How to wash bed sheets

We explain all you need to know about keeping your bedding clean, from how often to wash and how to do it properly

Bedfolk The Linen & Cotton Throw
(Image credit: Bedfolk)

Before I learned how to wash bed sheets properly, I admit I was from the school of washing everything at the same temperature and leaving it to dry for a non-descript length of time. If my linens were lucky, they might get a quick once over with an iron – though that was usually reserved for when I needed them dry, pronto. 

However, I have since realized the importance of investing in the best bed sheets, rather than wasting my money on very cheap bedding that goes bobbly or loses its shape. Now, a proper wash is essential for keeping my made-to-last bedding in top condition. And a little extra time knowing how to do my laundry the right way is cutting down my costs long-term. 

Washing your bed sheets is important for other reasons. The only thing that spends as much time in close contact with our bodies is our clothing, and we wash that after every (or every other) wear. We are definitely not saying you need to wash bedding every time you use it, but when you think about the body fluids, hair, and skin cells it contends with, you can see why it needs to be done. Also, a bed that smells and feels clean is conducive to a better night's sleep.

So if you want to make sure you are doing this regular chore in a way that is efficient and looks after your textiles, read on. From knowing the right washing temperature to answering the all-important question about how often you should wash your bedding (really), we will help you have that fresh sheet feeling every night.

 How often should you wash your bed sheets? 

There isn't a set rule and many admit they leave it too long between washes. But as a general guide, Bedfolk (opens in new tab) suggests, 'your sheets should be changed once a week, with every two weeks considered as fairly standard.' 

However, don't forget to consider things that will need you to wash more or less: 'For example, in summer, you may be clammier during the night. So, changing bed sheets once a week would definitely be a good idea. We would always suggest switching the type of sheet depending on the time of year. Come the cooler months, you sweat less at night so washing bed sheets every couple of weeks will do the trick,' Bedfolk explains.

They also explain that your pillowcases will need to be washed at least once a week, although ideally more as they collect the most debris such as skin cells and oil from hair. If you can, you will want to wash them every three to six days.

This might sound like a lot of washing, so Bedfolk has a suggestion: 'Have several sets of pillowcases so that you can work on a seamless rotation rather than washing and waiting for one set to dry.'

Karin Sun, Founder of Crane & Canopy (opens in new tab) agrees that a good bed upkeep routine is important, as failing to keep bed linen clean could aggravate allergies and increase your chances of having to get rid of dust mites:

'Washing sheets and pillowcases once a week to get rid of debris and dust, including the top sheet (or duvet cover if not using a top sheet), helps rid bacteria, dead skin cells, and dust mites that can build up on your sheets from sweating, especially in warmer climates.'

How to wash bed sheets

Before you start, always read the label and check the washing symbols for the correct instructions. Our advice is for washing cotton or linen, but fabrics such as silk, wool, and certain synthetic fibers require special treatment. See more on these below.

1. Treat any stains
When you strip your bed, check the sheets for stains and use an appropriate pre-treatment. Fresh stains should be dealt with right away, but old stains can be helped along by dampening the fabric and adding a stain remover or just a bit of diluted detergent. 

Removing blood stains is a different matter – run under cold water immediately to remove fresh blood. This is often enough to lift it before it sets. For dried-on blood, wet the stain then sprinkle with salt. Leave to dry and repeat until the blood is gone. Avoid washing bloodstains with warm water as this sets the stain.

2. Wash the sheets in your washing machine
Follow the temperature instructions on your sheets, but aim to wash at 40°C/100°F or above to kill germs. If you can go hotter then do, or at least aim to give your sheets a nice hot wash every few washes. Do not overload your washing machine as it will damage it and prevent effective cleaning. The washer tub should not be more than three-quarters full.

3. Dry your sheets
Hanging your sheets to dry outside on a sunny day is a quick and eco-friendly way to dry them. However, be mindful that if you suffer from allergies, you could be turning your bed into an allergen zone. Instead, dry on a drying rack inside and finish in a tumble dryer on a low and slow cycle to remove creases and add softness.

4. Iron
If you dry and fold your sheets right away, you may not need to iron. However, if prone to creasing you will want to iron your sheets while they are still slightly damp. If dried and badly creased, use a hot iron (with steam) to get rid of the creases. Follow the sheet's label for ironing advice. 

