacPherson.

Once Every 3 to 6 Months: Put Your Pillow In the Wash

clean stack of pillows and a laundry basket with bedding
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Because pillows are where you lay your head, keeping pillows clean is especially important. “If the average person knew what was in their pillow, they wouldn't ever want to use it,” says MacPherson.

While a standard pillowcase offers a slight barrier between your face and what’s inside the pillow, pillow protectors are a sturdier barrier. MacPherson advises zipping each pillow into an additional protector before putting it into its case. Pillow protectors, which can be washed every month, increase your pillow's life span and protects the filling from being exposed to dust mites and allergens. They also allow your pillow to go longer between washes.

If you don’t use a pillow protector, toss your pillow in the washing machine every three to four months. If you do use a pillow protector, clean the protector once a month, and wash the pillow every four to six months. (Check the label to make sure your pillow is, indeed, washable. Some foam pillows, for instance, are not and should be deodorized in the sun.)

How to wash your pillow: Use cold water and check the detergent label to make sure it’s feather safe. You may need to run an extra spin-and-drain cycle to remove retained water in your pillow before you throw it in the dryer.

When it comes to drying, different pillow types call for regular or low heat, so check the label to be sure. Throw a few clean tennis balls into the drum with your pillows to break up clumps in the filling that may have formed during the wash. You may need to run the dryer more than once; make sure your pillows are completely dry, as a wet pillow could grow mold.

If you stick to this cleaning schedule, a basic down pillow should last six months to a year before the pillow needs to be replaced.

Every 6 Months: Vacuum Your Mattress

Just as with your pillows, MacPherson recommends investing in a mattress protector to keep it in tip-top shape. “That way, if you have little kids or a pet in the bed that has an accident, you've usually got enough protection before it gets to the mattress,” he says. It will also provide an extra layer of protection against dust and allergens.

Your mattress protector should be cleaned every 2 months, unless you spilled food or spent your sick time on it. In that case, you’ll want to wash your protector right away. And even if you do use a protector, you may still want to vacuum your mattress every six months or so.

How to clean your mattress: After you’ve removed your sheets and covers, vacuum your mattress with overlapping strokes. Then sprinkle a light coating of baking soda over your mattress and wait 10 minutes before vacuuming again.

If you stick to this cleaning schedule, your standard mattress should last 10-12 years before the mattress needs to be replaced.

P.S. Spot Cleaning Should Be Done Immediately

If you do end up with a spot or stain on your mattress, use an absorbent towel (cotton or even a paper towel works here) and blot the area to absorb as much of the liquid as possible.

To treat the spot, MacPherson recommends a simple 1:1 water and white vinegar solution. Spray the area until its saturated before sprinkling baking soda (this will help also eliminate any odors). Let the area dry and then vacuum up the baking soda. Tougher stains, like blood, may require more involved steps, like using a carpet cleaning machine with an upholstery-safe solution.

Make It a Habit: Vacuuming the Bed Skirt and Headboard

They’re often overlooked on cleaning day, but your headboard and bed skirt need a little TLC too. If you use a fabric headboard, try to place a pillow between your head and the headboard, so oils from your hair and scalp don’t stain it. And if you have pets who like to burrow under the bed, brushing up against the skirt, the skirt will likely pick up hair and dander, so you should throw it in the wash on occasion to keep it clean and allergen-free.

Whenever you use the vacuum in your bedroom, run it over your bed skirt and headboard too, if it’s made of fabric.

How to clean your bed skirt: Put your vacuum on low-suction mode and take it to your bed skirt to hoover up any accumulated dust, pet fur, and dander. To do a deep-clean on this item, throw it in the wash every now and then.

How to clean your headboard: If you have a fabric headboard, vacuum it periodically and spot-treat if stains appear. For wood or metal headboards, dust every week or two.

Lifestyle Tips for Keeping Your Bedding Clean Between Washes

Sometimes laundering your sheets once a week can feel like a lot, we get that! If you just don’t have time and need a pass, know that the only hard rule you should keep is around sickness and infections. Wash your sheets and pillowcases the same day of your recovery and try to avoid sharing your bedding if you have an open skin infection or pink eye. (Yep, the Centers for Disease Control and Protection (CDC) is on our case about laundry and specifically calls out pink eye!)

Sick days aside, there are day to day habits you can keep to stretch out your cleaning schedule with confidence, and avoid wondering if there are chip crumbs nestled in your linens:

  • Have a “no outside clothes on the bed” rule. This includes shoes, backpacks, and jackets.  
  • Don’t eat in bed, even with a breakfast tray.  
  • Switch your shower routine to night and make sure your body lotion has completely soaked in before getting into bed.  
  • Take off your makeup before cuddling your pillow. 
  • Daytime nap? Use your decorative blankets or throws, instead of crawling under your sheets.   

Cleanliness aside, clutter can also play a huge role in how well you maintain your sleep hygiene. One bedroom organizing tip experts gave us involves taking a photo of your room so you can reference it and avoid feeling overwhelmed within your four walls.

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