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We spend an average of a third of our lives sleeping and yet we extend relatively little attention to keeping our bedding in good, clean order when compared to other areas of the house. As an example, think about how often you clean your kitchen countertops, compared to how often you wash your sheets or pillowcases. For a spot you spend about eight hours a night in, keeping it orderly and stocked with good quality bedding and textiles isn’t a luxury: it’s a necessity. Learn how to care for bedroom textiles.
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When you sleep, you sweat. It might not seem too gross at first glance, but human sweat is a fine mixture of water, oils, bacteria, skin cells, and toxins the body is ridding itself of. Add in other normal bodily functions such as drooling, sneezing, and even the occasional nighttime flatulence, and your bed is a veritable greenhouse of grossness after just a few nights.
If you’re less than hygienic about taking care of your bedroom textiles, you might find yourself coughing and sneezing more than you normally would. You might suffer runny eyes and a nose like a faucet, especially if you’re sensitive to common environmental allergens that are present in and around our homes like dust mites, pollen, and mold.
Pillowcases can harbor bacteria that cause pink eye or conjunctivitis, while sheets and blankets can contribute to contact dermatitis. And even if you do wash your bedding regularly, there comes a point where it should be replaced.
Cheryl Mendelson, the expert and author of “Home Comforts: The Art and Science of Keeping House,” recommends a daily airing of your bedding to keep it looking and feeling fresh. Drape your blanket over the foot of the bed to allow your sheets and blanket to air out and dry any nocturnal sweat. Aim to leave them that way for at least an hour while you eat breakfast and shower before work — longer if you’re staying home for the day.
After airing, smooth your sheets and make your bed. Give your pillows a good shake away from the bed to knock loose any stray allergens, and plump and fluff them before returning them to their spots. Mendelson also suggests leaving a window open to provide sunlight and air to your private sleep sanctuary, if possible.
If you’re taking care of an infant or toddler, daily washing of bed linens is recommended, if not more often as they become wet or soiled. Bedding for older children and teens can be washed on an adult schedule, with extra attention to launder or change sheets and pillowcases as they become dirty — accidents happen, after all.
Because you spend so much time in your bedrooms, they should get a thorough major cleaning once a week and an additional minor cleaning each week. Dusting and vacuuming any fixtures, including bed frames, mattresses, and pillows, is essential. Bedroom rugs should be taken outside and beaten for dust and then vacuumed upon returning to their spots weekly.
As far as changing the sheets and pillowcases? That should be done weekly, as well — though pillowcases should ideally be changed at least twice a week as they soil faster than sheets.
Top sheets, duvet covers, or any blankets that come into contact with your skin are supposed to be washed on the same schedule as your sheets — once a week, if not more often. If you don’t already use a top sheet between you and your comforter or duvet, doing less laundry provides a convincing argument to start!
Zip-up pillow covers that sit below pillowcases, mattress covers, mattress pads, blankets, comforters, and a duvet or comforter covers can stand a once-monthly washing, barring any special needs such as more frequent laundering as recommended by your doctor to avoid allergy or asthma flare-ups. If anything becomes soiled, odiferous, or otherwise unpleasant to snuggle up to before its regular cleaning date, go ahead and wash it.
At least twice yearly — barring heavy soiling or doctor’s orders — launder and change any allergen-proof undercovers on your mattress and pillows. It’s a good idea to go ahead and wash your pillows and comforters or duvet inserts at the same time unless you have reason to suspect they aren’t totally clean.
Experts are divided as to airing, sunning, and flipping your mattress: some newer mattresses are designed so they never need to be turned or flipped. Unless specifically directed not to by the manufacturer, it’s considered good practice by most to air out and sun your mattress at least twice a year to discourage mold growth and kill dust mites. After sunning and airing, you should flip or turn the mattress to avoid excessive wear or sagging in one spot.
If you can’t air and sun your mattress outdoors because of space or safety concerns, diligent vacuuming is recommended by Mendelson.
It’s highly unlikely you’ll ever need to wash the ticking on your mattress. But again, accidents happen and you may find yourself faced with the prospect of having to clean your mattress. Judicious use of mattress covers and pads can prevent this most of the time, but not always.
Spills, incontinence, or another soiling of your mattress tasks you with cleaning it. Take a damp — not wet — cloth and gently scrub at the spot until clean. Avoid wetting the mattress thoroughly and try not to get the interior layers of your mattress wet or you’ll risk molding and fungus.
Most traditional innerspring mattresses have a useful lifespan of about ten years: after that, the support and comfort decrease quite a bit. This isn’t the case with newer mattresses, such as memory foam, whose lifespan should be clearly stated by the manufacturer. And it isn’t always a financial possibility to replace your mattress every decade, although a variety of payment options exist, including in-house financing and layaway plans for those on a strict budget.
Since you’re spending a third of your life in bed, it’s a good idea to spring for a new mattress as soon as it starts to show excessive wear or if it begins to sag. You don’t want to risk back pain, soreness, and discomfort day after day. Irreparable damage such as exposed springs, mold growth, and heavy soils that produce an odor that will not go away also causes for replacing your mattress sooner rather than later.
Pillows need to be replaced more often than mattresses: they’re thinner, less resilient, and more easily soiled. Synthetic-filled pillows generally have a lifespan of about two years with good care, while down and feather filled pillows can last between five to ten years.
It’s easy to know when your pillows need to be replaced: launder and plump them, then test for resiliency. Place the pillow on the bed and make a firm indent with a finger. If it springs back, it’s still good. If not, it’s time to go shopping. Feather and down pillows that don’t have much fluff, to begin with, should be replaced when they feel limp, loose or thin: if they drape lifelessly over your arm, it’s time to give up the ghost and go pillow shopping.
All the reasons to get a new mattress or pillow are the reasons you should invest in other bedroom textiles: if there’s been heavy soiling — an incontinent bedmate or pet, for example — that can’t be remedied by a good laundering in hot water, rips, and tears that can’t be repaired with an eye toward your comfort and limp or lifeless filling that no longer keeps you warm and cozy.
Scratchy, threadbare sheets need to go, freeing up space in your linen closet for more comfortable bedding. Comforters and duvets that no longer fluff up or provide lofty coverage should be shuffled off to the great beyond. Blankets that have seen better days and can’t be mended or re-used for pets or cleaning rags should also go out the door.
New technology keeps making bedding more comfortable and inviting and the sheer number of options can seem overwhelming, but seeking expert advice can pay off in the end. If your bedding is starting to show signs of wear and tear beyond what normal washing and care can fix, it’s time to invest in some new textiles.
When purchasing a new mattress, pillow, comforter, or any bedroom textile, don’t be afraid to ask questions about the regular care and keeping of your investment: proper care can help extend the life of your purchase and keep you feeling comfy and cozy for many nights to come. Not all mattresses, pillows, and bedding require the same amount of care, so if in doubt, contact the retailer or manufacturer for advice.