Sleeping with Damp Bed Sheets—How Dangerous is it?


Look, I get it: I’ve run out of time before bed and exasperatedly taken damp sheets out of the dryer.

Likewise with hot sleeping; I have been known to sleep with an ice pack or turn my pillow over to the cool side. Again and again.

But is sleeping on damp or wet sheets a good practice over time? Can it ruin your bedding or mattress or, more importantly, have a negative affect on health?

As a one-time event, sleeping on damp bed sheets is not likely problematic for healthy people. Some people report damp (but not saturated) sheets help them conquer heat issues. However, longer-term use of water to dampen sheets or other bedding not only damages the bedding, but it can harm health via mold and bring insects into the bedroom.

Plus, tap water (a known electrical conductor) and electric devices such as blankets or bedside fans do not mix well together.

Please do not let your electric blanket or heating pad contact wetted sheets, pillows, comforters, or your hands!

Now, let’s investigate specifically where the dangers lie with regard to damp sheets, regardless of why you have them, and identify some longer-term and quick fixes for damp sheets if you decide they’re not for you.

Sleeping with Damp Sheets Endangers Health

In our drive to create a more perfect sleep or an unwrinkled-appearing bed, we humans have sought out many solutions. Especially for those of us who “sleep hot,” the quest for a cool rest can consume.

It is, therefore, not surprising said people, especially those in the past—before the benefit of air-conditioning or a sealed “envelope” to one’s home or a partment (circa 1840s)—have sought easy, effective ways to cool bedding.

That said, sleeping with damp sheets can endanger health, especially if used regularly and in certain populations of people, including pregnant women, children, the immunocompromised, or the elderly. One way is through mold growth.

All mold (of more than 100,000 species) is from Kingdom Fungi. But not all mold is dangerous to human health, either of healthy or immunocompromised people (i.e., those with immune system compromise as with cancer or cancer treatment, HIV, etc.). Thank goodness, right?!

Research on molds and the mycoses they can cause (frank growth of fungi on or in animal hosts produces diseases collectively known as mycoses) continues to elucidate their role in complex biologic processes.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) guide to dealing with mold and mildew in flood-damaged homes tells us that, although molds and mildew are natural organisms in abundance in the environment, they can cause adverse health outcomes in anyone.

Because molds and mildew in effect colonize and overwhelm organic materials from wood/paper to linen to other plant and animal tissues, some species should not be welcomed, at least not in abundance, on and in our bodies (Source).

Mold growths—called colonies—can begin on a damp surface in only 24 to 48 hours after exposure.

Molds proliferate both indoors and outdoors in the form of spores carried on the air (most commonly), including vents and air-conditioning, but they can hitchhike on pets, clothing, and shoes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Source).

“The usual path of infection for mycoses is from breathing in spores or by skin contact.” Both of these could potentially occur from sleeping repeatedly on damp sheets if molds are permitted to grow there (Source).

Molds can trigger allergies (in respiratory system, eyes, and skin) or breathing difficulty, particularly in susceptible individuals with a respiratory disease such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) or asthma (per the CDC).

Molds may also have no effect on some healthy people—even from Aspergillus, Cladosporium, Penicillium, and Alternaria species, the most common household molds.

One person’s good health, however, is another’s fungal infection—and potentially worse, as in hypersensitivity pneumonitis in susceptible people or full-blown aspergillosis that has spread from the lungs/sinuses to other body parts.

Of the approximately 180 species of Aspergillus, 40 species are most problematic—usually Aspergillus fumigatus (Source and Source).

Certain species of molds (as opportunistic pathogens), however, can negatively affect these groups:

  • Infants and children
  • Immune-compromised
  • Pregnant women
  • Those with respiratory conditions (e.g., COPD, asthma)
  • The elderly

At first mold is not visible to the naked eye, and you might not smell it until it grows rampantly. “Large mold infestations can usually be seen or smelled” (CDC).

Again, as FEMA notes, mildew and mold “will continue to grow until steps are taken to eliminate the source of moisture, and effectively deal with the mold problem.” Mold smells range from the extreme—a foul stench—to a “musty earth” aroma (Source).

So, it is best to prevent mold and mildew before they start by reducing moisture and humidity in the home.

Damp Bedding Can Draw Pests Such as Bedbugs, Silverfish

If the potential for allergies or asthma through mold growth aren’t enough of a drawback, please be aware that persistently moist surfaces in homes, which may already be humid depending on the time of year and your air-conditioning status, can draw unwanted insects such as silverfish, bedbugs, and cockroaches.

