How to Clean and Care for Sheets and Bed Linens

Clean and folded ben linens and sheets stacked on bed

The Spruce / Meg MacDonald

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

We spend about one-third of our life in bed, creating ample wear and tear on our sheets. Properly caring for your bedding will help you sleep more comfortably, while also maintaining the longevity of your sheets. While bedding like blankets, comforters, quilts, and mattress pads can be laundered less frequently, sheets need much more attention and should be washed every two weeks. Most sheets are made from either cotton or cotton/polyester blends, or polyester microfiber, making their care slightly different, yet their laundering needs the same. All bedding should always be washed before use with careful attention paid to the recommended care, in order to avoid fading or shrinking.

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • Washing machine
  • Soft-bristle brush
  • Clothesline or drying rack
  • Dryer
  • Iron (optional)


  • Stain remover or oxygen bleach
  • Laundry detergent


Materials and tools to clean and care for bed linens and sheets

The Spruce / Meg MacDonald

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
Iron Settings Optional for cotton; use low heat
How Often to Wash Every two weeks, barring special circumstances


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

  1. Pre-Treat Stains

    Pre-treat light stains with an oxygen cleaner or stain remover by spraying it onto the stain and then lightly scrubbing with a soft-bristle brush.

    Bed sheet stains pretreated with stain remover and small brush

    The Spruce / Meg MacDonald

  2. Choose a Detergent

    Use a heavy-duty laundry detergent to remove body oil and soil from cotton sheets. Normal laundry detergent works well for polyester and microfiber sheets.

    Choosing detergent to wash linen sheets

    The Spruce / Meg MacDonald

  3. Set the Water Temperature and Cycle

    Wash cotton sheets in hot water to remove allergens and kill dust mites. Wash microfiber sheets and cotton/polyester blends in cool or warm water.

    Water temperature and cycle set to wash ben linens and sheets

    The Spruce / Meg MacDonald

  4. Dry the Sheets

    Dry your sheets on a low heat setting in the dryer to minimize wrinkles. Avoid the hot cycle for all fabrics, as heat can wear out fabric and damage the elastic on fitted sheets.

    When possible, air-dry your sheets outdoors on a sunny day using a clothesline. The sun is a natural disinfectant and brightener. To remove wrinkles, fluff them up for a few minutes in the dryer afterward.

    Bed sheets placed in drying machine with eco-drying balls

    The Spruce / Meg MacDonald

Treating Stains on Sheets and Bed Linens

All types of sheets are susceptible to staining. At some point, you'll need to remove food, drink spills, blood, or body oil stains from your sheets. Pre-treating a stain with an oxygen bleach product usually works, but sometimes you need to break out the big guns Here are three of the most popular types of stains found on sheets and how to treat them:

  • Blood: Avoid using hot water on fresh or dried blood. Instead, soak blood stains in cold water to loosen the stain. Next, dab the stain with hydrogen peroxide, and then rinse. If the stain is still there, treat it with an enzymatic cleaner used for pet stains, and then wash it as usual.
  • Cosmetics: Dab a mixture of water and liquid dish detergent onto the stain, and then gently rub. Repeat until the makeup stain is gone, and then wash as usual.
  • Coffee: Mix 1 quart of water, 1/2 teaspoon of liquid dish detergent, and 1 tablespoon of white vinegar in a bucket or bowl. Submerge the section of the sheet that's stained and let it soak for 15 minutes. Rinse and repeat, if necessary, and then wash the sheet as usual.

Sheet and Bed Linen Care and Repairs

Small rips in sheets can be easily repaired by hand with a needle and thread of the same color. You can also use this basic hand-sewing method to fix a ripped seam or to mend blown-out elastic on a fitted sheet. For large rips, use mending tape, or fusible interfacing, on the backside of the sheet to close it up. Cut the piece of tape or interfacing to cover the rip, and then iron it onto the tear.

Bed sheet being repaired with needle and thread

The Spruce / Meg MacDonald


Polyester or polyester/cotton sheets will likely come out of the dryer, or off of the clothesline, wrinkle-free. However, cotton percale sheets are prone to wrinkling and may need to be ironed, depending on your preference. The best way to iron sheets is to do so when they are slightly damp, using a low heat setting.

Storing Sheets and Bed Linens

Unless you wash and dry your sheets, and then put them right back onto your bed, you'll need to fold and store them. Folding fitted sheets, in particular, can be challenging, but there's an easy trick that will allow them to stack neatly in your linen closet. First, fit all of the rounded corners smoothly inside of each other to create a rectangle. Next, fold your rectangle into a neat square. Keep a full set of sheets together by placing them inside one of the pillowcases. Store them in a dark, dry space, like a linen closet, lidded bench, or a cedar trunk (plastic storage containers can yellow linens over time).

How Often to Wash Sheets and Bed Linens

Sheets of any fabric will, over time, become soiled from body oil which contains bacteria and can cause skin irritation. Frequent washing will keep bacteria at bay and keep you healthy. If you wear pajamas or bathe before bedtime, your sheets can be changed weekly or bi-weekly, but never go longer than two weeks with unwashed sheets. If you eat in bed, sleep with your pet, or perspire heavily, you may need to clean your sheets once a week. 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 twice weekly if you can't breathe.

If there is a household illness, such as a virus, cold, or flu, or if your household has experienced a head lice or bed bug infestation, sheets should be changed and washed in hot water daily. Additionally, if you have acne or skin problems, pillowcases should be changed and cleaned more frequently than sheets to prevent inflammation and the transfer of bacteria.

Tips for Washing Sheets and Bed Linens

  • Sort sheets from other laundry items and separate whites from colors, so that bleeding does not occur in the washing machine.
  • Don't overstuff your machine with sheets. The fabric needs room to tumble freely so the detergent can reach and penetrate every fiber for optimal cleaning.
  • Avoid using bleach to brighten sheets—even white ones. It may damage the fabric. Instead, use oxygen bleach (like OxiClean) to brighten white sheets. You can also presoak sheets in a bucket of water with 1/2 cup of white vinegar for one hour before washing normally to brighten them.
  • Wash your sheets when you remove them from the linen closet. A stale odor could mean they've mildewed, which can happen if they were put away slightly damp.
  • Avoid the use of fabric softeners and dryer sheets, which can reduce the absorbency of the natural fibers and cause bedsheets to become sticky. Instead, add distilled white vinegar to the final rinse cycle to remove residues that stiffen cotton sheets.
  • How do I make my sheets feel like hotel sheets?

    Sheets with high thread counts (like those used in four-star hotels) feel luxurious on the skin. In order to keep them feeling great, wash high-thread-count sheets in the gentle cycle.

  • How do I keep white sheets white?

    Peroxide-based detergents will prevent white sheets from yellowing or turning grey. However, when used improperly, these detergents can weaken fibers, making your sheets prone to ripping.

  • Can you wash pillows?

    Check the label before washing pillows. Most pillows can be washed in a regular washing machine, but some materials, like feather down, call for dry cleaning only.

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. We spend about one-third of our life either sleeping or attempting to do so. National Library of Medicine.

  2. Home Environmental Interventions for House Dust Mite. The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology.

  3. Acne Information. The Society for Pediatric Dermatology.