Housekeeping 101: Washing Sheets, Pillows and Towels

Neat freak or not, you should be washing your household linens very regularly. Bed sheets and towels are prime spots for bacterial growth because they pick up sweat, skin cells, food particles, pet dander and other unpleasant microorganisms. Yet many people wait weeks (or even months) to throw these items in the laundry — according to a survey by Mattress Advisor, the average American goes 24 days before changing their sheets, but doesn’t officially deem unwashed bedding “gross” until 35 days.

So how often should you really be washing your sheets, pillows and towels? While the magic number of days varies based on factors like how much you sweat, number of uses and even bathroom humidity, we did some research to compile expert-accepted recommendations. Ready your washing machine and use the guide below to fine-tune your housekeeping routine. (While you’re at it, check out how often you should wash all your clothes.)

Sheets and Pillowcases

Your bedding should be washed weekly, or at least every two weeks. Consider that you spend around 56 hours sleeping in your bed every week, and each night you bring new bacteria under the covers and leave more residue from hair and facial products on your pillowcase. To avoid sleeping with an unhealthy buildup of microbes, weekly washings are key — especially if you’re a sweaty sleeper. The moisture from your sweat creates the perfect environment for bacteria to thrive and multiply. (Fun fact: The average human produces 26 gallons of sweat in bed over the course of a year, according to research published in the journal Allergy.) Those who suffer from allergies should also wash sheets more frequently to bust triggering dust mites.

Washing Tip: Use the hot cycle setting to kill germs on your bedding after you’ve been sick, and to better rid sheets of dust mites.

Pillows

Yep, you also need to wash the pillow itself, but only twice a year. The pillowcase can only do so much to keep dust mites and dead skin cells at bay, so your pillow still accumulates them over time. Mark your calendar to launder pillows every six months, and check the label for care instructions (most can be machine washed, but double-check for that as well). Bonus: Washing your pillow can make it even fluffier.

Washing Tip: Follow up the full wash cycle with another rinse cycle. This way, you ensure your pillows are free of soap residue before you toss them in the dryer.

Bath Towels

Weekly washes aren’t enough to keep your bath towel truly clean — you should be washing it after every three uses. Even though you feel squeaky clean while drying off after a shower, you’re still transferring bacteria from your skin onto the surface of the towel, and because the towel is getting wet, you’re also creating a bacterial breeding ground. If your bathroom is humid and your towel doesn’t dry completely, the germs will thrive even more. Hand towels should be washed even more frequently since you use them multiple times per day: Make it a rule to swap yours out every other day, or at least every two days.

Washing Tip: To keep your towels from getting scratchy, avoid fabric softener and don’t over-dry. Dropps mineral based fabric softeners keep towels soft and fluffy wash after wash. 

Kitchen Towels

You should be washing tea towels daily. Handy as they are, these multipurpose rags pick up germs galore as you dry dishes, hands and all sorts of surfaces with them. Because they’re often moist, potentially stomach-sickening bacteria have ample opportunity to spread. Stock up on kitchen towels and make it a habit to switch them out every day to prevent your family from getting sick. If your towel comes into contact with raw meat, take it straight to the laundry room.

Washing Tip: These germ-infested towels should be washed on the hottest setting possible, and ideally in a separate load from the rest of your laundry.

Photo by Jenna Christina on Unsplash