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Is your BED making you ill? Expert warns dust mites and germs living in our sheets cause asthma, hayfever, flu and food poisoning

Madlen Davies
  • Around 10 million dust mites are found in the average bed – they like warm, moist environments
  • They are harmless but their droppings and body fragments can cause colds and make asthma and hayfever worse
  • Germs such as salmonella and norovirus can also thrive in linen, even after it is washed in the washing machine
  • To kill mites and germs hoover the bedroom, open the windows and wash sheets regularly at high temperatures

After a long day at work, there is nothing more relaxing than climbing into your comfortable bed. But lurking beneath the sheets are millions of tiny organisms that could be making us ill, experts have warned.  Mattresses, duvets, and pillows become reservoirs of human skin cells, encouraging dust mites.

The tiny creatures, in turn, can increase a person’s risk of suffering a cold as well as a range of allergies.  And there’s more bad news. Our bed linen can also harbour micro-organisms that can trigger nasty illnesses from flu to food poisoning.  Dr Lisa Ackerley, a home hygiene expert, said people could be unwittingly suffering from ‘sick bed syndrome’.

She told MailOnline: ‘Humans shed half an ounce of skin week and a lot of that will be in the bed. ‘Dust mites like warm moist environments, the bed’s the perfect environment. They reproduce so there will be about 10 million per bed. ‘Often people are away in the day, so they shut the windows and the moisture stays in the house.

‘Houses are more insulated and there are no drafts so there can be a build up of humidity. ‘If you make the bed when you go out that traps the duvet and the moisture, and the dust mites have a great time.’ In two years, 10 per cent of the weight of a pillow will be made up of dust mites and their droppings, she added.

Whilst dust mites themselves are harmless, their faeces and body fragments can trigger allergic reactions, prompting the body to release histamines to attack the allergen. This can cause eczema and hay fever, and estimates suggest dust mites may be a factor in up to 80 per cent of people with asthma.

Dr Ackerley, added: ‘They can cause rhinitis, a cough, dry eyes. They can disturb sleep. People with other allergies can have them made worse.

dust mites and germs


  • Change and clean bed linen on a weekly basis and wash separately from other clothing to kill bacteria and dust mites
  • When washing bed linen add a laundry disinfectant such as Dettol Anti-bacterial Laundry Cleanser, which claims to kill 99 per cent of bacteria in temperatures as low as 30°C
  • Decrease the temperature and humidity levels in the bedroom to reduce the number of dust mites
  • Regularly hoover all soft furnishings, including the mattress, within the bedroom

‘People might think they just have a cold the whole time. Dust mites really are an issue.’ And she warned, because people spend a lot of time in their beds, with many choosing to sleep naked, mattresses can become a breeding ground for micro-organisms, that trigger a range of nasty illnesses.

She said: ‘If people have a cold, the cold and flu virus. It can survive on the bed linen and it can survive a wash. ‘Norovirus can be carried with no symptoms. You might not have pyjamas on, it’s easy to pass it to the linen. ‘Someone with food poisoning could be excreting salmonella into the bed.’

In order to stop dust mites from colonising the bed, she said hoovering regularly is important, and having hard floors rather than carpets means fewer will survive. Leaving open a window to let some of the moisture and humidity out will also help, she added.
‘In alpine areas, people used to hang their bedding and their duvets out of the window,’ Dr Ackerley said. ‘The cold alpine air kills the dust mites. They probably didn’t know they were doing it for that reason, but it’s a good idea.’

Investing in an allergenic protectors for the mattress and pillows could also help people with allergies, she added. And to kill off both dust mites and germs, changing and washing sheets regularly at 60 degrees is important. Dr Ackerley said: ‘Some washing machines don’t go up to 60 degrees – so you could wash at a lower temperature and use a laundry disinfectant.

‘If you do send your linen out, or wash your bedding in a public laundry, think about a disinfectant again. Someone might’ve been ill and then you go put your linen there. ‘I spoke to a laundry company who said they were scared to wash above 40 as they were scared of damaging the goods – so not all companies wash clothes to high temperatures.’

Published: 1 May 2015. By Madlen Davies
Copyright © ninemsn Pty Ltd

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