For fitted sheets, iron into the corners first, then iron the rest of the sheet. Sheets can be tricky to iron as they are so large, so fold the sheet into thirds to make it more manageable, but avoid pressing the folds as you will add creases. 

5. Store your sheets correctly
Never put damp sheets away as they will start to smell fusty. Keep them in a well-ventilated space such as a linen closet if you can, or use clothes storage bags for long-term storage.

A clever way to store your sheets is to keep sets together, using the pillowcase as a bag. This means you have a set ready to grab when you need it. You might want to store them file style in a basket so that you can see the right set, top-down.

How to wash silk sheets

If you have a full silk bedding set or have invested in the best silk pillowcase for your hair or beauty routine, you will need to wash them carefully.

If you don't know how to wash silk, always check the bedding label but remember the following:

  • Wash on a cool temperature;
  • Use the silk or delicate setting and wash in a mesh bag for protection;
  • Wash inside out to protect the fibers;
  • Do not use detergent with enzymes as this will break down the silk;
  • If you do air dry, keep out of direct sunlight;
  • Hand wash if you do not trust your machine to give the silk a gentle ride.

 What is the best temperature to wash bed sheets? 

The general recommended temperature is 40°C/100°F for washing bed sheets, but if you have overslept your bed wash day, then the hygiene care option or a 60°C/140°F wash will be better for killing bacteria. For the best results, always check the care guides on the label.

How to wash a duvet cover

Follow the sheet washing instructions above for duvet covers. However, make sure you button up, or close your duvet cover prior to washing. If you don't you will find anything else you put in the wash with it, will make its way inside. This stops both from getting a proper clean.

Washing the duvet or comforter itself is another matter. Remember what we said about not filling your machine over three-quarters full? Well you will need to exercise caution as many full-size duvets will nearly fill the average washer. Higher tog duvets will take up even more space. If you can't fit your duvet in your machine, don't cram it in as you risk breaking the machine (and not really cleaning the duvet either). 

Hannah Shore, Silentnight (opens in new tab)'s Sleep Expert notes how maintaining a good cleaning routine for bedding is important for health: 'Regularly washing the bed sheets is an effective way to keep the bed refreshed and bacteria-free. People often neglect duvets and pillows too, but it’s important to remember to wash these when changing up the duvet each season. Make sure to check duvet and pillow cleaning instructions before washing and follow accordingly.'

If you aren't sure how to wash the rest of your bedding, our guide on how to wash pillows will help get your bed fresh as can be.

How to wash bedding with bed bugs

If you need to get rid of bed bugs, first of all, don't panic. A bad infestation can mean needing to chuck out bedding and even buy a new mattress, but try these steps first to see if you can irradicate them.

1. Vacuum your whole bed to try and get rid of as many as possible, then empty the canister right away. Use the upholstery attachment for textiles and the nozzle to get around the bed frame.

2. Wash your bed sheets on at least 60°C/140°F to kill the bugs. Hang to dry in full sun, or tumble dry on hot.

3. Freezing your bed sheets can also kill any critters.

How to keep your bed clean

Follow these top tips to minimize making your bedding dirtier than it need be:

  • Make sure you give your mattress an added layer from your sweat and skin cells (ew) with the best mattress protector.
  • Avoid eating in bed. We would say avoid drinking in bed too, but where is the joy in life if you can't wake up with a nice cup of coffee?
  • Give your bedroom a good air every so often. Fling the sheets back before making your bed, leaving them pulled back to expose your bed to sunlight (this helps lessen bugs and germs).
  • Check out the best places to buy bedding for options that are easy to care for, wash well, and are made to last.

Lindsey is Editor of Realhomes.com and Editor in Chief for Home Ecommerce at Future. She is here to give you aspirational, yet attainable ideas for your home and works with her team to help you get the best buys, too. She has written about homes and interiors for the best part of a decade for brands including Homes & Gardens, Ideal Home and Gardeningetc and isn't afraid to take the inspiration she finds at work into her own space – a Victorian terrace which she has been (slowly) remodelling for the last eight years. She is happiest sipping a cup of tea with a cat on her lap (if only she had a cat).

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