How to petition boyfriend about bedding?
February 18, 2009 1:26 PM   Subscribe

I could use some help figuring out how to phrase a request that my boyfriend give his bedding a spin in the laundry. We're pretty newly minted, and I understand the need for tact here, but I am blanking on the best way to say this.

I'm not a crazy hygiene freak. While I'm definitely neater than he is (he has expressed concern about the disorganized state of his room as it affects me), I am not bothered by the clutter in his room on the floor, the desk, and other available surfaces. It doesn't even approach as bad as I've seen from older brothers and former roommates.

But, the last time I slept over the bedding was a bit rank, beyond what may have been partly due to activities recently conducted in and around it. I think there's a basic expectation of not being overwhelmed with unwashed blanket/sheet smell while trying to fall asleep, and I don't think I'm out of line in wanting to make that request. I just don't know how to say it exactly, and I'd like some help. I'm concerned here because -- given that we haven't been together long -- this would be the first time I would be asking him to alter any kind of behavior of his, completely under my own motives. And, obviously, this is kind of a touchy subject. I'm not overburdened with social graces to begin with -- my usual communication lists heavily towards forthright, frequently tinged with wry facetiousness.

I like him a lot, and want to make it clear that I don't think he's a gross and disgusting individual for this. Lighthearted, not-a-big-deal is I think the way to go, but I'm just... drawing a blank, possibly due to overthinking. Help me get the beans off this plate.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (52 answers total)
"Why don't you wash this stuff, so we can make it dirty again?"
posted by wfrgms at 1:27 PM on February 18, 2009 [18 favorites]

You could just "accidentally" spill something on the sheets so they'd have to be washed.
posted by ginagina at 1:28 PM on February 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

just ask him how often he washes his sheets and tell him you have sensitive skin.

you're sleeping with him, this isn't a difficult question compared to 'do you have herpies?'
posted by eatdonuts at 1:29 PM on February 18, 2009

Buy him a new set of wonderful linens, then proceed to strip off the old, stanky set and offer to wash it for him this time. Do this while he's in the room. Then say, "Let's switch it back again to a fresh set next week."

Sometimes a girl's gotta do what a guy doesn't realize needs to be done.
posted by HeyAllie at 1:30 PM on February 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

Does he have a second set of sheets? (When I first started dating my now-husband he didn't, which is why the single set he had never got washed.)

If you can afford it, buy him new (maybe high-thread count or other "more luxurious" sheets) and then just change the bedding as a surprise for him.
posted by anastasiav at 1:31 PM on February 18, 2009

I second telling him you have sensitive skin. It gets irritated easily, so you wash your own sheets at (x frequency). Does he mind following suit? Of course he doesn't.
posted by prefpara at 1:33 PM on February 18, 2009 [3 favorites]

I like the idea of buying him a spare set of sheets if he doesn't already have them, but anything more proactive without a verbal explanation seems passive aggressive (i.e., it's totally fine to say "I'm going to buy you a spare set of sheets to make it easier, but will you please wash your sheets more frequently? Otherwise I can't stay over" but just washing the sheets without explaining it seems like a bad idea--if only because it increases the likelihood that the sheets will only be washed when you do it yourself).
posted by Meg_Murry at 1:35 PM on February 18, 2009

Oh, for Pete's sake -- just tell him his gross, yellowing sheets are a big turnoff, and if he'd like you to sleep in his bed, he needs to mend his bachelor ways.

I've had women clue me in on similar issues over the years (turns out it's not cool to let it mellow, even if it is yellow). I was happy to adjust my behavior to create a more pleasant environment for my guests, and he should be too.
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 1:38 PM on February 18, 2009 [5 favorites]

Throw them in the washer while he's making breakfast, and say "You know what I love? The smell of fresh, clean sheets!" Or if you really want to motivate him, "... having sex on fresh, clean sheets." He'll get the hint before the next time you come over. If he doesn't, then be more blunt. I wouldn't tell him you have sensitive skin unless you do. I'd tell him the truth, which is that you're sensitive to smell.
posted by desjardins at 1:40 PM on February 18, 2009 [2 favorites]

Nthing the buy-him-some-sheets approach.

