The truth is that if you asked a handful of people how often they washed their sheets and bedding before coronavirus, you’d probably get a range of different answers. Some people might stick to once a week, others every two weeks, some even — if they’d admit it — once a month.
But is there a hard and fast rule about how often to wash sheets to keep things as clean and healthy as possible? According to dermatologists and doctors, yes. And now that being aware of COVID-19 is part of our daily lives, there are new rules when it comes to washing bedding.
“When you get into bed, you contaminate your bed linens with dead skin cells (about 50 million per day), sweat, makeup, lotions, hair and anything else you’ve picked up during the day, from pollen and pet dander to fungal mold and dirt particles, to bacteria and viral particles as well,” New York City-based dermatologist Hadley King told HuffPost.
Basically: You want to make sure your bedding is as clean as possible in order to avoid contact with gross stuff — and that’s especially true if you’re trying to avoid germs more than usual (say, during a global pandemic). But if you’re anxious to get a set-in-stone laundry schedule in place, let’s get to the specifics, shall we?
How often to wash your bedding in “normal” times
To start, it’s important to know how often the experts suggest you wash your bedding when there isn’t a global pandemic going on — from sheets to pillow cases to duvet covers.
“The closer a fabric is to the skin, the more frequently it should be washed,” board-certified dermatologist Joshua Zeichner told HuffPost. “I generally recommend that sheets and pillowcases be washed once per week. In the event that there is heavy sweating, they should be washed more frequently. If you have oily skin and frequent breakouts, use leave-on acne medications before bed or don’t always wash your face at night, then you certainly can wash pillowcases more than once per week to be safe. Since duvet covers usually do not directly touch the skin, but rather sit on top of your sheets, they can be washed less frequently, perhaps every other week.”
King agreed, noting that the American Academy of Dermatology recommends washing sheets once per week, and changing pillow cases two to three times per week.
As for the heavier duty items that won’t come into contact with your skin quite as regularly (things like quilts, pillows and mattress covers), physician Tabasum Mir suggested that, under regular circumstances, you should wash them once a year.
If your laundry habits don’t look quite like the above suggestions, that doesn’t mean you’re bound to have horrible skin or wake up feeling under the weather. But washing linens more frequently certainly doesn’t hurt, either.
“We know that soiled makeup brushes and fabrics can become a breeding ground for microorganisms,” Zeichner explained. “This can mean skin irritation, inflammation, worsening of conditions like acne and rosacea, or even potential skin infections.”
As dermatologist Nada Elbuluk told HuffPost, not washing bedding frequently enough can also negatively affect one’s skin microbiome, which “constitutes the various microorganisms that exist on our skin.”
“These microorganisms exist in a balance on each person’s skin and can be affected by one’s exposure to even their bedding,” Elbuluk said. “For some individuals who have underlying skin conditions like acne or eczema, insufficient washing of their bedding could cause further exacerbation and inflammation of their conditions.”
How often to wash your bedding during the COVID-19 crisis
So how does all of that change during a global pandemic? Well, in the simplest terms, it’s time to up your game. No matter how often you were washing your bedding before, you should probably do it more often now, even if you and your family are completely healthy.
“While there are no hard and fast rules, generally I’m telling my patients to cut normal wash periods in half,” Zeichner said. In other words, if you wash your sheets every other week, start doing it once a week.
Audrey Kunin, a dermatologist and founder of DERMAdoctor, points out that while data on how long the virus lives on various surfaces is “scant,” there is some research that indicates how long the coronavirus might be able to survive on linens.
“Concerns that viral particles can become trapped within the fabric weave, then inhaled during sleep, would make me recommend increasing the frequency of doing laundry,” Kunin said.
Podiatrist Velimir Petkov also points out that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has not issued any specific advice regarding washing linens during the pandemic. Generally speaking, though, Petkov does suggest keeping laundry separate if you live with an essential worker and using the hottest water possible when washing bedding — or any laundry, for that matter.
“Essential workers, especially those who work in the health care field, are advised to change their clothing immediately after coming home from work. They should avoid having their clothes coming in contact with any bedding and sheets,” Petkov said. “It is worth mentioning that hospitals and clinics wash reusable sheets with water heated to 160 degrees Fahrenheit while households typically do it at 86 to 104 degrees F. It is not recommended to wash your sheets using cold or even lukewarm water.”
If you happen to be in a household with someone who has tested positive for coronavirus, though, there are some more specific, CDC-mandated cleaning and disinfecting guidelines to follow.
“Don’t shake dirty laundry to minimize the possibility of dispersing the virus through the air, wash items with soap or detergent using the hottest appropriate water setting and dry items completely,” Tabasum explained, noting some basic hygiene steps that can help kill the virus. “Wash your hands with soap and water immediately afterwards [and] wash or disinfect your laundry bag and hamper, as well.”
As King points out, though, no matter how often you do any of the above, there are other forms of disinfection and hygiene that may be more important than focusing on bedding in particular.
“During the COVID era, I would recommend focusing on cleaning yourself upon arrival at home after any possible opportunities for contamination ― so that you keep your home, including your bed, safe,” King said. “I think this makes more sense than focusing only on bed linens. This may mean more showers, more hair washing and more changing clothes and washing ‘outside clothes’ more often, but it will help keep you, your home and your bed clean.”