Your Sheets Are Filthy. Here's Why (And How) To Change Them.

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Jolie Kerr is a cleaning expert and advice columnist. She'll be here every other week helping to answer your filthiest questions. Are you dirty? Email her.

Well, hey, thanks so much for taking my little poll the other day! It was … not actually as bad as it might have been. A plurality of you, 37 percent, are changing your sheets every week or every other week, which is joymaking news. Once-a-month changers make up 29 percent of respondents, and the group that's going at least a month without putting clean sheets on the bed constitutes a slightly larger share of you, at a combined 34 percent.


If I'm being really honest, I had faith in you. I read your letters, so I know that you're not actually as gross as people insist you are. And to the extent that this means anything to you, I do spend a lot of time defending men, and Deadspin readers in particular, against accusations of slovenliness.

SPEAKING OF WHICH. I've been doing this job for a while now, and I can tell you with a fair amount of certainty that cleanliness isn't really a gendered construct, so let's get something important out of the way first: Yeah, sure, dudes are gross. But so are ladies. There's really not a huge need, from my perspective at least, to get into a shit-slinging contest over which gender is filthier. Plus, as you might imagine, shit-slinging contests fill me with dread.


Why Wash Your Sheets?

Instead of slinging shit at each other, fun though that may be for you, let's just get those filthy sheets off your bed, shall we? Oh, you would like to know why? I will tell you.


Um, well for one, they smell.

Then there's also the fact that they're covered in sweat, drool, dead skin, the oil that your body excretes constantly, and your/other people's sexual fluids. Also you know how sometimes you sneak a cookie into bed while you're watching Coach reruns? That cookie left crumbs behind, oh yes it did. And critters tend to take the presence of those crumbs as an open invitation to join you in your bedspace.


We should also address the existence of dust mites in your bedding. They exist! And they feed off of your dead skin cells. Changing your sheets on the regular will help keep them under control, which is a good thing to know, especially if you've got allergies. Since we're on the topic of controlling things, if you're prone to acne you'll definitely want to be vigilant about putting fresh sheets on your bed at regular intervals. Sheets with oily buildup will contribute to breakouts. If you can't manage to change the entire set of sheets, changing only the pillowcases will still help on that front (unless your acne crops up on your chest or back).

And finally, the most compelling reason I can give you for changing the bedclothes is just that slipping in between a fresh set of sheets feels pretty great. As I'm fond of saying, two of the most important things that we do in life take place between the sheets: Watching The Sopranos and eating Totino's Pizza Rolls sleep and sex. If you value those things, it's a nice practice to treat the space in which they happen with a bit of reverence. Having good, clean sheets is a pretty easy way to do something nice for yourself.


How—and How Often—to Wash?

I'm truly not here to tell you to wash your sheets at designated intervals. You know why? Because it's not my business how often you wash them. Do I sleep in them? No.


What I will do, however, is give you some generally accepted guidelines for how often to change/wash your bedclothes. Because people like that, I find? And also because some of us got that kind of information from our parents or guardians while we were growing up and some didn't. And then even some of us unto whom those lessons were imparted went ahead and forgot things.

You will, of course, want to weigh any personal considerations. Such as: Do you sleep at home every night? Do you have easy access to laundry facilities? Do you have more than one set of sheets? Do you shower before you get into bed at night? Do you sleep naked? Do you sleep alone or with a partner? Do you sleep with more than one partner? Do you not want Partner #1 to know about Partner #2 (and #3 and #4 and #5, I suppose. Hey, good for you!) Do you give a fig about any of this? Do you have a friend? (Does he have a big coat, too?)


What I'm saying here is that these are not tablets brought down from Sinai and you can and should do what's right for you.

Jolie Cleanperson's Sheet-Washing Scale

Once a Week: Ideal

Once Every Two Weeks: Totally Acceptable

Once a Month: That's Fine. Not Good. Just Fine.

