How bad is it to not wash your sheets every week?

No one loves laundry day, but lying in petri dish of germs and bacteria is even less appealing.

We tend to believe that our homes are clean, cozy places. No matter how vigilant you are with house cleaning, some places still fill with undesirable dust mites, fungal elements, fecal matter, pollen, dander, and dead human cells. Gross! What’s worse, one of those hotbeds of germs is the very place you rest for a sweet slumber. That’s right—your bed.

Your bed sheets collect gross particles

Some of the 500 million cells we shed daily, along with our perspiration, pollen, pet dander, fungi, and mold, are all snuggling in bed with us at night. That’s part of the reason why you should never sit on your bed with outside clothes. Your sheets also accumulate oil, sweat, dirt, and makeup, according to Joshua Zeichner, MD, the director of cosmetic and clinical research in dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. “Not washing your sheets regularly puts all of this in close contact with your skin for several hours at a time while you sleep,” he says. “This can lead to a variety of problems ranging from skin irritation to acne to possibly even infections in a worst-case scenario.” Generally speaking, Dr. Zeichner recommends washing your sheets once per week, or more if there is any visible spoiling.

Some people need to wash their sheets more often

There are exceptions to the once-a-week bed sheet cleaning rule, according to Raman Madan, MD, the director of cosmetic dermatology at Northwell Health and assistant clinical professor at Zucker School of Medicine at Hofstra/Northwell. 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, according to Dr. Madan. “You can introduce many germs and allergens to your sheets which are not going anywhere without being washed,” he says.

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18 things in your home that are covered with germs
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18 things in your home that are covered with germs

Sink: It’s where all your kitchen dirt goes (we hope). In fact, it’s home to as many as 500,000 bacteria per square inch. Spray it down often, clean out your food trap, and scrub with scouring powder like Bon Ami at least once a week.

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Cutting boards: Whether you’re chopping meat, veggies or fruit, your cutting board could be Ground Zero for foodborne illness. Prevent cross-contamination by dedicating one board to meats and another to produce. And always wash your board ASAP after using it—especially if you were working with raw meat. Researchers at UC Davis also recommend plastic cutting boards over wood, because they’re easiest to sanitize—they can go in the dishwasher. Clean a wooden cutting board with soap and warm water, dry it quickly, and seal it with butcher-block oil whenever you notice the wood is drying out.

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Countertops: All the action—chopping, mixing, drink-pouring—happens here, so of course they’re covered with little particles of everything. First off, cut the clutter to give crumbs and germs fewer places to hide. Then wipe them with a damp microfiber cloth after every meal.

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Fridge shelves and drawers: Your refrigerator is home to both raw and cooked foods, and if it’s disorganized, they probably come in contact now and then. Store raw meat in a plastic bag to serve as an extra barrier, and stop spoiled food from turning into science experiments by throwing it away as soon as you notice it. Another cool trick we use at our house: Empty and wipe down the shelves and drawers whenever you do a big grocery shop.

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Sponges: They’ve been banned from commercial kitchens—ban them from yours, too. But if you must use a sponge, rinse it with hot water after every swipe. At the end of every day, get it wet and nuke it in the microwave for a minute. Toss it after a few weeks (one week if you’re missing the daily sanitizing routine).

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Dish towels: If you rush through washing your hands, some germs may still be hanging out on them and you’ll transfer those germs to the dish towel. Change dish towels a few times a week, and wash them with hot water when you do the laundry.

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Makeup brushes: They touch your face every day, coming in contact with oils, bacteria and dead skin cells. Wash them with mild soap whenever you notice makeup buildup.

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Towels: Like dish towels, they pick up any germs left after a shower. Plus, if your bathroom has poor air circulation, towels may get musty if they stay damp too long. Wash them in hot water at least once a week.

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Tub: The equivalent of the kitchen sink for your bod, the tub takes in a lot of grime. Wipe it down with a microfiber cloth every day and get rid of mold spots with baking soda or vinegar. (Find dozens more ways to clean with baking soda here.)

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​​​Floor around the toilet: It gets splashed, plain and simple. For starters, make sure to put the lid down every time you flush. Clean up noticeable spots right away and scrub with bathroom cleaner at least once a week.

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Faucet handles: You touch these before your hands are clean. ‘Nuff said. Wipe them down with a damp microfiber cloth.

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Toothbrush holder: It’s all about gravity: Many of the germs on your toothbrush drip into the holder. Rinse it out daily—do double-duty while you’re brushing your teeth with the other hand. Then sanitize your toothbrush holder in the dishwasher (if it can take it) or give it a good scrub with soap and water.

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Electronics: Smartphones, keyboards, mice, the remote control (OK, let’s be real: 17 remote controls)—germy fingers come in contact with them all the time. In fact, the National Institutes of Health recently found that cellphones are 10 times dirtier than toilet seats. Wipe them with a damp microfiber cloth as often as possible. Don’t forget to remove any cases so you can clean underneath.

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Doorknobs, handles and light switches: Even if your hand only touches these items for a fraction of a second, that’s enough time to transfer bacteria. Once again, a quick wipe-down with a damp microfiber cloth will do.

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Shoe rack: Footwear is a huge culprit for bringing germs into your home, so it’s no surprise that their storage unit is a bacterial breeding ground. Put some elbow grease into cleaning this one and wipe it with bathroom cleaner—you never know what somebody stepped in.

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Carpets and rugs: Even if you’re using the no-shoes rule, carpets suck up every crumb, dead skin cell and germ that hits them. Vacuum weekly and spritz high-traffic areas with a carpet sanitizer. If you can toss rugs into the laundry, do it.

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Bags: Your purse holds money (super dirty!) and your kid’s lunch bag holds food (raise your hand if you ever forget to clean it out over the weekend). Follow the manufacturer’s instructions on cleaning these to keep them in the best shape.

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Toys: No matter whose toys they are—your kid’s or the dog’s—they probably spend a lot of time in somebody’s mouth. Consider what they’re made of, then clean accordingly, tossing them in the laundry, dishwasher, or wiping with a cloth.

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If that isn’t enough to inspire you to wash your bed sheets regularly, consider that more than 84 percent of beds in America 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 percent of surveyors wash their sheets once or twice a month. Another survey, from Mattress Advisor, found that surveyors waited around 25 days before cleaning or changing out their sheets—18 days too long. It’s easy to keep up with cleaning if you follow this house cleaning calendar for how often you should clean everything.

Keep these tips in mind when you wash your bed sheets

Now that you know the best way to get rid of all that yucky stuff is to wash your bed sheets a minimum of once a week, remember to use the hottesttemperature 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, according to research in the Journal of Allergy & Clinical Immunology.

Dr. Madan suggests using a hypoallergenic detergent and Dr. Zeichner also recommends opting for fragrance-free detergent—and only using the recommended amount. “Overdosing, or using too much of your detergent, means that the detergent molecules themselves can become lodged between fibers of the fabrics,” Dr. Zeichner says. “Exposing your skin to this can lead to irritation reactions.” More isn’t better when it comes to cleaning, these 10 things you’re probably cleaning too much, either.

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