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How often should you wash your pillowcases?

Pink and green throw pillows on the floor with pink background

Egyptian cotton, 800 thread count, or organic silk, no matter the quality of your pillowcases they still get dirty! Our pillowcases collect dirt, oil, sweat, makeup, and acne-causing bacteria, and attract a number of creepy crawlers. We spend decades of our life in bed, so why not make the most of this time with fresh clean linens. Don’t have any more nightmares of dust mites, keep reading to find out why it’s so important to keep your pillowcases clean, and how often you should wash them. 

Why you should wash your pillowcases

Blue pillow cases and duvet cover with white sheets on white wall

Our skin naturally and constantly sheds dead skin cells. We also secrete oils through our skin and sometimes sweat in our sleep. Environmental pollution also collects on our skin and hair, and all of that every night when we go to sleep is transferred to our pillows. Even if you wash your hair and face every night before you go to sleep, the inevitable shedding of skin cells is enough to attract a cavalry of dust mites. 

Dust mites are “microscopic, insect-like pests that feed on dead human skin cells and thrive in warm, humid environments”[1]. They eat our dead skin and can live in our pillows, mattresses, carpets, and really any fabric in the home. They don’t bite like bed bugs, but the dead skin they eat must also come out. This means that right now there could be dust mites that have a 5-star meal of dead skin cells in your pillow, and use your pillowcase as a bathroom. Not only do they leave a trail of…digested skin cells, but they can also die-off along the way, leaving little dust mite skeletons in your pillows as well. 

Dust mites are, in a word gross, and they can also be harmful to our health. According to the American Lung Association, “dust mites are one of the major indoor triggers for people with allergies and asthma”[1]. “Inhaling proteins in dust that comes from dust mite feces, urine or decaying bodies”[1] can worsen allergies and cause asthma attacks in asthma sufferers. 

Not only do dirty pillowcases act as a VIP section for dust mites, but they can also harbor acne-causing bacteria. As we sleep, our skin secretes natural oils and sweat. This can build up in our pillowcases and begin to grow bacteria. This bacteria then transfer to our skin and can contribute to a number of skin issues including acne. Unbelievably “the average daily human output is 1 liter of sweat, 10 grams of salt, 40 grams of grease/sebum, and 2 billion dead skin cells”[4]. All of this goes directly into our pillowcases as we sleep. To keep our skin clear, and reduce allergies, we should all be washing our pillowcases often. 

How often should you wash your pillowcases?

Man putting laundry into washing machine wearing white t shirt

Because of the number of dust mites, bacteria, sweat, and oil trapped in our pillowcases, Doctors, and Dermatologists recommend you wash your pillowcases often. In fact, pillowcases were invented for this specific reason, to create a barrier between you and your pillow[4]. So, how often should we really be washing our pillowcases?

The most agreed-upon rule is to wash your pillowcases every week. Because “greasy body soils and dirt can become embedded between the fibers of your pillowcases, especially if they’re washed infrequently [experts] recommend washing them with a deeper-cleaning detergent”[4]. If doing laundry once a week isn’t an option for you, keeping a backup pillowcase will do the trick. Try swapping your pillowcases for clean ones at least once a week. 

If you suffer from skin conditions like acne or eczema, you can prevent flare-ups by washing your pillowcases even more frequently. If you have oily or acne-prone skin, consider washing or swapping out your pillowcases every 2-3 days[2].

How often should you deep clean your pillows?

Washing your pillowcases is very important and should be done often. However, if your clean pillowcase is covering a dirty pillow, you’re simply hiding the issue. We spend over 2,000 hours asleep each year, and if you’re not washing your pillows, you’re cuddling up with a year’s worth of dead skin, oil, and sweat trapped in your pillow every night. Though pillowcases protect your skin from coming in direct contact with your pillow, dead skin, bacteria, oil, and sweat buildup can still seep through your pillowcase. That’s why it’s crucial to deep clean your pillows at least every 6 months[3]. 

