Dangers in Your Mattress

What's hiding in your mattress? Investigating all the creepy crawlies and toxins that may lurk in your bed is enough to cause nightmares."I can think of no single place that challenges a person immunologically day in and day out than a mattress," writes microbiologist Philip Tierno, PhD, in his book, The Secret Life of Germs.

Related: When to Clean the Sheets

Mattresses typically accumulate bodily fluids such as sweat, blood, and urine, which become breeding grounds for bacteria. While many strains are relatively harmless, according to Tierno some can cause serious conditions such as gangrene. Children, the elderly, and people with compromised immune systems are especially vulnerable. Other microscopic mattress invaders include fungi, mold, and dust mites.

Dust mites are relatives of the spider and feed off dry skin cells shed by humans. These imperceptibly tiny pests cause allergies, wheezing, and asthma. A larger pest is the bed bug.

Related: Bed Bugs Can Infest Your Office Too

Once thought to be completely wiped out, bed bugs are now a public health problem in all fifty states and epidemic in cities such as New York. The nasty critters don't spread diseases but they do afflict victims with an itchy, painful rash—and they are notoriously difficult to eradicate. The Mayo Clinic advises using a professional exterminator to deal with an invasion. Commercial insect foggers may not be effective against bed bugs and leave a toxic residue of pesticide on your bedroom surfaces.

If your pet sleeps with you, add ticks, fleas, and whatever germs and filth Fido or Purrfect has picked up on its paws or fur to the list to the list of invaders. The Centers for Disease Control reports that sleeping with pets has been linked to Methicillin-Resistant Stapylococcus aureus (MRSA), parasitic infections such as hookworm, and even plague.

Related: Gene Points to Achilles Heel In MRSA

Harmful chemicals are a more insidious danger lurking in your bedroom than germs and bugs—they are almost impossible to detect until you or someone in your family has a health problem. Conventional mattresses are made with mixture of petroleum based products such as polyurethane foam, nylon, polyester, and PVC that off-gas volatile organic compounds (VOCs). They are also treated with chemical flame retardants. These substances—especially in unstable combinations—can cause allergies and breathing problems. "No one has tested every mattress for VOCs," Sonya Lunder, senior analyst at Environmental Working Group (EWG) tells Shine. "Certification might help consumers make affordable choices." Lunder says even organic mattresses aren't "conclusively better" and warns that "greenwashing" is a big problem for consumers. She points out that "natural" soy and latex mattresses also emit VOCs and the label "organic" can simply mean that the cotton used in the outermost layer was grown without pesticides. Lunder suggests airing out all new mattresses for a few days before using them and knowing what the return policy is in case you have a reaction. 

To keep your mattress as germ-free and healthy as possible, it's a good idea to vacuum it and seal with a tightly woven, allergy-resistant cover. Wash your bedding weekly in hot water and a little bleach. Ultra violet light is also a disinfectant. While it may not be convenient to drag your mattress outside, futons, children's mattresses and crib mattresses can all be periodically aired out on a sunny day. This will also help eliminate lingering chemicals.

Time for a new mattress?

 

Also on Shine:

15 Tips for Avoiding Hotel Bedbugs

20 Free and Eco-Friendly Ways to Spring Clean

Springing for a New Mattress? Recommendations Under $600