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How often you should wash your sheets — and the right way to do it

Here's everything you need to know about how often to wash your bedroom sheets, what temperature to use, whether you should pre-treat stains and more.
Vivian Le/ TODAY
/ Source: TODAY

We spend a third of our lives on our bedding, leaving behind 56 hours a week of sweat, body oil and dead skin cells. So how often should we be washing away that funk, and what's the best way to do so?

We asked Mary Zeitler of Whirlpool's Institute of Home Science, as well as Jessica Ek from the American Cleaning Institute, for professional tips on tackling this chore. From water temperature to drying time, there's definitely a right way and wrong way to wash bedding. Whether you're wondering how to wash new sheets for the first time or how to wash bedding you've had for a while, following these tips will help you get your sheets cleaner — and help your bedding last longer, too.

How often should you wash your sheets? | Loading the washer | Washer settings | Ideal water temperature | Bleaching vs. pre-treating | Is there a proper way to add detergent to the washer? | How to dry sheets | How to wash sheets by hand | Products for washing and drying your sheets and bedding

How often should you wash your sheets?

To keep dust mites and other allergens at bay, Zeitler suggests washing and changing your sheets once a week.

How to load the washer with sheets and comforters

Sheets and comforters need lots of room to get clean, so don't jam too many into each load.

Never wrap sheets around the agitator — they'll tear and wrinkle.

Wash sheets separately to prevent other items from getting tangled or balled up in them. If you do choose to wash other items with sheets, make sure they are lightweight and similar in color.

What setting should I wash my sheets on?

While cotton sheets are safe to launder on any cycle, always check the care label for washing instructions first.

Select the cycle that fits the soil level of the sheets — normal for light soil, heavy duty for stains and heavy soil. Over-washing causes sheets to wear out faster.

What is the best water temperature to wash sheets?

White and light-colored cotton sheets wash well in the washing machine on any water temperature. However, during the cold and flu season, Zeitler suggests sanitizing your sheets by washing them on a hot/warm cycle. This will also help reduce allergens.

To keep darker-colored sheets from fading, use cool water to wash and rinse.

Should you bleach or pre-treat your sheets?

Pre-treating stains is a good way to make sure small stains are removed.

For larger stains, or to whiten dingy sheets, a chlorine or color-safe bleach works best.

Is there a proper way to add detergent to the washer?

If your machine has a detergent dispenser, follow the machine manufacturer's recommendation for each detergent type. Some dispensers may only work with liquid laundry detergent, or you may need to adjust or remove the dispenser when using powder detergent.

For machines without dispensers, add the detergent to the washer drum before adding your load.

If you're using detergent pods, follow the manufacturer's recommendations for both the washer and the detergent. There may not be sufficient water flow in the dispenser to fully dissolve the pod, in which case, you should place it in the washer drum before adding the sheets.

How to dry sheets

It's important to follow the dryer temperature suggested on the care label. High drying temperatures cause wrinkling, shrinking and over-drying, which weakens fibers. Zeitler recommends drying on the "less dry" or "damp alert" setting to prevent these problems. It also gives you a chance to check whether the sheets need to be untangled and tossed back in.

To keep sheets drying evenly, toss in wool or rubber dryer balls, or use a couple of tennis balls tied in a cotton sock.

Want to go green? Drying sheets outdoors gives them a fresh scent, plus it saves energy. Line dried sheets do, however, have a rougher feel. To soften fabric a bit after line drying, toss the sheets into the dryer for just a few minutes.

How to wash sheets by hand

Ek doesn't recommend washing sheets by hand, if you can help it.

"Sheets are designed to be washed every couple of weeks and therefore are nearly always machine-washable," Ek says. "In addition, they are bulky to wash by hand."

She says that it might be worth the work for satin sheets but otherwise you should throw them in the washing machine, even if that means a trip to the laundromat. However, the best way to hand wash them is probably in the bathtub, she says.

Make sure your tub is clean, then fill it with cool water.

Mix in some laundry detergent, following the instructions on the label to determine how much. Let that soak and gently agitate the water.

Then drain, rinse and wring out your sheets and hang to dry.

The best products for washing and drying your sheets and bedding

Get equipped to wash and dry your bedding with some of our favorite products to set you up for success.

Dirty Labs Bio Enzyme Laundry Detergent

This detergent is scented but hypoallergenic and plenty safe for sensitive skin. It's also ultra-concentrated to get up to 32 washes in one bottle, and you can buy a refill that will wash up to 80 loads!

Smart Sheep Wool Dryer Balls

Dryer sheets are essentially a single-use plastic and the chemicals in them can be harmful to the environment. Dryer balls are a great alternative as they help reduce static, reduce drying time, soften clothes and prevent wrinkles and are reusable.

Blueland Laundry Tablet Starter Pack

Would you rather go the tablet/pod route versus traditional liquid detergent? These are a cruelty-free and eco-friendly way to clean your sheets, and you can reuse the handy tin for future tablets.

Sharewin Drying Rack

If you're looking to save energy and hang dry your bedding but don't have lines outside, try this highly-rated drying rack. It's large enough to hang your sheets and blankets, but it can also be used for your clothes.

Uashmama Laundry Bags

Uashmama makes the coolest washable paper bags (!) in lots of styles, sizes and colors. This laundry system of theirs is similarly as genius: build your own laundry system depending on your needs (and family size) by buying as many as you need and snapping them together. We love the idea of color coding the bags so each one is for a different family member or for sorting lights, darks and delicates. You can even write on the bags with chalk — it wipes right off!