What Could Be Happening If You Don’t Wash Your Sheets Often Enough

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Have you ever wondered how often you should be washing your bed sheets? Some say weekly or monthly while others wait for discoloration to pop up before throwing them in the wash, but we often find ourselves wondering what the true hygienic time frame is that we should be shooting for. So when a frightening article popped up on ATTN: outlining the scary things that could be happening when you refrain from washing sheets for too long, our ears perked up (and our stomachs may have turned).

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In the article Mary Marlow Leverette, a laundry expert for About.com, explains that since your body and its fluids “seep into the sheets while you sleep”, it’s not uncommon to find saliva, urine, genital fluids and fecal matter in the fibers. “If the [linens] are not washed regularly and the occupant has scratches or wounds, they can become infected,” Leverette tells ATTN:, adding that athlete’s foot and other fungi can be transferred from fabrics while the dead skin cells we shed in the sheets can attract dust mites and microscopic bugs that “feast off human flesh”. According to the article, millions of dust mites live in your bed and eat your dead skin cells, making your mattress heavier over time. “The excrement of the mites can cause breathing problems for those with allergies and asthma, but can easily be removed by washing it hot water,” Leverette explains.

Before you frantically start pulling your sheets off your bed to throw in the washer, take a breath. We reached out to Dr. Robb Dunn, a microbiologist at North Carolina State University who studies the built environment, to find out how true these claims are and what we should and should not be doing.  “The truth is that, for the most part, there is nothing that will happen if you don’t wash your sheets very often,” he explains, adding that the stink that may accumulate is the only real issue and that he suspects studies have not been shown to prove that athlete’s foot can be spread this way. “Fecal microbes, skin cells and skin microbes do build up in your sheets, but they are also everywhere else you go,” Dr. Dunn says, adding that our urge to clean things again and again is making us sick and putting our immune systems and the health of our children at risk.”

So what’s the bottom line? Dr. Dunn says we should wash our sheets often enough so that they don’t stink, but other than that—microbiologically speaking— “they will be absolutely fine.”

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