There’s nothing better than sliding into a bed covered in freshly washed sheets, but getting to that end-of-day treat certainly takes effort. Carolyn Forte, director of the Good Housekeeping Institute Cleaning Lab, shared her advice for how to wash this bedding essential and help extend their lifetime. The first step: Making sure you have these cleaners on hand.
What You’ll Need
Now it’s time to get to work.
How to Wash Sheets
Sheets don’t wear like your gym shorts or jeans, but you do spend a lot of time in them — and night after night, germs, sweat, and body oils accumulate quickly.
“If there are no stains, there’s no need pretreat the sheets,” says Forte. “But it’s always a good idea to check pillowcases for makeup residue. A prewash stain remover like Shout Advanced Ultra Gel can help get any spots out.” Then add detergent, like Good Housekeeping Seal holder Gain Liquid Detergent.
Some new washers have dedicated cycles just for washing sheets. But if yours doesn’t, select the “normal” or “casual” cycle instead of “heavy duty.” “Sheets don’t need excessive agitation to get clean, and the heavy-duty cycle can cause tangling and wrinkling,” says Forte.
To boost cleaning (which helps if you suffer from allergies), increase the water temperature. Choose a cleaning cycle that uses the hottest water safe for the sheets’ fabric (check the care tag). “The hotter the water, the more germs you kill,” says Forte. Once done, fold and store your sheets until you’re ready to put them on your bed.
How Often Should You Wash Sheets
Bed sheets can accumulate so many things you can’t see, like dead skin cells, dust mites, germs — even fecal matter — and they should be washed regularly. “The longest you should wait before changing out your sheets is two weeks,” says Forte. “Weekly is even better.”
If you or anyone in your household has dust or pollen allergies, sweats excessively, or has an infectious illness (or if the family pet sleeps in the bed), you’ll want to consider laundering the sheets more often than once per week.
Now, avoid these common missteps to ensure you get a great night’s sleep on laundry day.
4 Common Sheet Washing Mistakes
1. Overloading your washer
It can be tempting to dump all of your family’s bedding in one load, but you’ll need to do a couple to get the job done right. “Sheets needs to circulate to get clean,” says Forte. “Today’s enormous washers can probably hold several sets, but you should never cram them in. And if your washer has an agitator in the middle, don’t wrap the sheets around it. This can cause them to wrinkle or tear. Instead, lay them in separately without wrapping them.”
2. Using the wrong setting
Choosing a heavy-duty cycle isn’t necessary (unless your sheets are a serious mess). “It’s fine to wash sheets on the normal, regular, or colors cycle; they’ll still get clean,” says Forte. “These options are gentler and shorter than heavy duty and (depending on the machine) will cool water gradually for less wrinkling.”
3. Drying them for too long
Bedding might take a little longer to dry than a regular load of clothes, but leaving sheets in the dryer longer “just in case” is what can cause them to shrink. “Over-drying is definitely a problem,” says Forte. “It’s best to tumble dry sheets on low heat for the shortest time possible (and yes, this could take some trial and error to get right). This minimizes shrinkage and helps reduce wrinkling too.”
4. Drying sheets with towels
Not all linens are created equally, so it’s best to keep very different loads separate to avoid over-drying issues. “Sheets dry faster than towels, so when the sheets are dry the towels will likely still be wet,” says Forte. If you’re aiming to combine loads, Forte says it’s probably okay to put some light cotton fabrics in with sheets, but towels are problematic.
Overseeing all things home for GoodHousekeeping.com and HouseBeautiful.com, Lauren swoons over midcentury design and employs tough-love approach to decluttering (just throw it away, ladies). She loves anything neon coral, puts bacon on her veggie burgers, and would follow Tina Fey and Amy Poehler to the end of the earth.
Lauren is a senior editor at Hearst. She was previously the senior editor at WomansDay.com and the home editor at GoodHousekeeping.com and HouseBeautiful.com. Her book club, ramen, and jean jackets are a few of her favorite things.