One of my ex-girlfriends did this, and it worked exactly as intended.
posted by box at 1:41 PM on February 18, 2009

I've seen a lot of these questions here lately, and everyone always wants to throw money at the problem. "Okay, so his ass smells; can you afford to buy him a new ass and swap it out while he isn't using it?"

Really, just say, "Hey, wash your sheets." If he doesn't see the point, shrug and leave. He'll see it soon enough.
posted by jon_kill at 1:42 PM on February 18, 2009 [13 favorites]

I am not too hot on the sensitive skin idea. Say you guys break up in a few months, he very well might go back to stank sheet bachelorhood now that he doesn't have to be considerate of your faux-sensitivity. That said, I like HeyAllie's alternative. You mix sex into the equation and a guy will do anything you want.
posted by munchingzombie at 1:42 PM on February 18, 2009

I HIGHLY disagree with anyone suggested you buy him new (or a second set) of sheets, much less change them for him. That is a slippery slope into being a mother rather a girlfriend, or a girlfriend who sometimes plays the role of a mother.

I'm nthing wfrgms especially since the other suggestion are lies or are passive aggressive. And then when the sheets get dirty again, just suggest that they be washed. He probably doesn't even notice how rank they are.
posted by wocka wocka wocka at 1:44 PM on February 18, 2009 [3 favorites]

posted by jessamyn at 1:47 PM on February 18, 2009 [10 favorites]

Buying sheets for me would be nice in an established relationship, but if it's really early on, I'd find it very offputting - "Your stuff is unacceptable; I am replacing it." I'd just go with "I love sleeping/having sex on clean sheets."
posted by Tomorrowful at 1:49 PM on February 18, 2009

Don't hint, don't avoid the subject (even by doing the wash for him, unless you want to be responsible for washing the sheets from then on out). Buying new sheets would be nice, especially if he only has one set, as long as you explain why you bought the extras... but even that's not necessary.

Just ask him how often he typically washes his sheets, then ask him to do it more often. You probably can't avoid embarrassing him a little, so don't bother trying. You probably won't accidentally hurt his feelings, so don't bother trying not to.
posted by roystgnr at 1:51 PM on February 18, 2009

I like the idea of being honest and letting him know the sheets have passed their "good by..." date since the last wash and need a run through the usual appliances.

Making up stuff and otherwise prevaricating is silly.
posted by batmonkey at 1:54 PM on February 18, 2009 [3 favorites]

If you take care of buying or cleaning the sheets for him, prepare yourself for a lifetime of you doing all the cleaning in the relationship. If you want to help him live up to his share, then you should talk with him and establish rules about what you both find acceptable. Maybe he doesn't mind washing sheets every week if he knows you like it. Maybe he will freak out. Isn't it important to know these kinds of things as early as possible?

The solution to most relationship problems is communication, not passive-aggressive behavior modification. But since you already asked about how to phrase it, I'll assume you're on the right track. If he's like me, he'd appreciate you being direct and clear in your feelings.

"Your sheets smell. How often do you wash them? Most people do it weekly. Would you need to buy another set of sheets to be able to do that?"
posted by blue_beetle at 1:59 PM on February 18, 2009

NB: If he's used them for long enough that they're smelling, it's entirely possible that they will be too gunked up to truly make clean. (People are oily. That oil can be really hard to get out once it's been in fabric for a really long time.) But, of course, it never hurts to try.

(If you're at all interested to learn the whys and wherefores behind the washing of bed linens, etc., I suggest you read Home Comforts by Cheryl Mendelson. Even if you never follow any of her advice, her explanations are fascinating.)
posted by ocherdraco at 2:05 PM on February 18, 2009

roystgnr: "You probably can't avoid embarrassing him a little, so don't bother trying."

Yeah, that.

