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Bedding Care 101

When you take proper care of your sheets, pillows, comforters, and mattress, a good night's rest is ensured.

The bed is where you begin and end the day, and where you spend nearly a third of your life. Why not make it the cleanest, loveliest, and most comfortable spot in your home? Knowing the right way to wash, dry, and store your bed's components is essential to creating a soothing sleep environment. And if you're in the market for new bedding, we've got you covered there, too.


When you think about it, your bed is the most important piece of furniture in your bedroom—it's both functional and crucial to any design scheme. Dress it with beautiful, freshly laundered linens in pleasing hues and patterns. Here, we chose an inviting robin's-egg blue as the foundation color, adding crisp stripes, soft florals, and geometric motifs for an effect that's both stylish and cozy. To make a bedroom more conducive to sleep, adjust the lighting, temperature, and noise level to suit your needs. According to the National Sleep Foundation, a bedroom that's cool, dark, and quiet fosters more restful slumber.

 

Related: How to Fold a Comforter

 

When and How to Wash Your Sheets

How often you wash your sheets is a personal preference. In general, it's a good idea to launder them weekly to remove dirt and dust. Use warm water rather than hot water, which can shrink the material's fibers, and wash printed and colored pillowcases inside out to protect the color. If your sheets feature delicate trim or other features, be sure to check the label for care instructions before washing. Use oxygenated bleach on whites and light colors (chlorine bleach is too harsh for most linens) when dealing with tough stains. If you're worried about discoloration, try removing cosmetics and face lotions before you head to sleep, since they're a common cause of discoloration. Many skin products contain oxidizing agents that can actually bleach sheets—choose white bedsheets if you're worried about this effect. 

 

When it comes to drying sheets, you should tumble dry them according to the label's instructions, and remove them before they're fully dry to help minimize wrinkles. That being said, make sure sheets are dry before storing them to avoid mildew growth in your home

 

If you have the time, ironing your sheets is a surefire way to make them feel new again and can help you keep them neat in storage. Keep folded extras in a cool, dry closet or drawer. These surfaces should be lined with acid-free tissue paper, which helps keep the fabric from yellowing—but even if you don't have this feature in your closets, avoid storing sheets in plastic containers, which can trap moisture and foster the growth of mildew.

 

Replacing Your Sheets

You should replace sheets when you see obvious signs of aging: Stains, fraying hems, or faded colors and patterns. When buying new sheets, aim for a thread count between 200 and 400, since many manufacturers use a method called double insertion, in which two or four threads are twisted together before weaving. This doesn't result in more threads-per-inch or a softer sheet. Cotton quality matters more: Look for 100 percent combed cotton, which produces a finer sheet than carded cotton, and go with what feels best.

 

Washing Pillows and Other Down Items

To protect pillows, encase them in pillow protectors (zippered covers that go under the cases). These covers keep allergens at bay while shielding pillows from hair and body oils, which can soak into the filling. You'll still need to wash pillows at least twice a year, and since most down and synthetic pillows are machine-washable, you can wash them in pairs using mild liquid detergent in place of a powder, which can leave a residue. Run your pillows through the rinse cycle twice the second time around without detergent, to ensure they're rinsed fully.

 

When it comes to drying pillows, you'll need to ensure that all moisture has been wicked away, as dampness left in pillows can lead to mold. Use the no-heat cycle or low-heat setting, as high heat can lead to clumping in polyester-filled pillows. Your dryer will fluff pillows nicely, especially if you throw in a couple of unused tennis balls (wrapped in clean white socks, to prevent dyes from transferring). Afterward, keep plumping your pillows daily when you make your bed, to keep the filling from becoming flattened.

 

Replacing Your Pillows

When should you replace your pillows, you may ask?  With regular washing and fluffing, the average down or feather pillow can last many years. "I have pillows on my beds that are 10 to 15 years old," Martha says. In the long run, good-quality down is the least-expensive way to go since it holds up better than synthetic stuffings, which generally wear out in three to four years. When a pillow no longer looks evenly filled after being fluffed, or if you're waking up with chronic neck or back pain, it's time for a replacement.

