How often should I wash my sheets? More than you'd think...

We tackle your bed cleaning questions answered, including how regularly you should be washing your sheets, what temperature you should wash your bedding at, and more

woman making the bed
(Image credit: Getty)

It might seem straightforward, but people have very different opinions on how often you should wash your bedding, what temperature it's best to wash sheets at, and whether it's okay to tumble dry your bedding or not. This guide is here to answer all those questions and more. 

Before we start, the golden rule is to check the care label first, to make sure there aren't any special washing instructions you need to follow. If there are, obviously, follow these instructions first and foremost. If not, read on for some general rules on how to clean your bedding effectively. If you invest in some of the best sheets, they'll be designed to wash well and last a long time. 

How often should you wash your bedding?

The general rule is you should wash your bed sheets once a week, or once a fortnight at the longest. That rule goes for all the bits of the bed that are in direct contact with your skin – so, in the UK that's things like sheets, your duvet cover and pillow cases. 

If you're not sleeping in your bed every night, or if the weather is cooler and you're not sweating at night, you might be able to stretch to once a fortnight.

If you have pets, and especially if you let those pets sleep in your bed, you should be washing your sheets once every 3-4 days. If you suffer from seasonal allergy flare-ups, you might also want to wash your sheets more than once a week during the summer months, and ditto if you find yourself sweatier than usual in hot weather.

Why do you need to wash your sheets so often? Well, if you spend 8 hours a night in bed, that's 56 hours a week. Which is plenty of time for dirt, dead skin cells, sweat, body oils, and dust mites to build up. (For context, consider how many hours you'd typically wear a piece of clothing like a shirt or top for before washing it.)

While sleeping in a bed full of old sweat isn't hugely appealing, it's the dust mites that will perhaps cause the most problems the quickest. Dust mites (or, often, their droppings) can lead to skin irritation and allergy flare ups. Washing your bedding is a key way to get rid of dust mites

What temperature should you wash sheets at?

Ideally, you should wash your sheets at at least 60C (140F). This is the temperature required to kill dust mites and bacteria. In the US, check your machine's settings – a hot wash is typically 130 degrees Fahrenheit or above.

However, start by checking the care instructions on the label on your sheets. Cotton can typically tolerate hot temperatures, whereas materials such as polyester can only be washed in warm water. For the most effective wash, use the hottest temperature listed. 

Washing at lower temperatures is more environmentally friendly, but won't clean as effectively. Below 60C, the wash might dissolve the dust mite droppings that cause most people's allergies, but it won't kill the mites themselves, so it's only a temporary solution. 

How about the rest of the bed?

We've established you should aim to should wash your sheets once a week. But what about the rest of your bedding? It's less often, you'll be pleased to hear, but don't forget about it altogether. 

Pillows should be washed once every 4-6 months, provided you've chosen a pillow type that is washable (check the care label, this isn't true of all pillows). Here's how to clean a pillow

Blankets and throws should be washed once every 2-3 months. 

Your mattress should be cleaned once every 6 months or so. Here's how to clean a mattress (and how to clean a memory foam mattress, specifically). Properly cleaning a mattress isn't especially easy, so a couple of preventative measures you can take that will help are to vacuum your mattress regularly to bring up the surface layer of dust, and add a protector, which can be washed much more easily than a mattress can. Consult our best mattress protector guide for our top recommendations. 

Do I need to wash new bedding?

Yes, you should probably wash new sheets before sleeping in them. Packaged sheets may still have the chemical remnants from the manufacturing process on them – including, mainly, a starch known as 'sizing', which is used to keep them smooth. This can make them feel scratchy and, in some people, cause skin irritation. If you don't have sensitive skin, you'll probably get away with not washing your new sheets before sticking them on your bed, though.

How should I dry my bed sheets?

If the weather is fine, and you have space to do so, line drying your bedding is a great option. It's kinder on the fabric fibres than tumble drying, so could help your sheets last longer, and the sun's UV rays can help kill lingering bacteria. It's also free and eco-friendly. 

If it's rainy or you're short on space, provided the care label says your sheets are suitable for tumble drying, this is another option. However, make sure you use the low heat setting. A high heat can damage the fibres in your bedding, including the damage the elastic if you have fitted sheets. A low heat setting help reduce creasing. Avoid tumble dryer sheets, too. 

Ruth Hamilton

Ruth is a lifestyle journalist specialising in sleep and wellbeing. She has tested more mattresses than her small flat can handle and will talk at length about them to anyone who shows even a passing interest, and has had to implement a one-in-one-out pillow policy for fear of getting smothered in the night. As well as following all the industry trends and advancements in the mattress and bedding world, she regularly speaks to certified experts to delve into the science behind a great night's sleep, and offer you advice to help you get there. She's currently Sleep Editor on Tom's Guide and TechRadar, and prior to that ran the Outdoors and Wellness channels on T3 (now covered by Matt Kollat and Beth Girdler-Maslen respectively).