If your communication style is really how you say it is, he probably respects the fact that you're candid/funny and since he's shown concern for his messiness, you shouldn't feel too guilty about mentioning it. He may even be surprised that you haven't asked him to tidy up already, if you're known to be rather neat.

If you want to make it seem like a 'new' issue (i.e. that you just noticed and you haven't been thinking about it for weeks and secretly judging him), walk into his room in the early evening - read: when there's enough time for laundry to be done before bed - wrinkle your nose and say:

"Whoa, it's pretty musty in here! I think it might be the sheets. Will you please wash them before we go to bed tonight?" and then, to lighten the mood and immediately take the attention off his grossness or embarrassment, insert your own joking innuendo about what will happen in that bed very soon. Throw in some kisses and you're golden.
posted by cranberrymonger at 2:05 PM on February 18, 2009

Buying sheets is ridiculous. Where are these ultra-humid climates (with no tumble dryers, to boot) where you can't wash some sheets first thing in the morning and have them dry by the evening?
posted by game warden to the events rhino at 2:07 PM on February 18, 2009

I wouldn't buy him a set of sheets--they're expensive, and you're newly dating. It's a weird gift.

I would, however, say something along the lines of "I love falling asleep in/having sex on freshly cleaned sheets. How 'bout it?" and maybe toss something in about how you wash yours every other day/weekly/whatever to set a minimum standard of what you expect. Luckily my boyfriend likes clean sheets, but I did pull this about his bathroom in the same way. Went over well, we're still together, the bathroom's cleaner. :)
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 2:09 PM on February 18, 2009

Buying sheets is ridiculous. Where are these ultra-humid climates (with no tumble dryers, to boot) where you can't wash some sheets first thing in the morning and have them dry by the evening?

Why do some people think of this as a legitimate reason to only have one set of sheets? Washing machines and dryers break down mid-cycle sometimes, or you forget to take your laundry out of the wash, or a sheet snags on something in the machine and tears. This is why buying a spare set might make sense--though you could always tack it onto your request ("Please wash your sheets and also buy another set.")
posted by Meg_Murry at 2:11 PM on February 18, 2009

When you wake up in the morning, pretend to kind of make the bed.

"Oh you know what? I just realized we haven't washed these sheets in a while. I usually do mine about once a week, otherwise they start to get kinda gross. And clean sheets are so nice. Should I throw these in the wash and you can get them out later?"

Say the above while already beginning to strip the sheets.
posted by barnone at 2:15 PM on February 18, 2009

Next time you are hanging out on his bed, I think a simple, "Does something smell bad?" might make him take a life-altering sniff.
posted by iscatter at 2:16 PM on February 18, 2009

Tell him in a matter-of-fact, non-scolding, non-joking tone that he needs to wash his sheets weekly (or however often) if he would like you to stay over.

You are thinking he will take offense because you would probably be embarrassed if someone told you that you needed to wash your sheets more often. He probably never thinks about the sheets, and if you act like it´s nothing embarrassing he won´t even know that some people would feel so embarrassed to have nasty sheets that they would never let them reach such a state.
posted by yohko at 2:16 PM on February 18, 2009

I don't think buying a second set of sheets is such a bad thing. I did so, fairly early on, because I made the point that having two sets meant doing laundry less often.

Plus, it opens up the conversation to washing sheets period, so the "how often do you wash yours" can come up easily.

They don't have to be expensive. Just hit up your local Tj Maxx or Marshall's or even Kohl's.