 

It's good to note that many high-end manufacturers will refill their pillows for a fee—but if you're shopping for a new pillow, choose one that supports your posture. Stomach sleepers do best on soft (preferably down) pillows, which reduce neck strain; back sleepers need a semi-firm pillow that is flatter. Firmer pillows are best if you sleep on your side or toss and turn a lot.

 

RELATED: The Golden Rules of Washing Pillows, Blankets, and Down

 

The Best Sheets You Can Buy

From soft bamboo sheets to luxurious cotton duvets, there are many options in organic- and other natural-fiber bedding. The best options on the market, however, are 100 percent cotton varieties—they're breathable linens that are made entirely of cotton, and they'll last for many years. Egyptian cotton, another high-quality material grown in the fertile Nile Valley, has a long fiber, or staple, that yields a strong, highly absorbent material. Supima, America's version of Egyptian cotton, is the finest long-staple cotton grown in the United States—and Pima, grown primarily in the southwestern United States, is long-staple cotton named after an American Indian tribe. 


Other cotton varieties include linen, bamboo, and organic cotton. Linen is a luxurious fiber, derived from the flax plant, feels nice and cool in summer and gets softer after many years of use. Linen-cotton blends are more affordable and generally easier to care for than 100 percent linen or cotton-based sheets. If you get hot while you sleep, try cool and silky bamboo-fiber sheets. Often blended with organic cotton, the fiber, made from the pulp of bamboo grass, is naturally resistant to bacteria. Although the grass renews rapidly, the fiber production can be resource intensive, so this isn't necessarily a "green" product. Raised and harvested using methods that do not include harmful pesticides, orgainc cotton is environmentally friendly. Keep in mind that some sheets labeled "organic" are colored with nonorganic dyes.

 

How to Care for Your Comforter

Most comforters and duvets should have a cover, which is much easier to clean and, like a pillow protector, helps shield allergy sufferers from a buildup of dust and dirt. It also guards against oils that can break down the fabric and eventually cause filling to leak. Decorative comforters, which come in a variety of colors and styles, do not require covers, on the other hand. These comforter covers should be washed weekly—monthly if you use a top sheet—but you won't have to wash the comforter itself unless you spill something on it. When it's necessary, launder comforters following the label's instructions

 

To remove moisture, which could lead to mold and mildew, thoroughly dry all comforters—most should and can be machine-dried, but check the label before doing so. Store your comforter folded in a cool, dry place, away from moisture and light. A linen or canvas storage bag will allow it to breathe; avoid plastic, which prevents air circulation. In order to reduce odor buildup, hang your comforter on a clothesline on a dry, breezy day every few months. You can fluff your comforter in the dryer, just as you would a pillow.

 

Because it doesn't have to support weight the way that pillows and mattresses must, your comforter should last 15 to 25 years if you keep it covered and air it regularly. Replace it when it begins to look limp and flat or starts leaking bits of filling. When shopping for a new comforter, consider your bedroom temperature before choosing the weight and material. And look for double stitching or baffle construction, which prevents down from leaking and helps keep the filling from bunching or matting as it's washed.

 

RELATED: Your 6 Most Annoying Laundry Problems—Solved!

 

How to Protect Your Mattress—And When to Replace It

A mattress cover is the best way to protect your mattress from allergy-causing dust. A cover also prevents the mattress from absorbing perspiration, which may cause it to deteriorate more quickly. Choose a cover that's quilted or padded with feathers for added softness (be sure to wash the mattress cover once a month, as its exterior can become quite dirty). Most mattresses are constructed well enough that they don't need flipping, as beds often feature a designated top and bottom illustrated by quilted designs on one side. Some experts still suggest rotating them end-to-end once a month for the first six months, and then once per season. This is important if one partner is heavier than the other or if you sleep alone because it ensures that your weight is distributed equally across the bed.  

 

If you suffer from allergies and notice your symptoms have become chronic beyond repair, your mattress may have accumulated too much dust. Replacing an old mattress and increasing a room's ventilation are the two most effective ways to reduce dust, according to the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology. A high-quality mattress will last 20 to 50 years, whereas budget-friendly options are often designed to last eight to 10 years. Using a cover and rotating regularly can extend your mattress's life. You'll know it's time to replace your mattress when it gives you a stiff back; it probably has lost its cushioning, and the springs have worn down.

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