How often you should wash your sheets and bedding — and the right way to do it

We spend a third of our lives on our bedding, leaving behind 56 hours a week of sweat, body oil and dead skin cells. So how often should we be washing away that funk? And what's the best way to do so?

We asked Mary Zeitler of Whirlpool's Institute of Home Science for professional tips on tackling this chore. From water temperature to drying time, there's definitely a right way and wrong way to wash bedding. Whether you're wondering how to wash new sheets for the first time or how to wash bedding you've had for a while, following these tips will help you get your sheets cleaner — and help your bedding last longer, too.

How often should you wash your sheets?

To keep dust mites and other allergens at bay, Zeitler suggests washing and changing your sheets once a week.

How to wash sheets and comforters — loading the washer

  • Sheets and comforters need lots of room to get clean, so don't jam too many into each load.
  • Never wrap sheets around the agitator — they'll tear and wrinkle.
  • Wash sheets separately to prevent other items from getting tangled or balled up in them. If you do choose to wash other items with sheets, make sure they are lightweight and similar in color.

Washer settings

While cotton sheets are safe to launder on any cycle, always check the care label for washing instructions first.

Select the cycle that fits the soil level of the sheets — normal for light soil, heavy duty for stains and heavy soil. Over-washing causes sheets to wear out faster.

What water temperature to wash sheets is best?

  • White and light-colored cotton sheets wash well in the washing machine on any water temperature. However, during the cold and flu season, Zeitler suggests sanitizing your sheets by washing them on a hot/warm cycle. This will also help reduce allergens.
  • To keep darker colored sheets from fading, use cool water to wash and rinse.

Bleach or pre-treat?

  • Pre-treating stains is a good way to make sure small stains are removed.
  • For larger stains, or to whiten dingy sheets, a chlorine or color-safe bleach works best.

Is there a proper way to add detergent to the washer?

  • If your machine has a detergent dispenser, follow the machine manufacturer's recommendation for each detergent type. Some dispensers may only work with liquid detergent, or you may need to adjust or remove the dispenser when using powder detergent.
  • For machines without dispensers, add the detergent to the washer drum before adding your load.
  • If you're using detergent pods, follow the manufacturers' recommendations for both the washer and the detergent. There may not be sufficient water flow in the dispenser to fully dissolve the pod, in which case, you should place it in the washer drum before adding the sheets.

How to dry sheets

It's important to follow the dryer temperature suggested on the care label. High drying temperatures cause wrinkling, shrinking and over-drying, which weakens fibers. Zeitler recommends drying on the "less dry" or "damp alert" setting to prevent these problems. It also gives you a chance to check whether the sheets need to be untangled and tossed back in.

To keep sheets drying evenly, toss in wool or rubber dryer balls, or use a couple of tennis balls tied in a cotton sock.

Want to go green? Drying sheets outdoors gives them a nice, fresh scent plus it saves energy. Line dried sheets do, however, have a rougher feel. To soften fabric a bit after line drying, toss the sheets into the dryer for just a few minutes.