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How often you should really wash your bed linen

woman sleeping

We spend more than a third of our lives in bed – but according to the microbiologist Philip Tierno of New York University, this place can quickly turn into a “botanical garden” full of bacteria and fungi.

If we wait too long to wash, the microscopic creatures in the folds of bed linen can even harm our health, Tierno said in an interview with

To counteract this, the bed linen should be washed once a week.

Every year we naturally produce around 98 liters of sweat in bed. When it is hot and humid outside, researchers say this liquid becomes an “ideal culture medium for mushrooms”.

Up to 17 types of mushrooms in bed

A recently published study examining fungal contamination in bedding shows that feather pillows and synthetic pillows that are between 1.5 and 20 years old can contain between four and 17 different types of fungus.

And while you sleep, you are not surrounded only by your own microbes. In addition to the fungi and bacteria that get on the bed linen through sweat, sputum, skin cells and other body fluids, you also share your bed with foreign microorganisms. This includes skin flakes and hair from animals, pollen, dirt, lint, dust mites, faeces and finishing agents from your bed linen – but these are just a few of the possible foreign microbes.

All this filth is going to be a “significant” problem in about a week, according to Tierno. Unwashed bedding puts you in contact with materials that can cause coughs and sneezes because the microorganisms are so close to your mouth and nose that you are forced to inhale them.

Allergic reactions can result

“Even if you don’t have any allergies, your body can show an allergic reaction,” explains Tierno. Another reason why your bedding gets dirty so quickly has nothing to do with your habits and sweating – it has to do with gravity.

“Just as Rome was buried under rubble that fell due to gravity, all the materials ended up on our bed because of gravity,” says Tierno.

One to two weeks of this accumulation of dirt are enough for you to get a scratchy throat – this is particularly bad for people with allergies and asthma.

“If you touch dog poop on the street, you feel the need to wash your hands. Apply this example to your bed linen. If you could see what’s on it – but of course you can’t – you would wonder if you really want to sleep in it.

This article was published by in November 2019. It has now been reviewed and updated.


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