From our archives

Tips on Buying and Caring for Sheets, Towels, Pillows and Other Linens

By Terri Sapienza
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 8, 2009

So, your linen closet is cleaned out and you're ready to restock the shelves. Before you begin, check out this quick refresher on how best to care for sheets, towels and pillows. Proper care will keep linens clean and fresh, and should lengthen their life span.

The advice comes from Aimee Wedlake, the owner of Valerianne, a specialty linen store in Northern Virginia that opened last spring. Her shelves are stocked with home accessories and luxury linens for the bed, bath and table. She offers consulting services, too, helping customers pick out linens and curtains to pull their bedrooms together.

Wedlake was inspired by her mother, who started Valerianne 13 years ago in Scottsdale, Ariz., where Wedlake ran the shop for eight years. Her mother has since retired from the business, and Wedlake is keeping the family's love of linens alive with her store in Vienna.

We chatted with Wedlake about laundering, storing and choosing linens, and asked her what the deal is with thread count.

What are common mistakes people make when laundering linens?

One of the worst things you can do is use dryer sheets and fabric softeners. They coat fibers, build residue and are difficult to rinse clean. They also dull and gray colors and break down cotton, which can cause linens to lose their softness and make them less absorbent. To help brighten your linens and get rid of residue buildup, wash them with a quarter cup of white vinegar every six to eight weeks, no detergent necessary.

People also tend to use way too much soap and don't rinse properly. You only need a small amount of soap. A good rule of thumb for detergent: Whatever it says on the bottle, use half. I also use an extra rinse cycle on sheets. I know it's not really green, but it really gets rid of the residue.

How often should you change and launder your sheets?

Every week to 10 days.

What are things to consider when buying sheets?

First, what appeals to your hand: Do you prefer a crisp, tight weave like cotton percale? Or do you prefer something with a little more luster, with a higher sheen, like sateen? Then, think about your mattress depth. Make note of it before you start shopping so you can get the appropriate size.

How much linen should you stock for each bedroom?

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