06/25/2015 11:57 am ET Updated Jun 25, 2016

How Often Should I Wash My Sheets?

Van Winkle's

At the end of a long day, when you're climbing into bed for your hard-earned eight, you're probably not thinking about dander, sweat, saliva, oils and other body fluids. But that, plus body and hair products, is exactly what makes up the soupy mix our sheets absorb during the hours we spend entwined in them.

Compounded over several days or weeks with what you regularly import from the outside world — germs, pollen, dirt, even E. coli — and you’re curling up each night in a garden of mildew, bacteria and fungus.

Unless you wash your sheets the way you should.

And how exactly should I wash my sheets?

Women’s Health polled close to 2,000 of their readers about how often they washed and changed their bedding. While 44 percent of the women said they washed their sheets once a week, 32 percent said they washed them twice a month and 16 percent made their trip to the laundry room just once a month.

That’s definitely not enough, according to Philip Tierno Jr., Ph.D and director of clinical microbiology and immunology at New York University’s Langone Medical Center. He says that a once-a-week washing should be the minimum. A recent report by CNN is even more specific: Use hot water that’s 130 to 150 degrees Fahrenheit and a hot dryer cycle to kill all germs.

What’s the big deal? I’m a clean person. I shower every day.

Your pristine hygiene notwithstanding, we secrete organic materials constantly — including dander, or dead skin flakes. (Your pets shed dander, too.) Humans unload about one fifth of an ounce of the stuff each week. That's about two pints!

Just kidding. It's not very much, but enough to make a difference. In fact, whenever you notice the “dust” floating in a sunbeam that shines through the window? About 80 percent of this is actually dander.

This provides a feast for dust mites — microscopic arachnids that make their home in all parts of your bed. Dust mites prefer warm, moist surroundings, like your sheets, or the inside of a mattress or pillow when someone is on it. Though the idea of bugs may make your skin crawl, it’s actually their droppings that can trigger allergies and asthma.

According to Darryl C. Zeldin, acting clinical director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, some 18 to 30 percent of Americans are allergic to dust mite poop. One study showed that nearly half of all U.S. homes have levels of this allergen significant enough to trigger a sensitivity even in people who weren't previously allergic, said Zeldin.

Isn’t laundry a personal preference?

Sure. Just like all personal hygiene, how often you wash your sheets is about personal preference, maybe family customs, lifestyle habits and whether or not you have the time. But think about the fact that we spend a third of our lives in bed, on those very sheets, in that nasty potpourri, if we’re not following recommended cleaning guidelines.

If scare tactics aren’t enough, let’s talk to the experts. The American Cleaning Institute suggests washing your sheets at least every two weeks — more often if you sweat a lot. Good Housekeeping concurs. But consider also how many visitors share your sheets: pets, children, spouses, maybe some overnight guests?

For the record, the sheets of single men are known to be the most germy. Which is pretty stupid, actually. If only they realized that women find fresh-smelling beds sexy, maybe they’d find more time to visit the laundry machine.

-- Leigh Devine

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