Washing sheets before use?
July 23, 2011 4:47 PM   Subscribe

Do you really need to wash new bed sheets before using them?

I bought a new duvet cover today, and on the back of the packet it says to wash it before use. Washing and drying the sheets is a bit of a pain, and I don't really know why it recommends to do so (something to do with getting them softer? will it lose dye? is it supposed to resize slightly?)

Do you wash new sheets before you use them, and if so why? Basically I'm wondering what's the worst that could happen if I put the cover straight on the bed.
posted by iivix to Home & Garden (23 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I think that all that pre-use washing will do is remove some of the starch (or whatever it is they use) to produce a good-looking packaged appearence. As far as I know, wash or not, your choice, but they will be a bit softer without the starch in 'em.
posted by easily confused at 4:51 PM on July 23, 2011

I do, because I've been to garment factories before and have seen the conditions in which many fabric goods are manufactured. I usually wash new clothes before I wear them, too. However, for me, the smell of unwashed clothes and sheets from the store usually screams "Wash me! Please wash me!" and I think it'd be hard to sleep on them if I didn't. If you're not smelling any such smell, I don't really see any reason to bother, but maybe someone else knows something I don't.
posted by troublesome at 4:53 PM on July 23, 2011 [4 favorites]

Yes, yes you do.
posted by Max Power at 4:53 PM on July 23, 2011 [6 favorites]

Probably nothing bad will happen to you if you use them, but if you wash them first they'll be cleaner, softer and will smell better.
posted by BlahLaLa at 4:56 PM on July 23, 2011

Response by poster: > If you're not smelling any such smell, I don't really see any reason to bother, but maybe someone else knows something I don't.

Well, they don't smell of anything much, and I've never washed new clothes either for what it's worth.

> Yes, yes you do.

OK so that's pretty definite, but why?
posted by iivix at 4:57 PM on July 23, 2011

For me it's all about the smell. I can't stand when new sheets or garments give off that sort of "industrial waste / salad dressing" odor. But there have been times when I've slept in new sheets without a second thought.

If it SAYS to wash them, I'd go ahead and assume there's a good reason they're covering their ass.
posted by hermitosis at 4:57 PM on July 23, 2011

There may be a dye in it that can stain other things. On dark wash jeans, I often see a "wash before wearing...this may stain other fabrics" tag.

That said, I've never washed any clothes or sheets before using, and I'm still alive and well.
posted by AlisonM at 5:07 PM on July 23, 2011

You should wash clothing and bedding before wearing/sleeping in them. Many items are processed at the factory using chemicals that can be pretty bad news, and you want to get them off before spending a long time with your skin pressed against the fabric.

For example, here's a PDF of Information about Formaldehyde used in processing clothing from the government of Australia.
posted by LobsterMitten at 5:09 PM on July 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Interesting link from Foci for Analysis, thanks. It suggests the pre-use wash is either to remove formaldehyde (used as a preservative) or to prevent dye running in the first (mixed) wash. I can't smell anything like formaldehyde, and the label explicitly says "Wash seperately before use" (plus the sheet has some pretty bright colours on it), so I guess it's a safeguard against the dyes running.
posted by iivix at 5:13 PM on July 23, 2011

I once bought some blue sheets and didn't wash them before use. I woke up with pale blue skin, but didn't notice it until people started asking me if I was seriously ill.
posted by martinrebas at 5:21 PM on July 23, 2011 [11 favorites]

Oh, man, I had my trusty copy of "Home Comforts" out, and while I was typing the exact reference, Foci for Analysis covered the major points about excess finish, dye, etcetera.

Also--having recently been linen shopping--people really like to stick their grubby hands (hands are grubby--they just are) on the merchandise to look at what they're buying. Which is reasonable, as packaged linens are often conveniently folded in such a way as to not let you see the areas most revealing of quality.

/I totally bought Home Comforts on AskMe's advice, and it's made out of magic for household fabric questions (among many other things). It has made me a wash-before-wearing-or-use person, and I did not care before. And a fiber content checker.
posted by Uniformitarianism Now! at 5:23 PM on July 23, 2011 [3 favorites]

Once I tried to sleep in new sheets before I had washed them, and I ended up tearing them off the bed as I was trying to sleep because they were itchy. My skin isn't really sensitive at all, and I never wash clothes before I wear them. But it's different when you're trying to sleep.
posted by katypickle at 6:45 PM on July 23, 2011

Excess dye fumes can also give some people headaches or other reactions, even if they're not technically allergic.
posted by amtho at 8:03 PM on July 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

Our sheets tend to come from Pakistan and India. I've been to the sub-continent, I wash new sheets.
posted by wilful at 8:39 PM on July 23, 2011

My sister called 911 to help her son who came down to breakfast blue, not mood, but skin colour. Medics found the only problem was new, unwashed blue sheets that had released their dye all over my nephew. I always wash new bedding and towels before use now.
posted by angiep at 11:20 PM on July 23, 2011

as Uniformitarianism Now! says, people like to put their grubby little hands on clothes and sheets in the store...which is part of the reason for some of the sizing chemicals that they use...think of it as a very light scotch-guarding...also to keep them all smooth and shiny and wrinkle-resistant and non-staticy in the store...if the chemicals don't irritate your skin (or change its color) I wouldn't sweat it...
posted by sexyrobot at 12:25 AM on July 24, 2011

Best answer: For whatever it's worth, I almost never wash sheets before I put them on the bed. I actually just put on brand new sheets tonight--opened the package, dumped them on the bed, and made the bed up. I'm in bed right now. So far, the world hasn't ended.
posted by MeghanC at 1:31 AM on July 24, 2011 [1 favorite]

If they are flannelette sheets, they will pill disastrously if you use them without washing. I think hand washing with a cup of methylateted (metho, or whatever you call 100% ethanol with so methanol to poison the winos) is the bomb. As you can tell, these advanced washing techniques are not my forte, but I can vouch for the results.
posted by bystander at 1:40 AM on July 24, 2011

This question lead me onto a 15 minute long internal debate about why I always wash new bed lined before I use it, but don't wash new underpants or socks before I use them.

The debate continues.

But as adjudicator, might I suggest the possibility that the recommendation is mostly made with the purpose being that your first night sleeping on their product is free of wrinkles caused by packaging, and the smell of the plastic packaging?
posted by Diag at 3:43 AM on July 24, 2011

Another reason to wash new stuff: New clothes, swarming with germs.
[...] tested new clothing from three stores, upscale and otherwise, and found them populated with all manner of bacteria, including those associated with feces, armpits and the vagina. The volume of bacteria in some instances suggested that the item of clothing had been tried on by many shoppers or even taken home, worn and returned to the store.
I don't know about sheets, but I envision germ infested fingers opening the packaging and stroking the material to see how soft it is ...
posted by elle.jeezy at 9:55 AM on July 24, 2011

Anecdotal, but I wore a t-shirt straight out of the packaging the other day and it was very uncomfortable. I was itching and sweating. The effect would probably be less with bedclothes, but whatever it was, you don't want it, trust me.
posted by AmbroseChapel at 6:18 PM on July 24, 2011

I get rashes if I wear new clothes before I wash them, and I know other people do, too. So that's why I would say to do it.
posted by WorkingMyWayHome at 7:38 PM on July 24, 2011

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