So you’ve bought yourself some nice sheets. Maybe even dropped $100 on that fancy queen set.
Those nice sheets need to be washed. Here’s the rub: Sometimes, when you wash those nice sheets, you ruin those nice sheets, and have to buy new nice sheets. Repeat the pattern.
Want to break the pattern? We spoke with the experts about how to properly wash, dry and store your bed sheets to protect your investment.
Tips for How to Properly Wash Bed Linens
Follow these strategies to ensure your bed sheets will last.
Water Temperature for Washing Sheets
Check the material of the sheets to ensure you’re using the proper heat setting, says Nora Mitchell, the editor-in-chief of Household Advice, a California digital publication that covers home repair, DIY projects and design.
But even after following the directions, it’s tricky.
The hotter the heat setting, the worse it is for the fabrics, as the heat breaks down the delicate fabrics. But you need heat to get rid of bacteria, dirt and stains.
In general, Mitchell says, to use hot water for cotton sheets and warmer water for other, more delicate material. For instance, never wash silk in hot water or risk damaging the material.
While cold water is technically better for the fabric, it’s not effective for cleaning the sheets.
“Never use cold water, as it will not wash the sheets properly or get rid of dust mites,” she says.
Some fabrics, such as silk sheets, need to be washed in their own silk-only load using a gentle detergent, so make sure you read the instructions on the label before laundering.
Regulate the Load Size When You Wash Bed Sheets
When washing your bedding, add only one complete bedding set or one duvet insert per wash, says Karin Sun, a bedding textile expert and the founder of Crane & Canopy.
“This will allow your bedding to be thoroughly and evenly cleaned,” she says.
Limiting the wash load will preserve zippers if there are any on bed coverings along with lengthening the fabric’s lifespan. Zippers should be closed prior to washing or drying.
Best Detergent for Bed Sheets
Use a mild detergent, such as Tide Free & Gentle, Dreft or Arm & Hammer Clean & Simple, as harsher detergents can deteriorate the threads of the linen sheets. Harsh detergents will break down fabric more quickly. The goal here, remember, is to preserve the sheet set for as long as possible.
Don’t put the detergent directly on the fabric when you’re loading the washing machine, says Emily Johnstone, the owner and creator at Best Mattress For You, which provides sleep tips and reviews of mattresses and more.
If you don’t have a detergent dispenser and if you have a top loading machine, put the detergent into the tub and allow it to fill with water before adding your linens to ensure the detergent has diluted, Johnstone says.
Extend the life of your sheets by using just ¼ of a cup of detergent per sheet load.
“This reduces wear on your sheets, and gets you more mileage out of your bottle of detergent, so it’s a win-win,” Johnstone says.
If possible, use eco-friendly products for your sheets and bedding (Tide Purclean, Seventh Generation Free & Clear or Method 8X Free & Clear) with the least amount of chemicals in them so you don’t ruin the delicate fibers of your linens, says Jane Wilson, a cleaning professional and marketing manager for Fantastic Cleaners Australia.
“Any detergent that includes chemicals and is not made for sensitive fabrics is a big no-no,” she says. “Besides that, you have to make sure that the cleaning product does not include optical brighteners, as they can easily discolor the fabric.”
While you may be tempted to use bleach for white linens, the use of chlorine bleach or residual bleach from previous laundry loads can lead to discoloration, and weakened fibers on your bedding, Sun of Crane & Canopy says. This will diminish the life of your bedding. If you do use bleach, she says, only use a color-safe bleach alternative to keep your whites white and your colors bright.
How to Wash Really Dirty Sheets
To spot clean sheets and bedding, home improvement blogger Geneva Aaron recommends mixing a small amount of liquid detergent with water to spot-clean for stain removal. Use a mild detergent, such as Dreft, Ivory or better yet, Le Blanc linen wash.
“If you have dingy-looking sheets, wash them with a ½ cup of white vinegar and no detergent to remove any possible detergent build-up,” Aaron says. “Also, you would want to consider using ½ cup of baking soda with each wash, because baking soda will keep your sheets fresh and bright.”
This technique will be especially useful to people whose pets also share the sheets. Or those who eat breakfast or other meals in bed. Maple syrup and chocolate sauce, not to mention spaghetti sauce, need special effort to clean.
Avoid the Dryer if You Can
If you have time and space in your laundry room, it’s best to hang your sheets to dry, as the dryer is rough on sheets. This helps them last longer and reduces wrinkles, Mitchell says. Those who live in warmer climates can make use of the sun to dry sheets on the line year-round.
If you have to use the dryer, use a gentle heat or a low heat setting such as delicate or permanent press, and remove sheets as soon as they feel dry.
Place them in your linen cabinet, away from dust. Iron before putting them away, as the heat from the iron helps to sanitize them further, Mitchell advises.
Hate the thought of ironing sheets? Look for sheets made of microfiber, polyester or a cotton-poly blend. Better yet, look for the no-wrinkle note on the packaging before you buy.
If you do choose to tumble dry, use a gentle setting on low heat, and make sure you don’t place them inside with anything with a zipper, as this can be harmful to the delicate sheets, Wilson says.
Sheet Storage Matters
Protect your linens by storing them in fabric bags or wrapped in cotton/muslin, away from direct sunlight.. This keeps dust away and stops them from yellowing.
Don’t store them in a plastic container without wrapping them first in cotton, as direct contact with the plastic can lead to yellowing over time.
“A mistake I often see is people putting their sheets away before they’re fully dry, especially pocket sheets that have been air dried, which can cause mildew,” Johnston says.
Keep your linens in a cool, dry place, away from direct sunlight.
It’s vital to keep the sheets away from moisture, as they are made from a natural material and can quickly develop mold and mildew. This means that if you have a linen closet in a bathroom, it’s best not to store your linens in that closet.
The Penny Hoarder contributor Danielle Braff is a Chicago writer who specializes in consumer goods and shopping on a budget. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, Real Simple and more.