How often do you launder your linens? According to a 2015 Women’s Health poll, most people wash towels and sheets fairly often—though perhaps, not as habitually as they should. "Just like with our clothes, actively used linens, especially those that touch food or skin, should be washed more frequently, while less actively used linens, like decorative hand towels or seasonal comforters, can go a bit longer," says Maeve Richmond, founder and head coach of home organizing company Maeve’s Method.
Recommended washing: Every three or four uses
Though they’re designed for heavy use, bath towels can begin to smell after just a few showers—especially if they’re not aired out properly. If you work out or have a physically demanding job, consider washing them even more often, and never share towels among family members if someone has a potentially infectious skin condition.
Of course, there comes a time when every towel must go. "Beyond rips or stains, a sheet or towel has reached the end of its usefulness when I no longer enjoy using it or looking it," says Richmond. "Or, if it has retained a musty odor that detergent or bleach cannot take away. There is a ‘just off the rack’ feeling with linens, just as there is with clothes, and when that feeling fades, it’s time to let your sheet or towel go."
Bed sheetsRecommended washing: Every one or two weeks
"Bed linens can be subject to a different type of wear and tear, so the choice of when to wash here is personal,” says Richmond. “If the smell of fresh linens while climbing into bed makes you smile, then new linens every one to two weeks is a good rule of thumb. On the other hand, if a cozy, lived-in bed is more your style, go longer, especially if changing sheets feels like a chore."
The exceptions: If they’re obviously stained, if someone in the family is sick, if you tend to sleep naked, or if you go to bed without showering after a workout, you might consider cleaning your sheets more frequently. Weather is a factor, as well: "Depending on your lifestyle, linens may go through more wear and tear in the summer months, as we sweat more during the daytime in warm weather, and perspiration easily transfers to towels and sheets."
Dish towelsRecommended washing: Every week
"Kitchen towels collect food, and food stains can lead to bacteria and odor, so it is smart to swap kitchen towels out weekly if you cook actively, but if your kitchen towels are less actively used, or more decorative, once a month should do the trick," says Richmond. If you’re hosting a lot of company you might consider swapping them out sooner: "Kitchen towels may also need more cleaning during certain seasons, depending on if your cooking increases at these times, like if you host frequent outdoor barbecues during summer months, or cook large family meals during holiday seasons."
The nice thing about hand towels is that they cost very little compared to most other linens. So, it pays to have several clean back-ups on hand. And if they become ripped, stained, or just plain boring—get rid of ‘em. "Good sheets and towels are easy to come by these days," says Richmond. "Most home goods stores have them in bright colors, with a variety of designer textures and patterns, so if your sheets and towels at home are weary, treat yourself to a new set of both. It’s a low-cost solution that will make a big impact in your home."
Bath matsRecommended washing: Every one or two weeks
The frequency with which you should wash a bath mat depends largely on usage and the quality of the mat itself. If it never seems to dry, a weekly cleaning is in order; simply throw it in the washing machine with your bath towels. If it remains fluffy and odor-free, give it some more time. To prolong the time between washes, consider either hanging it over the edge of the bathtub to dry or buying a reversible mat.
CurtainsRecommended washing: Twice a year
Unlike other linens that attract bodily odors and particles, curtains are much more prone to simple household dust, which collects over time. Unless you or someone in your household has allergies—in which case quarterly washings are in order—every six months should do the trick. Just be certain to follow directions; some must be steamed or dry-cleaned. Between washes, use vacuum attachments to remove dirt and particles.
If you’re tempted to clean curtains more often, know that it might not be the best idea. "Even with top of the line detergent and special care, over time frequently washed linens will also start to wear down, as the fibers in them loosen and age," says Richmond. "And if the linens are decorative, frequent washing can cause color to fade."
PillowsRecommended washing: Twice a year
Whether a pillow is made of feathers or synthetic materials, you should wash it two times annually to keep odors and stains from becoming a permanent part of its makeup. Follow cleaning directions closely—you may have to use a laundromat or dry cleaner—and absolutely, positively make sure that it’s fully dry before placing it back on yourprolong the life of a pillow, purchase a pillow protector (launder it as frequently as you do your sheets) and never, ever sleep on it without a pillowcase; after all, we do a lot of our drooling at night.
ComfortersRecommended washing: Twice a year
Though we use our comforters daily, they generally don’t bear the brunt of our bodily scents, oils, and skin flakes. And that means we can launder them less frequently. "Assuming there is no major wear, most of us can get away with washing comforters only once or twice a year," says Richmond. "I like to time the washing of my comforter to the changing of the seasons, so I wash once when the weather gets cold, and my desire to snuggle in bed increases, then again in the spring for a fresh start."
Of course, if your comforter becomes musty or assumes an unwanted scent, go to town: “Unwashed linens will still do their job, but there is a point where dirt, stains and odors can take over, and if you don’t catch stains quickly enough, they will set in."