You slip between your sheets, ready for a dream-filled slumber. But if you knew what could be lurking under the covers, you might have nightmares instead.

Not long after you put a freshly laundered set of sheets on your bed, they begin to collect bacteria, dead skin cells, skin oils, dust mites, fecal matter, fungi, mold, sweat and streaks of old makeup and lotion, says germ expert Philip Tierno, PhD, a professor of microbiology and pathology at the New York University School of Medicine.

And if you eat in bed while watching TV, you drop crumbs that could attract bugs.

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We're guessing the chances of getting sick from your sheets are slim. But they're not zero, according to Tierno. The ick that accumulates if you let your sheets go long enough without washing could lead to health problems ranging from allergic reactions to skin infections, he says. “It’s not hygienic to go months without washing your sheets,” Tierno says. And, he adds: “It’s revolting.”

Want to ease into cleaner bed linens after a long day? Follow these cues from the germ experts.

1. Wash your sheets weekly. Most of us should toss our sheets in the washer about once a week, says Kelly Reynolds, MSPH, PhD, a microbiologist and professor at The University of Arizona who studies household germs. However, that’s a general guideline. If you sweat a lot and have cats or dogs that jump in bed with their dirty paws, you might need to launder sheets twice a week. If you shower every night and never eat in bed, you can probably get away with washing your sheets every two weeks, Reynolds says.

2. Turn up the heat on your sheets. Set your washer on the “sanitize” setting, Reynolds recommends. That cycle tends to involve longer washing times and higher temperatures, she says. If your washer doesn’t have a sanitize setting, set it to hot. “The hottest water gives you the most germ kill,” she says.

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3. Bleach out germs. Adding bleach to your wash load is the best way to sanitize your sheets, Reynolds says. This is especially important for killing viruses on sheets if you have (or a family member has) just gotten over a nasty cold or the flu. Add ¾ cup bleach to a load of sheets to kill germs, Clorox recommends. For colored sheets that could be ruined by bleach, there unfortunately is no good alternative, Reynolds says. “Those products marketed as color-safe bleach aren’t really bleach at all,” she says.

4. Hang your sheets out to dry. If you love the smell of fresh air and sunshine on your sheets, go ahead and hang them outside on a clothesline (unless this will trigger your allergies). The sun’s ultraviolet rays act as a natural sanitizer, Reynolds says. Otherwise, tumble your sheets dry in a dryer on the hot setting. “If you’re not bleaching, most germs are killed in the dryer,” she says.

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Allie Johnson is an award-winning freelance consumer writer with a degree in magazine journalism. She lives in Georgia with her husband and two dogs.