How to Clean and Care for Sheets and Bed Linens

Clean bed sheets folded and sitting on a white bedspread.

Iliana Mestari / Getty Images

Project Overview
  • Working Time: 15 mins
  • Total Time: 2 hrs
  • Skill Level: Beginner

Proper care for our bedding can help you sleep more comfortably while helping sheets last longer and look better. Sheets always need much more attention when it comes to cleaning compared to other bedding, like blankets, comforters, quilts, or mattress pads. Most sheets are made from either cotton, cotton/polyester blends, or polyester/microfiber, for which the instructions below best address.

How Often to Wash Sheets

Sheets of any fabric will naturally become soiled from body oils and fluids that contain bacteria which can cause skin irritations, so frequent cleaning is always a good idea. In addition, you'll need to keep on top of washing your bedding if your household has experienced head lice or bed bug infestations. Otherwise, several lifestyle factors and habits can influence how often you need to change and clean your sheets:

  • Every two weeks: If you wear pajamas or bathe before bedtime, your sheets will likely stay cleaner longer and can be changed weekly or bi-weekly—but never go longer than two weeks with unwashed sheets on your bed.
  • Weekly: If you eat in bed, let your pet curl up in the bed, or you perspire heavily, you may need to clean your sheets more often.
  • Twice weekly: If you wake up with a stuffy nose, the accumulated dust mites and shed skin cells in bedsheets may be affecting your respiratory passages so try washing your sheets more often if you can't breathe.
  • Daily: If there is a household illness, such as a virus, cold, or flu, the sheets should be changed daily or every other day. In addition, if you have acne or skin problems, the pillowcase should be changed and cleaned more frequently than sheets to prevent inflammation and transfer of bacteria.

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • Washing machine
  • Dryer, outdoor clothesline, or indoor drying rack
  • Iron (optional)

Materials

  • Stain remover or oxygen bleach
  • Laundry detergent

Instructions

How to Wash Sheets
Detergent Normal or heavy-duty
Water Temperature Hot for cotton, warm for blends and polyester
Cycle Type Normal
Drying Cycle Type Low heat
Special Treatments Pre-treat stains
Ironing Settings Optional for cotton; Use low heat, cotton, or linen setting


If it's the first time you are washing a set of sheets, look for the fabric care label that lists fiber content and how to wash them including water temperature and the use of bleach. This especially pertains to satin sheets, bamboo sheets, or linen bedding, which may have more specific washing instructions than what is listed below for sheets made from cotton, blends, or polyester.

  1. Pre-Treat Stains

    If there are light stains on the sheets, pre-treat them with an oxygen cleaner or stain-remover by following the product's directions on the label.

  2. Choose a Detergent and Water Temperature

    Wash cotton sheets in hot water with a heavy-duty laundry detergent to remove body oils and soil, and kill dust mites.

    Wash microfiber sheets and cotton/polyester blends in cool or warm water with your normal laundry detergent.

  3. Dry the Sheets

    Tumble dry on a low heat setting to minimize wrinkles. Avoid a hot cycle because the heat can wear out fabric and damage elastic on fitted sheets quickly.

    If possible, air-dry your sheets on a clothing line outdoors on a sunny day. The sun is a natural disinfectant and brightener.

    If you plan on ironing your sheets, do not dry them fully as it will be easier to handle if they are just barely damp.

Ironing

Cotton-polyester and polyester sheets will likely come out of the dryer or off the clothesline wrinkle-free. But percale sheets can be prone to wrinkling. In that case, you may prefer to iron the sheets. The best way to iron sheets is to do so when they are slightly damp using low heat.

Storing Sheets

Unless you wash and dry your sheets and put them right back on the bed, you'll need to fold and store them. Folding fitted sheets can be challenging but there are easy ways to get them folded and stacked neatly in the linen closet. Simply fit all of the rounded corners smoothly inside each other to create a rectangle and then fold into a neat square. Keep a set together by placing the sheets inside of one of the pillowcases. Store in a dark, dry space, such as a linen closet, lidded bench, or a trunk that is not made of plastic (which can yellow linens over time).

Repairs

It's simple to repair a rip in a sheet. Small rips can be easily repaired by hand with a needle and thread of the same color, using small and simple stitches to close the tear. You can also use this basic hand-sewing method to fix a ripped seam where the elastic on a fitted sheet may be sticking out. For larger rips, use mending tape or fusible interfacing to close it up. Cut the piece of tape or interfacing to cover the rip and follow the package's directions on how to apply it to the fabric—usually by ironing it on the tear.

Treating Stains on Sheets

All types of stains are inevitable when it comes to sheets. But most likely you'll need to remove food or drink spills and bodily fluids from the sheets. Pre-treating a stain usually helps, but if that doesn't work, you may need to try other methods. Here are three of the most popular types of stains found on sheets and how to treat them:

  • Blood: Blood stains can be tricky to remove, but avoid using hot water on fresh or dried blood. Instead, soak fresh blood stains in cold water and soak dried blood stains in warm (not hot) water. After soaking, dab the stain with hydrogen peroxide, and rinse. If that did not work, then, pre-treat the stain with an enzymatic cleaner, such as the ones used for pet stains, and wash as usual.
  • Cosmetics: Dab a mix of water and liquid dish detergent on the stain and gently rub the stain. Repeat until the makeup is removed, then wash as usual.
  • Coffee: Mix in a large bowl 1 quart water, 1/2 teaspoon liquid dish detergent, and 1 tablespoon white vinegar. Push the part of the sheet with the stain into the mixture and let it soak for 15 minutes. Rinse, repeat if necessary, then wash the sheet as usual.

Tips for Washing Sheets

  • Sort sheets from other laundry items and separate whites from colors so bleeding does not occur in the washing machine.
  • Don't overstuff the washer tub with sheets. The fabric needs room to tumble freely and breathe so the detergent can reach and penetrate every fiber for optimal cleaning.
  • Avoid using bleach to brighten sheets—even white ones—because it may damage the fabric. Instead, use oxygen bleach, such as OxiClean, in the wash to brighten white sheets. Or, pre-soak the sheets in a bucket or tub of water and 1/2 cup of white vinegar for one hour to brighten and freshen sheets before you wash them normally.
  • Wash your sheets again if they have a stale odor when you remove them from the linen closet because they aren't really clean.
  • Avoid the use of fabric softeners and dryer sheets which can reduce the absorbency of natural fibers and cause bedsheets to become uncomfortable to those who perspire heavily. Instead of commercial softeners, add distilled white vinegar to the final rinse cycle to remove any residues that leave sheets feeling stiff.
  • Clean foam, feather, or polyester-filled pillows a couple of times per year or more often if someone is ill or has allergies, but you don't need to wash them every time you change sheets.
Article Sources
The Spruce uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Wilson, Jeffrey M., and Thomas A.e. Platts-Mills. Home Environmental Interventions for House Dust Mite. The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology: In Practice, vol. 6, no. 1, 2018, pp. 1–7., doi:10.1016/j.jaip.2017.10.003

  2. Acne Information. The Society for Pediatric Dermatology.