How to change the sheets and make the bed.

The second instalment of my “keeping tidy” series.

The traditional way:

  • Strip the bed. Put the bottom sheet and used pillow cases aside to be laundered.
  • Flip and shake the mattress and put back any mattress pads.
  • Take the top sheet, which is only lightly soiled, and tuck it over the mattress to be the new bottom sheet.
  • Put the pillow or pillows in clean cases and place at the head of the bed.
  • Take a clean sheet and lay it over the bed as the new top sheet.
  • Layer on cotton and wool blankets and quilts as dictated by the season, fold down the top sheet and tuck everything neatly under the mattress.
  • Lay a quilt over the whole bed, if needed.
  • If you haven’t used a large, decorative quilt then lay a bedspread or coverlet over everything to keep the dust off.

Advantages:
Keeps laundry to a minimum (one flat sheet and one or two pillowcases per week/month/season/year) which preserves sheets from wear and tear and reduces labour (especially important when washing by hand). Allows use of inexpensive linens (no contoured sheets; threadbare blankets can continue to be used, just layered on top of one another). Layers can be fine-tuned weekly as the weather and seasons change. Use of a bedspread or coverlet keeps off dust and means blankets don’t need to be washed – yearly at most, but perhaps not ever. Home-made mattresses are turned routinely to avoid lumps.

Disadvantages:
May cause problems for people with allergies. Animals must not sleep on – certainly not in – the bed. (Well, if you’re change-the-sheets-yearly type folks, you probably don’t have access to much liquid water in the winter. You might as well sleep with your animals to keep warm, because animals or not those sheets are not going to be pristine at the end of the year.) Flat sheets on the mattress tend to pull out in the night.

The modern way:

  • Strip the bed, leaving the mattress pads in place.
  • Put the sheets and the pillow cases aside to be laundered.
  • Place a clean contoured sheet over the mattress; replace the pillows in clean pillow cases at the head of the bed, and lay a clean flat sheet over everything.
  • Further layers as above.

Advantages:
Contoured sheet stays in place throughout the night. Commercial sprung mattress doesn’t need to be shaken and turned weekly (or daily). Use of a washing machine means that the extra sheet can be washed — weekly even! —  without excessive burden. Layers can be fine-tuned weekly as the weather and seasons change. Use of a bedspread or coverlet keeps off dust and means blankets don’t need to be washed – yearly at most, but perhaps not ever.

Disadvantages:
Contoured sheets are more expensive than flat ones and they wear out more quickly because they are always on the bottom. Commercial mattresses are much more expensive than home-made. More wear and tear as both sheets are washed weekly. May cause problems for people with allergies. Animals must not sleep on – certainly not in – the bed.

The way of the Ikea generation:

  • Strip the bed, leaving the mattress pads in place.
  • Put the sheet, pillow cases and duvet covers aside to be laundered.
  • Place a clean contoured sheet over the mattress.
  • Replace the duvet in a clean cover and lay over the bed.
  • Replace the pillows in clean pillowcases and place at the head of the bed.

Advantages:
Contoured sheet stays in place throughout the night. Commercial sprung mattress doesn’t need to be shaken and turned weekly (or daily). All the sheets are washed weekly and duvets can be washed seasonally or as required, so no dust or musty smell. Duvets can be purchased in varying weights so you can get the weight you need for a given season. Duvet covers mean that duvets can continue to be used even when they get old and you start having to patch them. In-home front-loading washing machine means that washing the equivalent of three sheets per bed per week is not an undue burden, and you can even just throw a duvet in when you need to. Animals are welcome to sleep in the bed because the hair and dander gets washed out weekly.

Disadvantages:
Requires storage space for all those seasonally-perfect duvets. If you don’t have a seasonally-perfect duvet you will be too hot or too cold. All that washing causes wear and tear. Threadbare linens have nowhere to be layered discreetly: if you patch them they will show, and you will probably just throw them out.

My mother and I argue about these approaches. She combines the Traditional and Modern Methods for the advantages of both, using suspender-strap thingies to connect a flat sheet under the corner of the mattress so that it will stay in place like a contour sheet. Very smart and practical. (My mother is very smart and practical in general.)

Her dust distresses me. I, the profligate modern daughter, am of the Ikea generation. I live with one other adult in an apartment designed for a family of at least four, in a time when sheets manufactured elsewhere can be bought cheaply here. Storage is not an issue. I do not worry about caring for my things: they are disposable. I do laundry liberally. I sleep with my dog. My lack of understanding of economy shocks my mother as not only a failing in self-care and housekeeping, but as a failing at a moral level, of stewardship.

