Your dirty bedsheets are making you sick

Tuesday February 20 2018


By Carolyne B. Atangaza

You finally get home on a Wednesday evening after a grueling day and a maddening traffic jam. You have been vowing to change bedsheets since last week but somehow something more urgent happens such as catching up on the latest episode of The Quad. We have all been there; sleeping in bedsheets that should have been changed last week but the weekend runs into another week and the cycle repeats.

When asked how often she changes her bedsheets, Elizabeth Abalo confidently says that she does it once a month. She, however, explains that because her bed is big, she uses different portions of it at different times and she does not sleep in the same bed every night. Well, special cases aside, how often should one change their bedsheets?

Dr George Ogwang, a dermatologist at The Skin Specialist’s Clinic in Wandegeya, says bedsheets should ideally be washed once a week. He says our bodies get infested with germs and dead skin cells that build up every week. “If this build up is not washed off, it is likely to cause skin allergies and other reactions,” Dr Ogwang explains.

Bedsheets should also be changed depending on the fabric and how frequently they are used. “There is a distinction between changing and replacing sheets. Most people have about three pairs of bedsheets that they alternate throughout the month. If you fall in this category you should know that you are supposed to buy new bedsheets every six months,” Dr Ogwang recommends. He adds: “Those who own five pairs and above can replace them once every year.”

Faith E. Nabaggala, an image, etiquette and brand consultant, says if you are the kind who sweats too much or uses a lot of hair and skin products, it is advisable to change your bedsheets twice every week. Duvet covers and pillow cases should follow a similar routine.

Another consideration for how often bedsheets should be changed and or replaced depends on whether one allows their pets into the bed because they leave fur. In this case, bedsheets should be washed daily to prevent reactions such as asthma and other breathing complications. Dr George Bwesigye, a general physician, advises that if the bedsheets are for a patient or a couple that have to share a bed, they should be washed daily.

According to microbiologist Laura Bowater, PhD, dozens of different types of bacteria and viruses can survive on your bedsheets, including E. coli, ringworm, salmonella, herpes, norovirus, athlete’s foot, and the flu. “If people have a cold, it can survive on the bed linen and it can survive a wash. Someone with food poisoning could be excreting salmonella into the bed,” she says, adding that sleeping naked only increases the risk of spreading these germs.

Smell does not mean clean
How often have you chosen against changing your bedsheets because they did not look or smell bad? Dr Bwesigye says lack of stains or bad odour does not guarantee an absence of germs or dirt. “A lot goes on when you sleep including drooling, skin shading and sweating. Regular washing is important to keep the bed clean while killing germs,” the doctor adds.

Dr Ogwang recommends regular washing and ironing of sheets to control Myiasis. This is an infestation of the skin by developing larvae (maggots) of the mango fly within the human skin. He says bedroom windows should be opened regularly to relieve humidity which reduces the likelihood of dust mites gathering there.

How often should you change your nightwear?
Prof Sally Bloomfield of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine says pyjamas are against your skin. You shed skin cells at a vast rate all the time. They are full of microorganisms.
We all have skin and gut organisms that are usually not harmful on our skin and in our gut. But if they get into the wrong place, they can cause problems. Bloomfield recommended that people should change their nightwear at least once a week to prevent the buildup of dangerous microbes.

“Washing should get rid of most microbes, but not all if you have worn them for two weeks. The clothes won’t be hygienically cleaned because the microbes will have built up. So they will be transferred to underwear and other clothing that comes into contact with the skin,” she says. Source:

Other items
The bed
Dr George Bwesigye, a general physician, says just like your bed sheets, your mattress cover needs to cleaned regularly too. Remove, wash, and let it dry properly before replacing it on the mattress. Pillows and blankets should be washed at least four times a year. Follow the care label instructions.

Did you know that towels are among the most germ-infected objects in your home? Dr Bwesigye says towels retain moisture, which is the perfect breeding ground for dangerous bacteria. Caring for your towels begins with buying the right towels for your needs. If you buy the wrong towel, or a low-quality towel, it will now deliver the results you desire. Choose a towel made of 100 per cent cotton.

He recommends washing bath towels every three to four days. There are tens of millions of dead skin cells and bacteria on your bath towels. The thicker the cotton used the more moisture and odour the towel retains. A bad scent is a sign that the towel needs to be replaced, or that it is not being cleaned well enough. Consider washing your bath towels with vinegar and no soap, and then once again with regular laundry detergent.

Most people use their bath towel for a few days before washing it. After you use it to dry off, be sure to hang it to dry. Do not allow the towel to bunch up or become folded on the towel bar. Spread it out evenly so it has a chance to properly dry after you use it. Consider cracking a window in the bathroom and always turn on the fan to reduce moisture in the air.

Towels start losing their absorbency and softness after about two to three years, on average. When you wash and dry your towels, they lose fibres. Once they lose enough fibres, they are not going to be as soft and absorbent. This is when they should be replaced.