Once Every Six Weeks: Dicey

More Than Two Months: [CLUTCHES PEARLS]

Best Practices

Sheets & Pillowcases

Generally speaking, sheets can be laundered in hot or warm water with regular detergent. A laundry booster like OxiClean or Borax, used in addition to detergent, will help cut through the oils and skins and other such things that constitute buildup on sheets. Sheets should be dried thoroughly before they're put back on the bed, on either a medium or high heat setting. Line drying is also perfectly fine, and actually the sunshine will help keep white sheets bright, bright white. Which is a handy thing to know if you've got white linens and a line-drying facility.


Other Bedding

You should definitely wash pillows and comforters, for many of the same reasons you'll want to wash your sheets. They definitely smell musty. They definitely are full of dust mites. And you know how there are all those weird brown stains on your pillows? That's from your drool, killer. Wash those pillows! Twice a year? Sure.


You should check the care tag on the pillows because there are all manner of fillings that require different modes of handling, but more often than not you'll be able to toss them in the washing machine on a cold water setting and dry them on a low heat setting. The same goes for comforters and duvets—you may need to hit a laundromat for the use of a large capacity machine if you have a machine at home that's not big enough to fit oversized items.

If you've got throw blankets on your bed, those should also be washed a few times a year according to the care tag directions. If you've been sick, curled up, and moaning under your blankie you'll also want to be sure to launder it once you've recovered.


Common Stains & Treatment

  • Sweat: The yellowing that's so commonly found in the center of white or lighter-colored sheets is caused by a bunch of things, but sweat is the main culprit. Borax, OxiClean, bluing … those are all great options for getting the unsightly yellowing out of those sheets. For even more on the topic of yellowed sheets, check out one of my recent Jezebel columns on the matter.
  • Urine and/or fecal matter: Remember when we talked about your skidmarks? Borax is the ticket if you OR A FRIEND YEAH I KNOW IT'S ALWAYS THE FRIEND has a little accident in the bed. Pee stains can also be easily treated with products designed for pet messes, so if you've got one of those around the house bear in mind that it can multitask.
  • Sexual Fluids: Any enzymatic cleaner—OxiClean is my go-to, as I do believe you know by now—will take out staining left behind from sexyfuntimes. One reader specifically asked about treating female ejaculate; I told him the answer is the same, regardless of the part that created the fluid, and then we high-fived because YEAH BUDDY!
  • Blood: Blood on the sheets happens, whether due to a bloody nose, cracked skin, a scratched-off scab, or the presence of a lady with wildly fluctuating emotions. The good news is that blood stains can be treated in a number of different ways that have been extensively detailed in this column. A brief recap: Hydrogen peroxide, salt, saline solution, meat tenderizer, OxiClean—all things that will take a blood stain out. Also spit. Yes, you read that right. The Clean Person just told you to go ahead and gleek on your sheets.

Making Your Bed: A Plea

Maybe this should be our next poll? This is actually one I think I'm scared to ask but … do you make your bed in the morning? I think you should. It's a nice thing to come home to a made bed! It is also a good thing to do if you experience any kind of sleep disorder—the ritual of turning down a bed in the evening signals to your body that it's time to prepare for sleep. I mean, it won't cure insomnia, because that would be too easy and oh God I have that middle-of-the-night insomnia and it's crazy-making, but bedtime rituals do help. Additionally, if you find yourself frequently overwhelmed by clutter in your bedroom or just overwhelmed by life in general, making your bed will provide you with an easy way to bring a small amount of order into your world.


You don't have to do this! But as I've mentioned, I've been at this job for quite some time now and I have emails and comments and tweets from a no-joke-huge number of people who started making their beds at my suggestion telling me what a difference it's made in their lives. Almost to a man they mention how they were skeptical, but tried it because I asked nicely and WOW JOLIE YOU WERE RIGHT!

I love it when you tell me how I'm right.

So there's my plea to just try it out. You don't have to! But I'd love it if you would give it a whirl. And if you're real nice and give the bed-making thing a shot for a week or two just to see how it makes you feel, I'll show you how to fold a fitted sheet. Deal? Deal!


Jolie Kerr is the author of the upcoming book My Boyfriend Barfed In My Handbag … And Other Things You Can't Ask Martha (Plume, February 25, 2014); more cleaning-obsessed natterings can be found on Twitter, Kinja, and Tumblr.


Squalor appears on Jezebel and Deadspin on alternating weeks.