How often should you change your pillowcase? Germ and allergy experts weigh in.

If you’ve never wondered how often I should change my pillowcase, we can’t blame you. You’d probably much rather associate your pillowcases – and the pillows themselves – with comfort and sleep than with laundry. Unfortunately, if you don’t change your pillowcases often enough, you can unknowingly mess up your pillow’s potential to be an important part of your bedtime oasis. Below we’ve talked to experts about how often you should wash your pillowcases (and the pillows themselves).

What exactly is lurking on your pillowcase?

According to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD), we humans lose between 30,000 and 40,000 skin cells every day. If you sleep at least seven hours (hopefully), you are shedding lots of these skin cells directly on your sheets and pillows. Additionally, sweat, oil from your skin (especially if you don’t wash your face before bed), and old-fashioned drool also end up on your pillowcases. You could even get into your bed with allergens (like pollen) through your hair if you don’t shower at night. And let’s not forget your partner and / or pet’s skin cells, sweat, oil, and drool if you share a bed with them.

All of these cells and body fluids can cause microorganisms – such as bacteria and fungi – to grow. This is unlikely to have a significant impact on your health, but it can cause skin irritation, breakouts, and possibly even infection. Thomas A. Russo, MD, professor and director of infectious diseases at the University of Buffalo’s Jacobs School of Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, tells SELF that while fabrics like pillowcases and sheets can potentially be contaminated, they are generally not ideal locations for most Microorganisms are to grow and multiply effectively.

Very contagious skin infections like staphylococci or ringworm can theoretically be transmitted between two people through bed linen, says Dr. Russo. But it is very difficult to tell if something spread this way or was simply transmitted through skin contact when two people are living together and are intimately connected.

While the risk of spreading infectious bugs through your sheets is small, the microbes that regularly build up on your pillowcase can upset your skin’s delicate balance of microbes called the microbiome, which can lead to breakouts if you do prone to acne, previously self reported. If you have eczema it can potentially lead to a flare-up.

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Now let’s talk about dust mites.

Dust mites that are too small without a microscope are tiny creatures that live in house dust and feed on dead human skin cells. They thrive in warm, humid environments and especially love to live in bedding – where they enjoy an endless supply of flaked skin cells. Delicious.

These critters are NBD if you are not allergic to it. If so, they can be a big deal. “Dust mites are by far the most common indoor allergen,” Board-certified allergist-immunologist Ryan Steele, DO, assistant professor of clinical medicine at the Yale School of Medicine and program director of the Yale Allergy & Immunology Contact Dermatitis Program, told SELF . “Dust mites are something we believe may affect the airways, causing nasal congestion and watery eyes, but they can also make your skin itchy and make eczema worse.”

There’s no real way to get rid of or prevent dust mites, Denisa E. Ferastraoaru, MD, assistant professor of medicine in allergy and immunology and attending physician at Einstein / Montefiore and Jacobi Medical Center, told SELF. Allergists advise people with house dust mite allergies to get allergy covers for their pillows (and mattresses and duvets). “Covers basically hold dust mites in the pillow / bed so we can’t breathe them in,” says Dr. Ferastraoaru. If you cover all new pillows with a mite cover before using them for the first time, you can also keep house dust mites away from the start.

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So how often should you change your pillowcase?

The best and easiest way to prevent potential skin problems? Wash or change your pillowcases and allergy covers regularly. Dr. Steele suggests doing this once a week and using the hottest setting when washing to kill microbes and allergens. If you are a big drool or make a habit of going to bed with makeup on, you may want to wash or change your pillowcases more often.

With that in mind, washing your face every night and showering before bed will help keep your pillowcases cleaner longer (especially if you are severely sweaty or have seasonal allergies).

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What about the actual pillows?

The National Sleep Foundation recommends washing pillows (when possible) every six months with hot water and a mild detergent. That’s right, many pillows can actually be washed! And it turns out … you should! Basically, down / feather pillows and down alternative pillows can be put in the washing machine on a gentle cycle; while most foam pillows shouldn’t be machine washed. Some pillows do best when dry cleaned. Be sure to read the manufacturer’s instructions for your particular pillow.

When it comes to replacing your pillows, the National Sleep Foundation suggests swapping pillows every one to two years for new pillows that aren’t covered in dust mites and sweat.

Well, that’s not a hard and fast rule, and if buying new pillows every year sounds like a high cost, you aren’t wrong. By using allergy covers and washing your pillowcases, covers, and pillows as regularly as possible, you’ll keep them in good condition longer and buy some time before they get dusty, musty, and / or fluffy for a peaceful night’s sleep. Because that’s what it’s all about, after all.

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