How Often Do You Really Need To Change Your Sheets?

Photographed by Alice Gao.
You might think of yourself as a laundry pro — you're at the laundromat every other week, cleaning everything from your sheets to your workout clothes. You know how often to wash your bras, and how to treat pit stains. But what about the common household items that you rarely think about cleaning (until they smell weird)?

Plenty of non-clothing items can (and should!) go in the washing machine. Shower curtains, dish towels, bath mats — they all get dirty over time. But how long, exactly, can we get away with using these items before they need a refresh?

To learn more about just how often you should really be cleaning, we talked to Mary Zeitler, a laundry expert at Whirlpool Corporation's Institute of Home Science. The good news is that some items, like duvets, might need to be washed less often than you think. But if, say, your bed sheets are on a monthly washing schedule, it's time to up your game.

Click through to see just how often you should really throw common home items in the washing machine — you'll never second-guess what to wash on laundry day again.
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Illustrated by Louisa Cannell.
Bed sheets
Every week, or at least every other week, is ideal for washing your bed sheets and pillowcases, Zeitler says. If you have acne-prone or sensitive skin, you might want to swap out your pillowcases more often.
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Illustrated by Louisa Cannell.
Duvet and duvet cover
Once every month or two is generally enough for duvet covers, according to Zeitler. And since the duvet itself isn't coming in contact with your skin, it's okay to skip washing it unless you spill something on it.
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Mattress pad
Zeitler says that washing your mattress pad every month or every other month should be enough, since you're not directly in contact with it. But if you notice it's looking dirty when you go to change your sheets, it might need to be washed more often.
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In addition to washing pillowcases and pillow protectors, you'll want to wash the pillows themselves, too. Zeitler recommends washing two pillows at a time, so the washing machine will stay balanced.

Martha Stewart recommends washing pillows twice a year, at a minimum, but Zeitler says it depends on personal preference. "If the pillow looks soiled or smells musty, it's certainly time to wash it," Zeitler says.

The best way to keep pillows clean, though, is by using pillow protectors under your pillowcases. It will help keep oils from your hair and face from getting into the pillows, and it will also help protect the pillows from dust mites.
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Bath towels should be washed every three to four uses — so if you're doing laundry weekly, you might want to swap in a fresh towel in between trips to the laundromat. Zeitler recommends what she calls the "sight and smell method" — "if the towel looks dingy, stained, or smells sour or musty, wash it immediately, as towels become harder to clean when odors and stains build up over time."

Zeitler also notes that washing your sheets and towels in the same laundry load isn't a great idea. "Bed sheets are a much lighter weight fabric and could over-dry waiting for the towels to finish," she explains. "Plus, the heavy wet towels could cause damage to the lighter weight sheets as well as leave a lot of lint on sheets."
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Illustrated by Louisa Cannell.
Shower curtain
If your shower curtain and liner are machine-washable (check the tags first!) there's no reason not to toss both of them in the washer. (Zeitler recommends checking the manual for your washing machine first, though — some companies don't want you to put waterproof things, like a shower liner, in the machine.)

As for how often to clean your shower curtain, Zeitler recommends using the "sight and smell method" for shower curtains. "If they look clean, wash every month or two to refresh, but if they look dirty or smell musty, wash more often," she says.
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Bath mat
If your bath mat doesn't look dirty or smell, you can get by with washing it every week or every other week. "Bath mats get wet and, as such, can get musty over time, so apply the same rule as towels: If it looks or smells like it needs a bath of its own, go ahead and wash it," says Zeitler.
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Dish towels
"If they are used only to dry clean dishes and are air dried after each use, washing them weekly is sufficient," Zeitler says. "If, however, they are used to dry washed fruit or hands, wipe countertops, and stay damp, consider changing them out daily to prevent transferring germs to clean dishes or food."

Plus, unlike bed sheets, dish towels can be washed with bath towels, so there's no reason not to wash them. Zeitler recommends washing dish towels (as well as bath towels) in hot water and drying on high heat.
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Dish drying mat
The benefit of dish-drying mats is that many of them are machine-washable, which makes things a lot easier — you can throw them in a load with your dish towels. (If you'd rather be able to wash and disinfect by hand, a dish drying rack is a better option.)

Zeitler recommends washing your dish-drying mat weekly, and making sure to let the mat dry in between uses.