Homes are excellent breeding grounds for debris of all kinds.
“The average 1,500 square foot house accumulates about 40 pounds of dust annually,” Philip Tierno, a microbiologist and pathologist at the New York University School of Medicine, told Tech Insider.
And dust isn’t the only problem. Microbes and mold begin accumulating on bath towels after only one use; and nasty bacteria from raw meat and vegetables can live on surfaces for days or even years.
This isn’t surprising, given that our own bodies are covered in all kinds of microbial life. And parts of your home — such as sponges, towels, and carpets — provide living and non-living microbes with a pleasant living environment.
When it comes to your bedroom, you may be surprised to learn which object is teeming with the most microscopic debris: your mattress.
And guess what? You spend about a third of your life sleeping in it.
That means that you’re rolling around in and inhaling all kinds of nasty particles — including allergy-causing dust mites, fungal spores, bacteria, plasticisers, flame retardants, and human skin cells — 8 hours a day, 365 days a year.
While most of these things aren’t likely to kill you, scientists have been scrutinizing how this daily exposure to a barrage of allergens can negatively affect your health. And it turns out that the accumulation of all of this debris may actually cause problems over time.
“One in six people have allergies, that’s a lot of people in the world,” Tierno said. “You talk about why people have allergies and everyone’s blaming all sorts of things. In reality, it’s right under your nose. You’re breathing that air in eight hours a day every day of your life.”
In fact, a 2014 study found that simply rolling from your stomach onto your back was enough to resuspend particles to detectable levels in the air.
The reason your mattress is so filthy is because of gravity, Tierno says. When all of those airborne particles of dust and debris float around in the air, they need somewhere to settle. Your mattress is one place for that stuff to go.
Your mattress also provides a nice culture medium for fungi. Humans naturally produce 26 gallons of sweat in bed every year. This moisture combined with the heat of a sleeping body provides an “Ideal fungal culture medium” out of your mattress.
In a 2015 study that assessed the level of fungal contamination in bedding, researchers found that feather and synthetic pillows 1.5 to 20 years old can contain between 4 and 17 different species of fungus. This contributes to the tens of millions of people suffering from allergies all over the world.
Here is a list of many of the things — both biological and synthetic in origin — that are lurking in your mattress:
- Allergens: Dust mites; cat, dog, and cockroach dander
- Fungal Spores: Penicillium, Cladosporium, Alternaria, and Aspergillus
- Bacteria: Skin, oral, intestinal/fecal, genital, including Staphylococcus, Lactobacillus, and Streptococcus
- Skin cells
- Chemicals: Plasticisers, flame retardants, isocyanates
- Sweat: Up to 26 gallons per year
So how can you protect yourself from this nightly torrent of allergens? Get an allergy barrier to seal your mattress and pillows, Tierno says.
“If you don’t have that impervious outer cover, you may wake up with a stuffy nose, you may get allergies, you may get exacerbations of asthma, or preexisting allergies,” Tierno said. “So it behooves you to have a good cover on the [mattress and] pillow.”
These barriers, such as this one from Allersoft (which I personally use and love), are water-proof but not vapor-proof, so they’ll allow gaseous material to come out from the pillow and mattress, but not allow the passage of debris such as the bacteria, fungi, and all the other stuff swimming around in there, Tierno said.