Health

What Actually Happens if You Never Wash Your Sheets?

Your "friend" is a dirty, shameless person.
June 30, 2016, 4:00am

Logo by Kitron Neuschatz; photo via Shutterstock

Ah, friends. They're like family but cooler. Fully customizable. Fall and one of them will be right there to pick you back up. But as great as friends can be, they also do a lot of really stupid stuff. Stuff that blows your mind. Like, sometimes it seems crazy that you even hang out with people who make such crappy decisions. Stuff that, were it to get out, would be mortifying for anyone with even a shred of self-respect. Lucky for your friends, they've got you to ask their deepest, darkest questions for them. And lucky for you, we started this new column to answer those most embarrassing of queries.

The scenario: Your "friend" strips the bed, oh, every couple of months.

What you're afraid of: You'll He'll contract a flesh-eating disease and/or scare off a potential mate.

The considerations: "When you don't wash your sheets, large quantities of particulates accumulate, including human skin cells," Philip Tierno Jr., a professor of microbiology and pathology at the NYU School of Medicine, told VICE. "Those cells serve as foodstuff for dust mites, whose feces are very allergenic." As in, they can cause coughing, sneezing, itchy eyes, and postnasal drip.

On top of that, dirty sheets can collect fungal spores, mold, insect parts, dust, lint, and pollen, all of which can exacerbate allergies and asthma if you inhale them for eight hours a night, Tierno said. Worse, staph bacteria can survive on bedding that isn't regularly washed in hot water. For the most part, staph tends to live harmlessly on skin and inside nostrils (or it causes minor infections), but on rare occasions it can be fatal if it gets into the bloodstream via a cut. Technically you or a guest could carry staph onto freshly laundered sheets, but the longer you go without washing them, the more staph builds up in your bed and the higher the likelihood is of it infecting you.

On a less concerning note, the cosmetics, lotions, oils, and other products your buddy puts on his face and hair pile up on your—er, his—pillowcase and are transferred back to his skin if he sleeps on his side or stomach. Hence his regular breakouts.

The worst thing that could actually happen: Your friend will get a drug-resistant, life-threatening staph infection.

What is more likely to happen: His allergies will get worse, or he'll develop new ones.

What to do: Here's what Tierno suggests to keep allergies, infections, and acne in check: Throw your sheets in the washer once a week, and invest in protection. "Even if you wash weekly, you still have buildup in the core of your mattress and pillows," he said. "You can't get it out, but you can prevent further deposits and trap what's already in there with mattress and pillow protectors." The National Sleep Foundation recommends PureCare covers. Sweet feces-free dreams!