How to Care for Sheets and Bedding: 8 Mysteries Solved

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From the confounding folding of fitted sheets to keeping pillowcases fresh, here’s how to love your bedding to ensure its longest life.

We spend so much of our lives in bed, yet our sheets and bedding often get short shrift in the care department. Partly, perhaps, because tending to them falls under the umbrella of tedious chores, but also because their proper care is imbued with some of the deeper mysteries that housekeeping has to offer: Folding fitted sheets, need I say more?

But taking care of the things with which we dress our beds to extend their lives for as long as possible is important. “Conventional” cotton is one of the world’s most pesticide-intensive crops and so the less we consume there, the better; sustainable options may cost more and your wallet will appreciate some longevity, plus, getting the most out of our stuff is one of the simple basics of sustainable living.

With that in mind, here’s how to show your bedding some love.

1. Cleaning sheets

stack of folded bed sheets and wool dryer balls on top of washing machine

How often you wash your sheets is a matter of choice, and a topic of hot debate. Clean sheets feel great; frequent washing breaks down the fiber more quickly resulting in a shorter life and uses more resources. Find the right balance for you and then wash them in warm water, not hot (which can shrink the fibers). For stains, use a natural bleaching agent, like Bio Kleen Oxygen Bleach. Tumble or line dry according to label instructions.

2. Keeping sheets smelling fresh

neatly folded pastel bed sheets sit on open storage rack next to white door

There’s nothing like taking sheets that you’re sure are clean out of storage, dressing the bed, and slipping into a musty-smelling cotton sandwich. Sheets get stale, generally due to lack of air circulation in the linen closet (or drawer or shelf or wherever you store them) – they need to breathe! And if there’s a speck of moisture with them, the problem is even worse. Make sure your sheets are bone dry before stowing them and be sure that your storage area has room so the bedding isn’t packed too tightly, and also has ventilation to get air circulation in there. You can also add some lavender to help offset dankness.

3. Cleaning pillows

hands zip pillow into a pillow protector on top of striped bedspread

To extend the life of your pillow and for better hygiene, use a zippered pillow protector that goes under the pillowcase – this will protect the heart of your pillow from allergens, and hair and body oils which can saturate the pillow. Nobody wants to sleep on a body-oil sponge.

Even protected with a cover, pillows should be washed twice yearly and the protectors once a month. Most pillows are machine washable – it will say on the label. Use liquid detergent (rather than powder to avoid residue), wash them in pairs to keep the washer balanced, and rinse them twice.

4. Drying pillows

hand turns dial on clothing dryer to air fluff option for pillows

To dry down and feathers pillows, use the air cycle or the lowest heat setting you have; dry until they are completely dry and no clumps remain. (You don’t want moldy pillows.) For polyester pillows, use low heat. You can add a few tennis balls in the dryer to help fluff, but the dryer alone will likely fluff enough.

5. Folding fitted sheets

guy in black t-shirt attempts to fold a light blue fitted sheet

I could try to describe this simple solution to one of life’s deeper conundrums, but after a few sentences of “fold this corner into that corner” I’m sure I’d lose you. So, instead, some visuals:

6. Cleaning the mattress

pile of spread-out baking soda on bare mattress with top sheet pulled away

As Blythe points out in How to Clean Your Mattress: “Cleaning your mattress – with baking soda for small spots or a steam cleaner for tougher grime – can calm your allergies by reducing dust mites, improve your health, and best of all, help you sleep better.” Sold!

7. Cleaning a duvet

cleaning a fluffy striped duvet in a large, deep white bathtub

Your duvet may have cleaning instructions; but even so, many a duvet will not fit in a washer even if it says it’s machine washable. If this is the case, use the bathtub or a kiddie swimming pool outside, where you can agitate it by walking on it. If you just have spots to clean, resist dunking the whole duvet. Wring out as much water as you can and tumble or line-dry.

8. Re-inserting a duvet in its cover

man in black shirt re-inserts fluffy duvet into striped duvet cover on bed

Consider this a bonus, as it may not do much to extend the life of your duvet or cover, but it will make your duvet-cover changing life so much easier.