A Clean Sleep
A study on how often Americans change their bedding
May 19th, 2021 •
If your sleep habits are relatively healthy, you’ll probably spend about a third of your life on your mattress. That means of all the linen in your life, from tablecloths to your favorite clothes, your sheets are your most consistent companions. Ready to crash after a long day at work? They’re waiting to greet you. Getting in a nap on a weekend afternoon? They’ve got you covered.
But considering our daily reliance on sheets, we can get a little lazy about taking care of them in return. Even if we’re diligent about washing other items, from dishes to our clothing, we sometimes forget our sheets need frequent cleaning as well. Hygiene standards vary widely, but there’s plenty of evidence to suggest keeping our sheets clean can keep us healthier as well. With the average human pouring around 26 gallons of sweat into his or her sheets every year, unwashed bedding can seem pretty inviting to bacteria.
We set out to learn how often average Americans changed their sheets and which demographics were best at keeping them clean. We surveyed over 1,000 people about their bed-cleaning habits and then asked them how gross (or not gross) they perceived different bed hygiene habits to be. Want to know how your sheet cleaning compares to that of the crowd? Read on to find out.
A Bedding Brush-Off
The average number of days Americans go before changing out their bedding
According to our findings, the average person changes sheets roughly every 24 days, or a bit less often than once every three weeks. Interestingly, pillowcases had a slightly longer average unwashed period, clocking in at 24.6 days before being cleaned or swapped for fresh ones. Depending on your own habits, these stats may seem unsurprising or unacceptable. Either way, experts would encourage a more frequent cleaning cadence, with some suggesting weekly cleaning to help prevent allergens.
Our respondents had their own limits for unwashed bedding, however, claiming that it could take up to 35 days before they’d consider their unwashed bedding “gross.” Their disgust past this point is justified: Five weeks of unwashed sheets can allow for a pretty significant accumulation of unsavory particles. With the average person shedding about 10 grams of skin each day, you’d be piling up a veritable feast for dust mites in that time.
The average number of days Americans go before changing their bedding, by demographic
When it comes to hygienic sheet care, guys fell woefully short of their female counterparts. On average, men waited over 10 days longer to swap their sheets, and that gap didn’t improve much in the pillowcase department. Single men fessed up to particularly questionable sheet cleaning practices, going nearly 45 days before changing their bedding on average. This could be one of the reasons they’re still single…
Overall, relationship commitment seemed to correlate with more frequent washing. Respondents in a relationship had the shortest average time between pillow cleanings, while married folks had the cleanest record for sheets. Assuming two people often occupy one bed in these relationships, their washing habits are well justified by this tandem use. Similarly, those who slept naked without showering before bed washed their sheets comparatively often, as one might hope. The same could not be said for respondents who drooled regularly, however: They waited a baffling 31.8 days, on average, before changing their pillowcases.
Sex and Sheets
How often Americans change their bedding when sex is involved
Women may change their sheets more often, but men are more likely to do so when they sense they’ll be sharing their beds with someone else. Nearly half of men reported changing their sheets if they knew they’d be getting intimate with someone that night, whereas fewer than 40 percent of women said the same. In fact, 43 percent of male respondents opted for clean sheets if sex was even a possibility. Given men’s lengthy average times between washes, they may have good reason not to take any chances.
After sex, however, women again proved more vigilant about cleaning their bedding. After the act itself, they waited for less than half as long as men before getting clean sheets. Women changed sheets even sooner after a one-night stand.
Bad in Bed
The percentage of Americans who find different sleep scenarios gross, by gender
Although beds are essentially private places, our respondents found a range of behaviors unacceptable for anyone to practice between the sheets. The significant majority of men and women condemned shoes in the bed – and who can blame them for wanting to leave the contents of the streets off their sheets? Not changing sheets after a one-night stand also ranked high on the gross-meter among both genders.
Interestingly, men were more likely than women to find several actions objectionable, despite their general tendency to leave their sheets unwashed far longer. For instance, eating in bed and not immediately changing sheets after sex with a partner both struck a greater percentage of men as gross.
American Beds at a Glance
A select group of personal mattress images
While no photo can attest to the microbial buildup unwashed sheets carry, we asked our respondents to submit visual evidence of their bedding hygiene. And as you can see, these photos speak for themselves. Regardless of how often both males and females claimed to change their sheets, we saw our fair share of splotches and discoloration. According to experts, the likely cause of pillow yellowing is accumulated sweat – a thought unlikely to help anyone drift off to sleep.
How Often Should You Wash Your Sheets?
One way we assess norms in our society is to look at what others around us are doing. A CNN report looked at average sheet washing intervals and found that between 10 and 14 days was common, but also that going up to 3 or 4 weeks between washings was not uncommon. In our survey, 24 days was the average. In an earlier 2014 British YouGov poll they found that the habits of British people rolled out at about 33% weekly, 35% every two weeks, and 29% at three or more weeks, with a small 3% at more than once a week. In the United States, those statistics are even higher for the every-two-weeks group. In a National Sleep Foundation survey in 2012, they found that 91% of those surveyed washed their sheets every other week.
So, how does our washing frequency compare with what the experts recommend? It appears that we are in the ballpark as experts suggest we wash our sheets every week or two depending on all those variables. Some experts advocate for every week, while others, like the Good Housekeeping Institute, say every other week is fine.
If there are more people, pets, and activities in the bed, or you have health related concerns, go for the once a week option. If you have less people, activities, and health concerns, you can stretch it to two weeks or more. Remember to wash in hot water and dry in a hot dryer if possible, to kill the dust mites and bacteria. A furnace filter can help cut down on them as well. If there are health related issues like asthma, or skin conditions like acne, the experts encourage washing more often. What everyone agrees on is that clean sheets feel exceptionally good.
The Best Your Bed Can Be
Our findings prove there’s no rule when it comes to America’s sheet-washing habits. Because we spend so much time surrounded by our bedding, we hope this research helps readers reflect on the conditions they’re inhabiting for hours each night. Great sleep can be the foundation of a healthy and productive lifestyle, but dirty sheets can keep you from the rest you need – not to mention adversely affecting your health in other ways. Step up your sheet-cleaning routine with our guide, and rest easier knowing you’re not sharing the bed with unwanted pathogens.
Healthy sleep goes deeper than your sheets, however. At Mattress Advisor, we make it our mission to help customers find the perfect bed, tailored to their unique sleep needs. When it comes to finding the best mattress, good advice can really pay off – after all, you’re spending a third of your life on it.
We surveyed over 1,000 Americans on the frequency in which they washed their sheets and pillowcases and then posed questions regarding a number of in-bed habits they might regard as unsanitary. We then segmented their responses according to their self-reported demographic information to determine the findings above.
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