Allergy specialists advise people allergic to dust mites to encase at least their mattresses and pillows with dust mite covers, and they do so for a good reason: Our bed is the perfect environment for dust mites to thrive. They love it warm and moist, and while we sleep, we provide them with their favorite food source.
Dust mites feed off the thousands of dead skin cells we shed every hour. Consequently, our mattress and pillow provide a perfect home for these pests. The average mattress contains between 100000 and 1000000 dust mites and their droppings. What’s more – we spend one third of our life time in our bed, breathing in dust mite particles together with the allergens they carry.
Fortunately, we can protect our bed with special allergy covers. They don’t allow the allergen, which is contained in the body parts of mites and their droppings, from getting out of your mattress or pillow. They also keep the trapped dust mites away from their major food source, so they die. Last, but not least dust mite covers prevent new mites from settling in.
What should you encase with dust mite covers?
The Expert Panel Report 3 (EPR 3), “Guidelines for the Diagnosis and Management of Asthma” (2007) discusses a set of measures to control dust mites. The panel’s recommended measures to control mites include:
- Encase the mattress in allergen-impermeable cover.
- Encase the pillow in an allergen-impermeable cover or wash it weekly.
- Wash the sheets and blankets on the patient’s bed weekly in hot water.
The report also points out that a temperature of >130 °F is necessary for killing house dust-mites. If high temperature water is unavailable, cooler water together with detergent and bleach can also considerably reduce the number of live mites and mite allergens.1
In a nutshell, if you are allergic to dust mites, for all practical matters and purposes, you should at least protect your mattress and your pillow with a dust mite cover. If you are using comforters you cannot or don’t want to wash, it is advisable to get covers for them as well. To prevent mites from settling there, also encase your box springs.
What kind of dust mite cover should you get for what?
- First and foremost, you need a zippered protector which completely encases your mattress, pillow, and box spring. Although some sheets are also advertised as anti dust mite, they cannot completely prevent mites from getting out and new mites from infesting your bed.
- For your mattress and pillow, preferably get a breathable, woven dust mite proof cover made of cotton or microfiber without an additional membrane. This allows for maximum comfort. These covers are woven with an average pore size of less than 6 microns (1 micron is 1/1000th millimeter) and act as a barrier against the mite allergens, while letting air and moisture pass through. Some covers have an average pore size of less than 3 microns, which also blocks cat allergens. Since the pore size of a fabric varies, some manufacturers provide laboratory testing data on the effectiveness of their fabric.
- Water-proof covers that have a membrane bound to a cotton fabric or similar are also available, but quite a few sleepers experience them as hot. So you should only opt for those if you need a water-proof barrier.
- For your box springs, you could in principle use the same type of cover you use for your mattress. Since you don’t come directly in contact with your box spring and breathability is also not a priority, a more economical solution is to use cheaper protectors made out of non-woven fabric or, if you want to completely avoid washing them, vinyl covers. Vinyl covers sometimes do have a strong smell though, so check them before you buy.
How can your protect yourself while traveling?
If you are traveling and need to take protection with you, consider getting extra dust mite covers made of breathable non-woven fabric. While they tend to be not as comfortable as the woven type, they are very low maintenance, and also quite a bit cheaper than woven cotton or microfiber protectors.
Sometimes you may have no control over your surroundings at all. For these cases, consider nasal filters that filter out dust allergens.
- National Asthma Education and Prevention Program, Third Expert Panel on the Diagnosis and Management of Asthma. Expert Panel Report 3: Guidelines for the Diagnosis and Management of Asthma. Bethesda (MD): National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (US); 2007 Aug. Section 3, Component 3: Control of Environmental Factors and Comorbid Conditions that affect asthma. Available from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK7238/