If you’ve ever been fortunate enough to sleep in a four-star-hotel bed, you know there is nothing like the crisp, clean feel of fine white sheets. I cherished my first set, a wedding present, and was dismayed when, over time, they yellowed and eventually ripped.
Here are tips from the pros on how to wash, dry and stain-treat your bedding so that you can prolong the life of your linens.
George Matouk Jr., whose family’s business, Matouk, has been making luxury bedding since 1929, warns against using too much detergent when washing your sheets and towels. The rule of thumb is approximately one tablespoon of detergent for each regular load. Use too much, and your sheets and towels will end up with a soapy residue that will attract dirt and leave them feeling slimy.
Matouk also cautions against detergents that have bleach or added whitening agents, particularly when washing bedding that has delicate contrasting color embroidery or embellishments (as many Matouk styles do). Not only can bleach ruin colorful threads, but it also weakens the fabric fibers.
Annie Selke, owner of the bedding company Pine Cone Hill, also advises against using bleach because it can cause whites to yellow over time. Instead, she recommends treating stains right away with plain club soda. For really pesky stains she uses OxiClean, but she says that lemon juice, baking soda or vinegar are great natural substitutes.
Selke says to wash sheets once a week and to be mindful of water temperatures; wash linen sheets in cold water and percale sheets in warm water. While thread count has minimal impact on washing, she points out that the higher the thread count, the more threads there are to break, so washing on a gentle cycle is best.
And as for liquid fabric softener and dryer sheets, Matouk says to never use either (this is especially true for laundering towels because they absorb liquid fabric softener, affecting their absorbency). Your bedding and towels should stay soft on their own as long as they are properly laundered and not overdried.
To prevent overdrying, remove bed linens from the dryer as soon as they are dry — or even when they’re a bit damp. This will keep them softer. If you are in the market for a new dryer, Matouk recommends buying one with a moisture sensor that will automatically shut off the drying cycle as soon as there is no moisture present. He says this sensor “will add years to the life of your linens and clothing.”
Selke prefers line-drying sheets.
Both Selke and Matouk agree that ironing sheets comes down to personal preference, but the best way to minimize wrinkles is to make sure that you remove your sheets from the dryer the moment they are dry, even if that is well before the end of the cycle. Also, if you like to iron your sheets, you will get better results if you do so while they are still a touch damp. The heat of the iron will complete the drying process. Matouk suggests shaking out your sheets a bit between washing and drying. It will “open up” some of the creases that formed during the spin cycle.
For the sake of saving some time, Selke suggests ironing just the portion of the sheets you see when you make your bed. She says she learned this trick from watching a hotel room “turnover” where the workers ironed only the top of the duvet cover once it was in place.
Another hotel trick? Shirley Vermont, a 20-year veteran housekeeper at the Four Seasons Hotel in Washington, first makes the bed, then lightly mists the sheets with water. She then runs her hands over the sheets to remove any creases.
When buying sheets, Selke recommends opening the package and touching the sheets — put your cheek up against them. If the quality of the sheets feels poor, they will feel even worse after washing. Good-quality sheets should get better and softer with each washing. If you’re a hot sleeper, Selke advises buying crisp percale; the cotton will keep you cool and comfortable. However, Matouk cautions that if you don’t iron percale sheets and they begin to form permanent creases, you’ll need to press them out; those permanent creases are more likely to tear over time. Selke says that linen is a great year-round choice — it’s cool in the summer and warm in the winter. But if you’re looking for something smoother and more luxurious, try a silky modal fiber or sateen weave. Cotton sateen is less prone to wrinkling; it has more body so it resists the formation of wrinkles. However, that body makes sateen a little heavier and less breathable than percale.
Mayhew, a “Today” show style expert and former magazine editor, is the author of “Flip! for Decorating.”