Five reasons to wash your sheets regularly

If you saw your bed under a microscope you might think twice about how often you clean your sheets. Sweat and dust aside, you may be sharing your bed with thousands of organisms.

How good does it feel to curl up on crisp clean sheets? But having freshly washed bedding is about more than comfort and keeping up appearances. Dust mites, bugs, bacteria, dead skin, food, bodily fluids, sweat and oils can all accumulate on our sheets.

Microbiologist Cheryl Power, an Honorary Fellow and former senior lecturer in Microbiology and Immunology at University of Melbourne, says poor hygiene can an impact on our health.

1.  Bacterial breeding ground

Power says the bacteria that live on our bodies feed off everything in our bed. 

“It’s not just the dead skin cells but it’s perspiration, any kind of body fluid that leaks into the sheets can cause bacteria to grow,” she says. “Because they are so small, they can grow very rapidly, you can quite quickly have large numbers of them and this can be an issue particularly if you’re sleeping with someone whose bacteria are a little different from yours.”

If you have any cuts, abrasions or even a pimple, Power says there’s a chance their organisms can make their way into your system and cause an infection.

“The potential is there for that bacteria to get into your circulatory system, into your lymph system and then move around your body and cause disease,” says Power. “Most of us have an efficient immune system that intervenes but the potential for disease is there.”

2.  Dust mites 

Dust mites love to live in our carpet and rugs, but they can also breed in our beds and pillows. They feed off mould spores, and dead skin cells from humans and animals. Considering we each lose around a million skin cells every day, the bed is a great place for dust mites to dine.

Dust mites can be an asthma trigger and can also cause allergic reactions with symptoms including:
  • Coughing
  • Wheezing 
  • Skin rashes
  • Irritated eyes
  • Sneezing
  • Runny nose

3.  Pets on or even in the bed

It might be tempting to have your dog or cat curled up on the bed, but think about where they have been. As well as adding to the amount of dead skin cells and excess hair on your sheets, they might be carrying unfriendly bacteria.

“There is potential for disease to be transmitted from animals to humans and then from human to human,” says Power. “There may be a price to pay for sharing your bed with your furry friends.”
bed with clean sheets

4.  Spreading infection

When someone is unwell it’s particularly important to change your sheets regularly to prevent the spread of the illness.

Power says with highly contagious infections  like gastroenteritis (particularly norovirus and rotavirus) the potential of transmission from soiled sheets is there.
“If someone changes the sheets and doesn’t wash their hands before eating we know that’s sufficient to transmit the disease,” says Power. “It’s not worth risking it.”

5.  That clean feeling

You can’t beat the feeling of sliding into clean sheets, which for many is reason enough to wash the bedding regularly.

But it’s not just sheets, Power says towels can be an even bigger problem.
“Bacteria need water as well as nutrients to grow,” says Power. “Towels have skin cells, body secretions and moisture so they provide an ideal breeding ground, even better than sheets.”
 
 “If someone doesn’t change their sheets or towel, they’re going to go from a dirty bed, to a shower, to a dirty towel,” says Power. “It’s like reinfecting themselves or re-covering themselves all over again.”
 
Tips to help you sleep easy:
  • Wash your sheets once a week with hot water (>60̊C) 
  • Change your towel every 5-7 days
  • Hang your towel to dry in a well ventilated area in between uses
  • Wear pyjamas to bed and wash them regularly
  • Keep your pillow and sheets clean by removing all make-up and showering before bed
  • Use a mattress and pillow protector and wash these every 2-3 months
  • Consider replacing your pillows regularly (e.g. every two years) 
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