I'd think he'd appreciate it and it just alleviates the awkwardness.
posted by patientpatient at 2:17 PM on February 18, 2009

If you notice any *ahem* stains, you could lightheartedly say "Hmm looks like we've been having a little too much fun on this bed, you should put these in the wash soon." That way it's more about you helping make them dirty, not his lack of cleaning.
posted by radioamy at 2:29 PM on February 18, 2009

Personally, the next time I walked into his room, I would just say "Woooowee, something stinks in here!" Then you can go on a sniff test for the offender (don't smell too many things before getting to the sheets, or you might regret it.) When you "find" the offensive sheets, it will be easy enough to request a quick turn in the spin cycle.
posted by wuzandfuzz at 2:30 PM on February 18, 2009

He's a guy. Guys don't really need hints or plotting. Just tell him he needs to wash his sheets.
posted by chairface at 2:32 PM on February 18, 2009 [7 favorites]

This is not rocket science. Do not barter with sex. Do not say something like "Does something smell bad?". Do not drop off a bag from Bed Bath and Beyond and hope he gets the hint. Do not lie about sensitive skin. Do not make unnecessary reference to odors. Do not spill fish sauce on the bed.

"Hey, can you wash these sheets?" is really enough. Being able to make simple, direct, unobtrusive requests without devolving in to Kabuki Theater is important for your long-term sanity.
posted by 0xFCAF at 2:33 PM on February 18, 2009 [8 favorites]

"dude, you need to wash your sheets" should cover it. no need to buy new sheets. you can suggest helping him to change the sheets before you guys hit the sack.
posted by ye#ara at 2:36 PM on February 18, 2009

Do not attempt subtlety. Don't be coy. Don't lie or "accidentally" do something passive-aggressive. Just kindly express what you want in the simplest terms possible. "Let's change the sheets before bed tonight."
posted by ijoshua at 2:40 PM on February 18, 2009

"Hey, you should wash your sheets."
posted by tomatofruit at 2:40 PM on February 18, 2009

Assume he's dense and doesn't take hints. Tell him straight up, "Dude, this smells."
posted by jmd82 at 2:47 PM on February 18, 2009

I went through very same dilemma. Weekly or biweekly washings were not enough to get out years of funk and gunk. I told the guy jokingly that he needed new bed linens and then followed up. Next stop to megabox store I reminded him, in same lighthearted manner, for the need of new bed linens. He happily obliged and bought a set. Looking back in terms of expended brain power I'm sure I gave more thought to the issue than he did.

Don't buy anything for him. Don't make up allergies. What will you do when the freshly washed linens stink as bad as before? Just be honest. Try to become comfortable with these kinds of conversations early on because time doesn't make them any easier, only harder.
posted by vincele at 2:55 PM on February 18, 2009

I think with my boyfriend, when we were first dating, it went something like this...
Him: Can we hang out at my place tonight? I need to get some laundry done.
Me: Sure, sounds good. We could rent a movie? Maybe you can wash those stinky sheets while you're doing laundry... *poke in the ribs*
Him: Oh... yeah, I should probably do that.
posted by booknerd at 3:26 PM on February 18, 2009 [2 favorites]

I should add that's a playful poke in the ribs, not a mean-spirited one.
posted by booknerd at 3:27 PM on February 18, 2009

Also, his sheets were hand-me-downs from an ex-girlfriend and just sort of icky in general. I did what any reasonable person would do and accidentally tore the bottom sheet with my foot during some of those recreational bed activities. That's an effective approach, but doesn't address the laundry frequency issue for the long term. (It really was an accident, too, but he doesn't believe me).
posted by booknerd at 3:30 PM on February 18, 2009

Good lord... we're over considering the beans on this plate...

be honest.. it's that simple. Do you want your relationship based on lies?

And, if he doesn't respect that, you know what to do next...
posted by HuronBob at 3:40 PM on February 18, 2009

I am continually astounded by a lot of the responses to questions of this nature, which revolve around the social contract and plain old politeness and common decency. Yesterday it was the dogwoman whistling thing, and the response? "Buy her a silent whistle and som doggy-yums." Today it's a stank-ass bed and the response is "Buy him an expensive set of sheets." I say to you no! The only reasonable course of action in this case is: "Can you wash these sheets please? They smell really bad and make me not want to sleep in your bed. Please make sure you wash them more than once every quarter. Thank you."

