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MARTHA SEZ: ‘Take my word for it. … They are not living in your nightgown.’

A British survey of 2,000 people by Hammonds Furniture concluded that a third of Brits change their bed sheets only once a year. This alarming statistic was reported last year in the British publication “Metro News.” (It was also determined that many of those surveyed washed their blue jeans only once a year.) What bothers me most about this statistic isn’t so much the question of hygiene that it raises or the fact that aesthetically sleeping in dirty sheets is distasteful. No, what nags at my mind is this: How do these people know it’s been a year?

If you change your sheets once a week, as the laundry police and your mother say you should, you can just designate a day to strip the bedding. Monday, for example, has traditionally been laundry day in many households.

I suspect that these people, the 30%, when pressed by the Hammonds Furniture interviewer, just made up an answer, and that they actually have no idea how often they change their sheets. Probably it is a haphazard affair, not a scheduled event. If they really do change their sheets once a year, is there a day set aside for this? St. Swithin’s Day perhaps?

St. Swithin’s Day, just passed–it falls on July 15–has a place in British folklore, as described in this old English rhyme: “St. Swithin’s Day, if it does rain Full forty days, it will remain St. Swithin’s Day, if it be fair For forty days, t’will rain no more.”

The takeaway from this is that whatever weather you’re having on July 15 will continue for 40 days. It should be noted, however, that ever since records have been kept in England, this has never happened. Still, there are people who swear by it.

But St. Swithin’s Day has nothing to do with the laundry question. What concerns bed linen experts about sheet washing, or the lack of sheet washing, is, of course, dust mites. According to the National Sleep Foundation, “Dust mites are microscopic creatures that are very common in most households. They … can reproduce at prolific rates and can live solely off of dead skin cells. At any given time, there can be tens of thousands, even hundreds of thousands, of dust mites living in your mattress and bedding. … Washing sheets regularly can help.”

If you Google dust mites you will find pictures of them, artist’s renderings of how they imagine the little horrors would look if they could be seen with the naked eye, which they cannot. This leads me to suspect that dust mites do not exist. By extension, then, neither do the microscopic pseudo-scorpions that are said to stalk them.

That’s right, there is no such thing as a dust mite. Take my word for it. They are not inside your pillow. They are not living in your nightgown. They were invented as an imaginary scapegoat for those mysterious, inexplicable allergic reactions people are always having. “Oh, dust mites,” someone will say, and then they can take an antihistamine and be done with it.

Vacuuming your rugs and under your bed is prescribed as part of your daily anti-dust mite regimen. But who wants their vacuum cleaner to be full of dust mites? How would you ever know if you got them all? (If in fact dust mites were real.) When I was a child back in the Fifties, women and girls were pretty much the only people who wielded vacuum cleaners, except for janitors, who at least got paid for it. Women were expected to vacuum, Which caused a certain amount of resentment, resulting in the practice of the slam method of vacuuming.

I myself have practiced the slam method of vacuuming. Some may call it passive aggressive. I personally maintain that passive aggression has been given a bum rap. What are one’s choices in a situation in which one, normally so sweet, begins to feel–well, a little upset?

The choices are passive aggression, active aggression and being nice. Active aggression is arguably worse than passive aggression, and being nice is not always possible. As a result, hostile vacuuming, with its loud noise, reckless bashing of walls and furniture, and self-righteous implication “Someone has to do the cleaning around here!” comes in right next to banging the cupboard doors.

How did I get off on this track? Oh, dust mites, that’s right. And the Annual Washing of the Bed Linens.

Wash the sheets. And have a good week.

(Martha Allen lives in Keene Valley. She has been writing for the News for more than 20 years.)