She’s appalled at the idea of washing duvets. “You mean they have to be washed?” she shrieked when I mentioned it. I tried to explain that this was a feature, not a bug: they don’t have to be washed, they can be. She’s cannier than that. She knows that once something becomes possible, it becomes the new standard.

While I understand and respect the traditional bedmaking approach, I do have allergies. If I were to adopt traditional bedmaking I’d have to become a much better housekeeper – actually cleaning the house myself, instead of waiting for the dust to float (or be tracked) into my bedding so that the washing machine can get rid of it for me.

5 Responses to “How to change the sheets and make the bed.”

  1. kathleen Says:

    Moot.
    Why make the bed and do the dishes? Six months later, you have to do it all over again.

  2. Leanne Says:

    hehe, well I see little difference between storing seasonally appropriate duvets, and seasonally appropriate quilts and blankets. Exactly the same difference. You don’t have woolen blankets and quilts on the bed in summer… though you could keep them on top of your bed to look nice in lieu of storage. Which could be done with duvets too, esp if you have pretty duvet covers.

    The biggest point is that of the wear-out of bottom sheets, which is definitely true. It isn’t so much an issue of disposability, but rather of favoriteness, in my case. I don’t want to lose my blue fluffy clouds sheets (which are discontinued from Sears, blast them), so I hate the bottom sheet wearing out. I do flip it around in a clockwise direction so it wears more evenly, but the “move the flat sheet from top to bottom” would help wear… and if you do hospital corners, it shouldn’t move. My fitted sheet always comes off anyways, since my flannel sheets have shrunk in the laundry and the corners of my futon are rounded.

    As per duvets and covers… personally my duvet is chicken feathers, and my grandmother made it out of her farm’s chickens in the 1940s (I had to replace the feather ticking… I moved all the feathers to a new ticking!. The cover I made myself and use it every season… I don’t wash it often since I don’t want it to wear out: again, a fave pattern that makes me happy, that is no longer made. I DO vacuum it with one of those red magic brush attachments to remove dander and cat hair. Cats love to lie on THINGS, so I have a couple pet-food “free gift” little spot-blankets that lay on the bed, and the cats mostly lie on them… hair problem mostly solved. They do get vacuumed and put in the wash, being synthetic, very little wear. In the summer, a thin bike-camping sleepingbag opened up replaces the feather duvet… it can be laundered AND taken camping or to outdoor concerts.

    Anyways, I am not sure about any difference in time or cleaning. Takes just as long to replace duvet covers as to put sheets on a bed. And I always DO wash the top sheet: It is folded over the blankets at the top, so it is snuggled around the neck, thus covered with sweat, drool and grime.

    All in all a fascinating topic.

    btw: fastest? put a mattress cover, one of them dander/bedbug proof ones. Sleep in a sleeping bag on top. In summer unzip, in winter zip up. Have any sort of throw over the mattress cover, that stays there, like on a sofa. Throw pillows make it look ok. In the morning shove the sleeping bag under the bed, drag it out at night. Wash every once in awhile.

  3. Enna Says:

    You actually change the bed each week? I’m impressed. And, by comparison, lazy.

  4. alison Says:

    Leanne, I wasn’t thinking so much time as laundry effort, but the Ikea Generation is definitely much faster in terms of time. The Traditional Method (even if it doesn’t involve shaking and turning the mattress daily) has to be redone daily: the top sheets pulled down, the bottom sheet re-tucked in, the rest of the bed made. The Modern Method involves a contour bottom sheet so you can get away with skipping a day, but then you get into fights with your top sheets because they’re all over the place, so you really do need to redo them daily. Ikea Generation beds don’t ever really look made or unmade. Whatever you do, they look a bit messy. But even if you don’t shake out your duvet daily, when you go to bed you just need to tug it into place a bit and you’re done for the night. So I only ever make my bed when I change the sheets.

    Enna, I actually do a modified Ikea Generation. I change the bottom sheet weekly and the duvet covers biweekly.

  5. Leanne Says:

    That’s funny. Maybe you actually do something in your bed? I just crawl in at night, and then pull up (”tug into place a bit” as you put it) a couple feet on the top corner of where I’ve slept in the morning, adjusting the overlapping top sheet a bit, put pillow on top… Perhaps I forget that some people toss and turn or … ack! actually have S-E-X! lol!

    I don’t remember having to redo a bed daily other than straightening top sheets (and having to fold the coverlet overtop of the pillows if you have that), even though I’m pretty sure that we got fitted sheets only in the 70s. But then my mom is a nurse, and her sheet corners could hold you down like a straight jacket rather than come untucked!

    But yeah, the lift up and shake in the air so it lies flat that is the Ikea thing is quick… but I have exactly the same thing with my featherduvet/summer sleeping bag within its cover. And my gosh. washing weekly! I guess I just skipped over that part as unbelievable! ;D

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