People are so fucking high-strung and sensitive it makes me sick. Sick I tell you! If there's something about a person you don't like, and that thing is clearly an objectively grim thing, like having filthy sheets when they expect you to sleep with them, just step up and tell them!
posted by turgid dahlia at 4:22 PM on February 18, 2009 [4 favorites]

I'd think he'd appreciate it and it just alleviates the awkwardness.

Free shit and nobody telling him straight that he's a tramp? Damn right he'd appreciate that. I'd love it if I had an old and busted Honda with holes in the floor and the seats soaked with piss and a girl bought me a new hotness Maserati. Who wouldn't? Thing is, people have to get clued in to their own, to put it delicately, oversights (and outright stupidities), and the way you do this is by telling them, not doing them little favours.
posted by turgid dahlia at 4:27 PM on February 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

I think the best course of action would be to just wash them yourself, or, as previously stated, comment on how nice it is to have sex on clean sheets. I know it's a delicate issue, and communicating things like this is a challenge. But I don't think buying him a new set of sheets is the right approach--especially if this is going to last awhile, you're going to have to learn to communicate with one about about this kind of thing. Good luck!
posted by faeuboulanger at 4:27 PM on February 18, 2009

Date at the laundromat?
posted by easy_being_green at 4:41 PM on February 18, 2009

While lying face down on the bed, sniff and fake cough/laugh. "Boy, it's time to wash these". Very casually, as if you knew he just forgot. If you have some free time, tell him lightheartedly: "let's go wash them!".
posted by clearlydemon at 5:38 PM on February 18, 2009

1. "These sheets smell terrible. Ew. That's such a turn-off." Or what turgid dahlia said.

2. Buying sheets is ridiculous. Where are these ultra-humid climates (with no tumble dryers, to boot) where you can't wash some sheets first thing in the morning and have them dry by the evening? Tumble dryers are expensive and wasteful for just two sheets - you could buy a new set of sheets from the power savings of not running one when the weather is ok. And the weather is not always ok in many places around the world, especially if you have to work all day. When I lived in Auckland, it could rain every couple of hours on your nearly-dry washing.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 5:52 PM on February 18, 2009

To be honest, I would go: *sniff* "gross! When did you last wash your bedding? NEVER? OK, we're going to do some laundry right now/first thing in the morning. You men and your filth."
posted by saturnine at 6:05 PM on February 18, 2009

Nthing that you should not buy him new sheets, for the love of pete. Weird, and motherly.

The tone of your comment can correspond to his personality, but something within the continuum of wfrgms's "Why don't you wash this stuff, so we can make it dirty again?" and clearlydemon's *cough/laugh* "Boy, it's time to wash these!"
posted by desuetude at 7:13 PM on February 18, 2009

Ask him if he likes that song When You Were Mine.
posted by Sailormom at 8:20 PM on February 18, 2009

I had to do this with 'moonMan and towels. The way I approached it was "Dude, do you mind if I bring some of my towels over here? Yours are starting to smell a bit weird from overuse." If you need to lighten the mood, just say you think the sheets need to be washed more often since they're now being used for two people rather than one.

I've never had a problem telling a guy that his stuff smells, usually after it's mentioned he realizes "Oh yeah, this does kind of smell." Guys have been, in my experience, more than happy to remedy this sort of thing to please a special lady friend.

(Except that one guy who Febrezed his sheets instead of washing them. He was on the slow end of the learning curve, but I hear he was eventually cured of this.)
posted by grapefruitmoon at 11:01 AM on February 19, 2009

Hmm… What my girlfriend said to me was, "Damn, your sheets are dirty. When did you last wash them? You need to clean them now."

And I said, "Oh, yeah, jeez, you're right."

And then I washed them, and then everyone was happy.
posted by klangklangston at 11:50 AM on February 19, 2009

When you wake up together in the morning, have a stretch, look around the bed, and say with a sweet smile, "Wow, we really need to wash the sheets!" Give him a kiss, get up, and strip the bed.
posted by iguanapolitico at 2:22 PM on February 19, 2009

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