You should probably change your bedsheets once a week. Think about it: You spend hours in bed every night, and your sheets collect skin flakes and an assortment of bodily fluids and oils. Then there’s stuff like dust, dust mites, and (if you have a cat or dog) pet hair.
Washing your sheets regularly rids them of that gross gunk. But just as important as how often you wash is the method you use. Do it right and you’ll extend your sheets’ life—and ensure they get really clean.
Why once a week?
We’re not the only ones who recommend changing or washing sheets weekly. This is pretty much universal advice from most expert sources, including Martha Stewart and Good Housekeeping. And it’s also the recommendation in five books we consulted: Laundry by Cheryl Mendelson, Simply Clean by Clean Mama founder Becky Rapinchuk, Real Simple Cleaning by Kathleen Squires, Clean My Space by Clean My Space founder Melissa Maker, and Laundry Hints & Tips by Cindy Harris.
If your life is busy, changing the sheets weekly might seem like a hassle, and it’s a task that can be quickly forgotten. But considering that you likely spend one-third of your life in bed, keeping the sheets clean is worth it.
Treat stains before washing
If there are noticeable stains on your sheets, we recommend pretreating them with a spot remover like Shout or Zout, which will work for most food, dirt, and bodily fluids. Follow the directions on the bottle, which typically involve saturating the stained area, pinching the fabric on either side of the stain, and rubbing the fabric sides together to help the cleaner penetrate into the sheet fabric. You can also spray the stained area after you strip the sheets off your bed, and then just toss them into your dirty-clothes hamper until you’re ready to wash them.
For tougher stains, like blood, coffee, or wine (we’re not above sipping a glass in bed while watching trashy TV), soak the area with OxiClean. Then leave it to penetrate overnight, before putting your sheets in the washing machine. Dish soap works well to remove grease stains from food—use it the same way you would any other spot remover.
Stains don’t set until they get baked through a hot drying cycle. So before you move a load to the dryer, check pretreated stains after every wash, and repeat the spot treatment and cleaning cycle if needed.
Wash with low temps
The best way to maintain good-looking sheets is to wash them in low-temperature cycles—cold water is ideal. Sometimes, though, you will need to use warmer wash cycles. In our guide to cleaning coffee stains, for example, our experts recommend rinsing with warm water because the heat helps loosen and lift out coffee stains. We also use hot water to disinfect bedding after an illness or potty-training accident, or to get rid of allergens like dust mites.
In Laundry, Mendelson suggests avoiding sheets that have fussy care instructions because of this: “Your everyday sheets, especially those on infants’ and children’s beds, should be easy to launder vigorously and should never require gentle or complicated treatment.”
What about bleach?
If you want to bleach your sheets to get rid of stains, we recommend buying only white sheets and—for a brightening boost—using color-safe bleach or oxygen bleach on a warmer setting. White sheets are also worth considering if you have problems with discoloration, such as bleaching from benzoyl peroxide in acne cream. Once those stains appear on sheets, they cannot be undone, but on white sheets they’ll be almost invisible. In our years of testing dozens and dozens of sets for our guide to the best sheets, this is the reason we’ve opted for white sheets most often. Also, we love not having to worry about the colors fading over time with many trips through the laundry.
A note about new sheets
If you or your child has extremely sensitive skin, you may want to take an extra step when washing new sheets. Some resin treatments meant to reduce wrinkling in fabric contain small amounts of formaldehyde, which can cause contact dermatitis. If you’re concerned about factory finishes, you can remove some of these substances by adding ¼ cup of white vinegar to the wash cycle. Keep in mind that the finishes are what give sheets wrinkle resistance and shrinkage control, so you may not want to be too aggressive in removing them.
Avoid using fabric softeners
Try to avoid using fabric softeners and dryer sheets, or at least don’t use them for every wash. Softeners leave residue that decreases the fabric’s breathability and absorbency. And if that residue builds up over time, you may end up feeling overheated in your sheets.
Always dry on low
Dry your sheets on the lowest setting possible, since doing so will prolong their life. To help prevent shrinkage, use low or medium heat, instead of high heat. This also helps to protect the fibers from heat damage, which can make sheets feel rougher and cause them to tear more easily. Heat damage can also make cotton fabrics shed more lint. It’s much better to dry your sheets for 45 minutes on low than it is to scorch them on high for 15. If you need to wash your sheets in hot water, we still recommend drying them on a low setting, to reduce wear.
This article was edited by Daniela Gorny, Brittney Ho and Ben Frumin.
This content was originally published here.