I’ll admit it, I have gone four weeks without changing my sheets before. That is bad, and I felt bad about it, and I woke up feeling bad – bad was the order of the day. Normally, I’m a one-to-two weeks (mostly two) kinda guy, which I think is pretty standard, and therefore: not bad. But the temptation is always there – what would happen if I just left them on for one more week?
I’m not going to die, am I? My skin isn’t going to fall off, my skull isn’t going to seep through my nostrils, I won’t find grubs wriggling about under my pillows, my chest won’t swell to the size of a medicine ball and then burst at work, spraying forth a horde of wasps into the office. None of that will happen, it’s just one more week.
Thing is, it actually might (bar the wasps, I’d hedge). Those things actually might happen, because it turns out that after a week, your bed sheets become a squirming hell-hole of bacteria, mites, demons and snot that swirls around your skin, turning you into an infectious, greasy hound that needs to be incinerated immediately, or the entire world will be overrun by a deadly virus that started in your sheets.
New York University microbiologist Philip Tierno talked to Business Insider and stepped way across the threshold to ruin your day by describing your gross bed-pit as a “botanical park” of foul bacteria and fungus. He suggests that if you don’t fancy sleeping on a film of multiplying single-celled disease-causing little pricks, then you wash your sheets once a week.
One of the main reasons for this is that humans produce up to 26 gallons of sweat every year (or every night, at the moment), and this is the perfect breeding ground for all those microscopic bastards hell-bent on boring into your skin and making you an abhorrent fleabag. A recent study found that a sample of feather and synthetic pillows ranging from one and a half to 20 years old contained up to 16 species of fungus each. You’re like little miss Muffet, only instead of one mushroom, there are 16 of them, and instead of sitting, you’re sleeping, and instead of a spider, it’s a horde of giant bacteria intent on disintegrating your immune-system.
But it’s not just sweat that carries danger with it – you’ve also got dead skin, sputum (an equally disgusting word for phlegm, basically), vaginal, penile and anal secretions, coating your lovely Egyptian cotton sheets with a thread count of 1000 that you keep banging on about.
Oh yeah, and animal dander, pollen, soil, lint, dust mite debris and feces – all spread neatly across that place where you spend a third of your life.
Tierno says that one week is enough for all this crap to build up, simply because "Just like Rome over time was buried with the debris that falls from gravity, gravity is what brings all that material into your mattress [and] even if you don't have allergies per se, you can have an allergic response.”
He then goes on to include dog poo in his analysis, because if you’re not going to talk about dog poo, then what kind of scientist are you?
“If you touched dog poo in the street, you'd want to wash your hands. Consider that analogous to your bedding. If you saw what was there — but of course you don't see it — after a while you have to say to yourself, 'Do I want to sleep in that?’”
I mean, yeah, but I have to admit, I don’t sleep in sheets that are covered in dog shit. If I did, I would wash them immediately, and also myself. The order in which I would do this is up for debate.