Insects attracted to moisture and that may affect healthPossible health signs?What does it look like?
Bedbugs (chiefly Cimex lectularius and tropical bedbug Cimex hemipterus)Bedbugs bite (and the bites can itch); not known to transmit disease to people, but they do suck blood.
Silverfish (Lepisma saccharina)These critters love books and dark, moist places but are not known to bite. They are implicated in asthma and allergies.
Cockroaches (several species, including Periplaneta americana, or American cockroach, though it occurs worldwide)Attracted to food, darkness, and moisture. Implicated in allergies and food- or water-borne illnesses such as typhoid fever, poliomyelitis, and cholera, plus plague. They also may feed on the fingernails and toenails of babies, the sick, and sleeping persons (Source).
Others including various ant species and earwigsMoisture” ants (a collective term usually referring to Lasius species) may be found indoors occasionally, especially in wood, or outdoors near foundations. No known health risks (Source).
Earwigs do not crawl in human ears (to lay eggs or otherwise) and cannot infect the brain. They do, however, occasionally pinch or bite humans, but are not venomous (Source).



Insects that might seek out damp sheets

Moisture-loving bedbugs (Cimex lectularius and the tropical bedbug Cimex hemipterus) are not known to directly transmit disease or pose serious health risk, but they pack a mean bite that can itch (Source). And remember: Bedbugs, like mosquitoes, feed on human blood.

As for longer-lived silverfish (Lepisma saccharina), they, too love the movable feast available in the nooks and crannies of your home, apartment, or dorm.

Dehumidification and ventilation, which also help with mold reduction, drive out these mini-beasts, which live up to 8 years and are not fish but insects (Source).

Although they do not bite or sting, silverfish, along with other insects, are implicated in the immunoglobulin E (IgE) antibody response, which can play a role in both allergic rhinitis and allergic bronchial asthma, as well as sensitization (Source).

Mosquitoes are not mentioned here, because it is believed that they are more attracted to sweat and lactic acid than to clean, non-stagnant water, as would occur if your sheets are just out of the washer or a bit damp (Source).

For these reasons, we suggest avoiding damp bed sheets like, well, the plague of insects they could bring if used persistently.

The Moisture from Damp Sheets Damages Bedding, Mattress

First, you never want a wet mattress—this is the perfect medium and condition for mold growth and ostensibly could attract insects as aforementioned.

Slatted beds help with air circulation and moisture-inhibition, but wet sheets or blankets can stamp out those positive effects (Source).

Mattress protectors help prevent stains and stop moisture damage at the source. There are good waterproof or liquid-resistant mattress protectors out there, such as this highly rated hypoallergenic cover:

ZAMAT Premium 100% Waterproof Mattress Protector, Breathable & Noiseless Mattress Pad Cover, Fitted...
  • [PERFECT FOR ANY MATTRESS] : The perfect water resistant mattress protector for your every need! Comes in 6 sizes including Twin, Twin XL, Full, Queen, King, and California King. Constructed from...

Make sure a mattress is completely dry before wrapping it in a mattress protector (Source).

It is sometimes possible to bring a stained or moldy mattress back to its good health, but the process is not easy.

If you keep your mattress and bedding cool and dry from the get-go—through regular flipping, ventilation, good air circulation, and dehumidification, or even cooling and mold-resistant technology like latex mattresses or waterproof covers—you won’t have to endure the time, hassle, and costs of replacing mattresses and bedding colonized by mold.

The current top-rated dehumidifier by Consumer Reports is the large-capacity Honeywell TP70WKN Dehumidifier with frost control.

Sale
Honeywell TP70WKN 70 Pint Energy Star Dehumidifier with 5 Yr Wty for Basements & Large Rooms Up to...
  • [POWERFUL DEHUMIDIFIER FOR LARGE ROOMS] This powerful beast effectively stops up to 70 Pints per day (50 Pint 2019 DOE Standard) of moisture from the air to protect walls, curtains, furniture and...

Also, we want to remind you that electric blankets and heating pads should never be used in/near water unless approved for machine- or hand-washing.

Not only should electric blankets generally not be laundered or dry-cleaned, but you also shouldn’t sleep on them if they are saturated (wet), nor even touch blankets with wet hands or feet due to the risk of electrical shock (Source and Source).

Your health will also thrive thanks to better sleep through cool, circulated air on bedding or a mattress that is not moldy or pest-attracting!

Quick and Easy Ways to Dry Damp Sheets

If you’ve never closely timed your sheets in the dryer—I know I haven’t!—you might like to know some drying-time rules of thumb.

According to Home Décor Bliss, on medium heat in a modern dryer, drying multiple sheets typically takes about 30-45 minutes.

Sheets of any material should not be dried on high heat, if you can help it, because it causes the bedding to stiffen or become coarse, shrink, and possibly break over time (Source).

Depending on material, humidity, airflow, ambient temperature, etc., air-drying sheets indoors or outside can take 2 to 4 hours.

