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Think Your Toilet Seat Is A Nasty Pit Of Bacteria? Your Pillowcase May Be Worse

Your bedding isn't getting washed as often as it should be and you're sleeping on something that's dirtier than a toilet seat.

Nina Raemont Writer
A recent graduate of the University of Minnesota, Nina started at CNET writing breaking news stories before shifting to covering Security Security and other government benefit programs. In her spare time, she's in her kitchen, trying a new baking recipe.
Nina Raemont
4 min read
Bedding on mattress

Washing your bedding regularly ensures it will last longer. 

Getty Images

Be honest: When was the last time you gave your pillow case a proper cleaning? If the answer is more than a week ago, you should probably take it to the washing machine, like, immediately. 

After one week of sleeping on your pillowcase it accumulates over 17,000 more bacteria than a toilet seat, or over 3 to 5 million colony-forming units of bacteria per square inch, a recent report by the National Sleep Foundation found. After four weeks of sleeping on your pillowcase it accumulates 39 times more bacteria than a pet bowl. Nasty, right? 

In the same way that your clothes accumulate dirt, oil, odor, sweat and stains when you wear them multiple times, your sheets, pillows and other bedding products get dirtier the more you sleep on them. Not to mention all that dead skin you're shedding every day (around 600,000 skin cells a day, to be exact) that your sheets and pillowcases catch.

"Some bedding is especially prone to getting dirty -- such as your fitted sheet and pillowcases -- due to the extra weight and contact on them each night," said Ruthie Osswald, a designer at bedding company Brooklinen. This is totally normal, since your fitted sheets and pillowcases tend to absorb more sweat and body oils throughout the night, Osswald explained. 

"Washing your bedding regularly will help your linens last over time," Osswald said. "We spend more or less eight hours in bed each night, and our laundry day should reflect the time we spend letting our weight, body oil and sweat wear on our sheets and other bedding."

The cleaner your sheets are the better your night's sleep. To maintain cleanliness and get a good night's sleep, regularly washed bedding should be number one on your list of bedroom priorities. But just how frequently should you be washing every product, and how can you take care of your bedding to extend its life on your mattress? Osswald addresses all your questions below. 

For more tips, here are the best adjustable mattresses and here's how you can save money and energy while doing laundry

How often should I wash my sheets, pillowcases and comforter? 


Osswald suggests washing your sheets every two weeks, and alternating between two sets to "increase overall longevity." "For some sleepers -- such as hot sleepers or those living in a warm climate -- washing your bedding more often can help avoid a higher dirt and sweat build-up over time," she said. 


Did you know that when you go to bed with a wet head, the moisture from your damp hair can transfer onto your pillow? This creates "the perfect environment for unwanted fungi, bacteria and more," Chandler Coleman, a consumer insights investigator for ConsumerSafety.org, told USA Today. Nasty, right? That's a good reason to, first, dry your hair before bedtime and, second, wash your pillowcases once a week, which is what dermatologists generally recommend, anyway. Dermatologists suggest the one-week-wash rule to prevent any dirt, oil, drool or sweat buildup from accumulating on your pillowcase and transferring to your skin, causing breakouts or irritation. The trick of having two sets, as Osswald recommends for bedsheets, applies to pillowcases too. 


Wash your pillows as you notice them developing spots or stains, Osswald suggests. Yes, you could hypothetically throw your pillow in the wash to clean it, but Osswald recommends otherwise. Consider spot-cleaning spills or stains on pillows with warm water and a detergent or use a gentle stain remover for tough stains. 


The philosophy for washing your pillows as stains and spots appear applies to comforters as well, according to Osswald. To keep your comforter in good shape, Osswald recommends using a duvet cover on top of it to keep the body oil transfer at a minimum. She also recommends hanging comforters outside on a dry day or using the air fluff setting on your dryer to give them a boost. 

What can I do in between laundry washes to keep bedding clean?

Along with getting two sets of sheets and pillowcases so you can alternate them, you can also keep bedding cleaner in between washes by showering at night. Doing so deters excess dirt or oil from climbing into your bed with you before you fall asleep -- just remember to dry off your wet hair. 

How often should you replace your bedding? 

Once you see signs of wear -- maybe your pillows aren't as plush as they were when you first purchased them or your once pearly-white comforter is getting grayer by the day -- it's time for a replacement. The lifespan of some bedding products, like fitted sheets, pillowcases and pillows, is shorter than the products that don't interact with your skin as frequently. And don't forget to closely follow the care instructions on your bedding, Osswald said. 

For more bedding tips, here are the best mattresses on the market and a review of the DreamCloud mattress

The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.