Dust mites cause allergic reactions in millions of Americans every day. The symptoms include a congested or runny nose, sneezing, watery eyes, and skin rashes. They live in warm, humid places such as your mattress. If you are suffering from dust mite allergy, dust mite proof mattress covers should be your first line of defense against these pests.
How many dust mites are in your mattress?
You may be surprised, but an average mattress contains between 100000 and 1000000 (and sometimes even several million) dust mites. They mainly feed on the dead skin flakes we constantly shed. Dust mites and in particular their body parts and droppings are so tiny that they can pass through the pores of your mattress fabric and normal sheets.
With every breath you take while sleeping, you breathe in the body parts of dust mites and their droppings. Unfortunately these droppings and body parts are allergenic and can cause severe reactions in people sensitive to them.
How do dust mite proof mattress covers work?
If you live in a humid climate, it is difficult to completely get rid of dust mites in your house, but you can trap them inside your mattress using an allergy proof mattress cover. By trapping them, you put a barrier between you and the dust mites, you remove their major food source, and you keep new mites from settling in your mattress. Also, you won’t stir them up when you turn during the night. Many people are amazed how much better they can breathe during the night with these little buggers locked in.
What should you consider when buying an allergy proof mattress cover?
First and foremost, completely encase the mattress; that is, cover it from top to bottom. There is a range of zippered dust mite proof mattress covers available which do just that. While water proof pads or sheets may provide some protection, and may even be advertised as anti dust mite or anti allergen, they can’t completely trap the mites, and they can’t prevent new mites from settling in your mattress. What’s more, they are not at all effective against another wide-spread pest – bed bugs.
Second, you need to decide on the right fabric for your needs. Modern dust mite proof mattress covers typically come in three different types of fabric. These different fabrics provide different comfort levels and have a different price tags, so it helps to get an understanding which type you need:
1. Terry cloth or other kinds of fabric with a membrane (e.g. polyurethane) bound to it: You would typically use this kind of fabric if you also need a waterproof mattress protector. Because of its reduced breathability, this kind of fabric can be too hot for some sleepers.
2. Non-woven synthetic fabrics without a membrane: Good quality non-woven fabrics block dust mite allergens, while still being breathable. They tend to be bit a less comfortable than woven cotton or microfiber fabrics, but are quite a bit cheaper. They are recommended as a dust mite mattress cover for traveling.
3. Woven fabrics without a membrane: These include very finely woven cotton and microfiber (e.g., polyester microfiber) fabrics. Dust mite proof fabric needs to be be woven with pores between the thread of less than 10 microns (1 micron=1/1000th of a millimeter) to be an effective barrier against dust mite allergens. In an experiment conducted in 1999 at the University of Virginia, experimenters concluded that woven fabric with an average pore size of 6 microns or less effectively filters out common indoor allergens (including the dust mite allergens).1
We recommend to select a pore size of less than 6 microns. Cotton dust mite covers are available with mean pore sizes of less than 5 microns. Some microfiber fabrics have a mean pore size of less than 3 microns, blocking even the much smaller cat allergen. A high quality allergy proof mattress cover made out of woven cotton or microfiber tends to be as breathable as normal cotton and just feel like a regular sheet.
How about mattress protectors made out of vinyl? They are water and dust mite proof. However, they can become extremely hot, since they also don’t allow any air and moisture to pass through. For this reason, we recommend vinyl covers only to encase box springs.
Buying checklist for dust mite proof mattress covers
- Go for a zippered protector which completely encases the mattress, respectively the pillow, rather than a sheet.
- You want a breathable fabric that allows air to flow in and out of your mattress and moisture to pass through, but is woven fine enough, so that dust mites and their allergen cannot pass through.
- If you don’t need a water proof protector, a fabric without a membrane should be your first choice. Choose either a woven cotton or woven microfiber allergy proof mattress cover depending on your material and price preference.
- The non-woven breathable covers are a bit cheaper and tend to be less comfortable. They are a good option for traveling.
Vaughan, J. W., T. E. McLaughlin, M. S. Perzanowski, and T. A. E. Platts-Mills. “Evaluation of Materials Used for Bedding Encasement: Effect of Pore Size in Blocking Cat and Dust Mite Allergen.” Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology 103, no. 2 (1999): 227–231.