Besides air- or traditional machine-drying, you might try one of these methods after assessing how wet your sheets are:

  • If you have time, you can “solo dry” one sheet at a time using a traditional dryer on medium heat or even delicate (Source).
  • Also in a mechanical dryer, you can try the tennis ball or the dry-towel method. Some people have luck with one or the other or both (Source).
  • A hair-dryer can be excellent for spot-drying damp sheets; there are several methods (Source).
  • A clothesline, if you have time and the space outdoors, is a time-honored way to dry sheets, comforters, or clothing. An indoor drying rack and clothes rod is an economical way to dry clothes, as is draping sheets over a shower rod or across two chairs (Source).
  • Several users report good drying for bedding and sturdy construction on this foldable, stainless steel indoor clothes-drying rack, and it has good overall ratings!
Clothes Drying Racks, Stainless Steel Laundry Drying Rack, Heavy Duty Folding Clothing Rack,...
  • [Stainless Steel Drying Rack]: Made of stainless steel for durability, the lightweight, portable drying rack works well in any desired location, like a laundry room or bedroom--or even out on the back...

How to Cool Yourself Without Using Damp Sheets

Many sleep researchers recommend keeping bedroom temperatures between 60 and 67 degrees Fahrenheit for ideal sleep; for infants, slightly warmer, 65 to 70 degrees, is best (Source).

Thank goodness that multiple sleep-cooling technologies are being explored to mitigate hot flashes or night sweats.

But, as of this writing, the jury is still out on the best cooling mattresses, gel mattress or topper, sheets, and the like.

Although no one mattress chills well for all, latex mattresses and innerspring or hybrid innerspring/foam types often make the grade for many “hot sleepers” (Source).

One of my personal favorite cool-sleep hacks is the inexpensive gel ice pack, like this flat one from 3M, which I use on my “hot legs”!

Sale
3M Reusable Cold / Hot Pack, Reuse 4 X 10 In, (1 BOX, 2 EACH)
  • 3M is changing the brand of this product from Nexcare to 3M. Labels may vary.

My secret-not-so-secret to not “burning” the skin or underlying tissues due to the frigidity of the ice pack is to wrap it (once or twice) in a hand towel so that the ice pack does not directly contact the skin.

Other ice-pack tips can be found in one of our other articles (Source).

Sometimes it seems that there are as many cool-sleep remedies as there are people who need them (myself included).

You might benefit by experimenting with these cooling solutions. They don’t rely on damp sheets or bedding, so you’ll avoid mold and pests:

  • The Chili Ooler mattress cooling pad system: It’s highly touted, and works fantastically!
ChiliSleep OOLER Sleep System – Cooling and Heating Mattress Pad – Precise Temperature Control,...
  • WATER-BASED SYSTEM: Per research, water has natural thermal advantages that make it very effective in heating and cooling. OOLER utilizes an adjustable, water-based system to regulate the surface...
  • Bamboo pillow with shredded latex filling or gel pillow: Dr. Christopher Winter, a hospital sleep-center director and author of The Sleep Solution, recommends these solutions, especially if you are okay with the denser, heavier gel (Source).
  • Beware strong plastic odors that don’t go away after a few days, as seen with some memory foam or gel pillows. Prevention magazine’s best cooling pillows include Purple’s new Harmony Pillow, with a hypoallergenic core, “ample airflow,” and moisture-wicking cover (Source).

We Don’t Recommend Sleeping with Damp Sheets

As you might have surmised, we are not champions of wetting down your sheets as a regular practice.

The associated health risks from mold exposure—namely, allergies and asthma—and pest presence, plus the economic drawbacks of staining or ruining a mattress or bedding, all prevent us from recommending the practice of wetting sheets for a purely cosmetic trend to dewrinkle sheets.

Sleeping on slightly damp sheets once in a while probably won’t do much harm if you don’t have a respiratory disease or immunocompromise.

But remember, mold colonizes surfaces including fabrics in only 24 to 48 hours, and who wants a nasty little biter like a bedbug nestling into the moist comfort of a damp sheet next to their skin?

Many hot-sleep deterrents do exist, but it probably will take some time and experimentation on your part. We hope that this mini-guide helps you find a good sleep solution to support your best health going forward.

Sweet dreams!

Author:

  • Leigh Smith is a former English major and daily news copyeditor. She has edited or proofread hundreds of medical journal articles in dentistry, radiology, neurology, et al--or edited/proofread college-level texts in medical coding, nursing, and child death including from SIDS. When not writing or editing, she focuses on coffee and sweets, family, Indian food, jogging, infectious diseases, and collecting rocks (not in order of preference). Find her on rare occasions blogging at Leigh's Wordsmithery or tweeting at @1WomanWordsmith.

Leigh Smith

Leigh Smith is a former English major and daily news copyeditor. She has edited or proofread hundreds of medical journal articles in dentistry, radiology, neurology, et al--or edited/proofread college-level texts in medical coding, nursing, and child death including from SIDS. When not writing or editing, she focuses on coffee and sweets, family, Indian food, jogging, infectious diseases, and collecting rocks (not in order of preference). Find her on rare occasions blogging at Leigh's Wordsmithery or tweeting at @1WomanWordsmith.

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