Always make sure to read your pillow tags for cleaning instructions, and then decide which cleaning option is best for you. A mess-free and all-natural cleaning option is to simply air your pillows out. You can leave your pillows, sans pillowcase, in the hot sun outside. The heat from the sun will kill bacteria, and fresh air will freshen your pillows. If you have synthetic pillows you can also throw them in the washing machine and then the dryer. You can also save yourself the hassle and opt to have them professionally cleaned. Always make sure your pillows are dried thoroughly before using them again. You can sleep better knowing your pillowcases and pillows are clean. 

Do specialty pillowcases actually work?

In recent years there have been a number of specialty pillowcases and pillows launched on the market. These pillows are said to combat a number of issues like fine lines and wrinkles, acne, and frizzy hair. But do they really work, and do they really stay cleaner than regular pillowcases?

Martex Clean Essentials Antimicrobial Cotton Pillowcase Pair, Gray, Standard (Model: 028828632258)

Antimicrobial pillowcases

Antimicrobial pillowcases claim to prevent acne, but how do they work? Antimicrobial pillowcases use “silver or copper threads woven in…using those metals’ natural antimicrobial properties to kill off the bacteria that causes acne”[5]. Silver and copper have natural antibacterial properties, and that’s where the logic lies. Since silver inhibits the growth of bacteria, it’s believed if incorporated into fabrics it can prevent bacteria buildup, and therefore transfer fewer bacteria to your skin. Copper has this same effect, which is why copper is commonly used for doorknobs and handles as it can kill bacteria. However, an antimicrobial pillowcase still needs to be washed at least once a week. Even with a specialty pillowcase, you can’t slack on laundering. 

Bedsure Satin Pillowcase for Hair and Skin Queen - Silver Grey Silk Pillowcase 2 Pack 20x30 inches - Satin Pillow Cases Set of 2 with Envelope Closure

Silk and satin pillowcases

Silk and satin pillowcases make similar claims for better skin and better sleep. Silk and satin pillowcases are believed to prevent wrinkles and hair frizz due to the slippery surface of the fabrics. This slipping effect is believed to cause less friction to the skin, and less wrinkle and frizz causing tugging. Silk has the extra benefit of being less moisture absorbent[5]. Silk absorbs less moisture than other fabrics, leaving your skin more hydrated, and potentially absorbing less sweat and oil which can cause bacteria growth in your pillowcase. 

Additionally, silk is believed to be naturally antimicrobial as well, but there are conflicting arguments about this claim. “Although silk fibers have antibacterial properties at the microlevel, there’s no clinical evidence confirming that a silk pillowcase stays cleaner or transfers less bacteria onto your face than standard cotton”, says the New York Times. So, whether or not you decide to go with a silk or antimicrobial pillowcase, don’t forget to launder them at least every week. 

Sleep better with clean pillowcases

young woman sleeping in white bed wearing pink t shirt

Give yourself peace of mind knowing your skin is protected by washing your pillowcases often. In fact, having a clean room could mean getting a better night’s sleep. The Sleep Foundation claims that “a sanitary bedroom is important for promoting healthy sleep”[6]. Naturally, we are able to relax more easily in clean and safe environments, allowing for deeper more comfortable sleep. Especially if you suffer from asthma or allergies, clean pillows could better your health, and give you a night of sleep uninterrupted by coughing and sneezing. 

Habitual cleaning of your pillowcases will keep dust mites at bay, and inhibit the growth of skin harming bacteria. For better dreams, and better skin, add washing your pillowcases to your weekly list of chores. 

Article Sources:

  1. American Lung Association. “Dust and Dust Mites
  2. Ecosa. “This is How Often Should You Wash Sheets and Pillowcases (+Cleaning Tips)
  3. Good Housekeeping. “This is how often you should wash your pillows
  4. Huffpost. “You Should REALLY Wash Your Pillowcases Every Week. Here’s Why
  5. New York Times. “Are Silk Pillowcases Really Better for Your Skin?” 
  6. Sleep Foundation. “The Bedroom Environment