Your Mattress Might Have 10 Million Dust Mites

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Could your very own bedroom be hazardous to your health? Yes, according to a new study that revealed dust found in a conventional home is laced with about 45 incredibly dangerous chemicals, including one known for causing cancer. That’s a big problem for beds, which are a breeding ground for dust mites.

Scientists at George Washington University, Harvard University and the University of California at San Francisco found 45 toxins in household dust in a study published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology. These toxins include flame retardants, plasticizers, solvents and preservatives. According to the study, any household dust sample will likely contain one or more of 10 harmful substances with health risks associated to cancer and reproductive damage.

And that’s just the tip of the dusty iceberg. Today, 60 million Americans suffer from allergies, and 20 million of those are allergic to dust mites (the No. 1 cause of allergies in your home), according to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America.

Consider that one-third of our lives are spent within the confines of a bedroom, where bedding and pillows harbor all kinds of dust. The eww factor continues with studies from Ohio State University revealing that a typical used mattress may have 100,000 to 10 million mites inside. They also note that 10 percent of the weight of a 2-year-old pillow can be composed of dead mites and their droppings!

DIY Tip: In between replacing your pillow every two years, if your pillow is not washable, you should put it in the dryer on high heat to kill dust mites. Also, wash your sheets in hot water every week at 130 degrees Fahrenheit or above.

While sleep is certainly good for your health, sleep enveloped in biological contaminants is not. Fortunately, healthy solutions and nontoxic options are available to detox your bedroom from dust mites, allergens, heavy metals, perfluorinated compounds, flame retardants, pesticides and formaldehyde. Let’s get started with four essential tips to detox your bed and create a sleep sanctuary.

1. Choose a Healthy, All-Natural Mattress

While mattresses are often referred to as organic, eco, green or nontoxic, these terms can be a bit deceiving. Elements of the mattress can have certifications for each material or fabric, but don’t fall for greenwashing claiming a mattress is something it’s not. For example, you’ll want to be sure the mattress does not contain flame-retardant chemicals. These are extremely dangerous to your health, endocrine system and our environment. Rather, look for mattresses that use natural thistle, wool or Kevlar (a nontoxic synthetic) that acts as a natural flame retardant and meets the federal regulations without exposing you (or your children) to boric acid, antimony or other nasty toxins.

In the world of healthy mattresses, there are three main types to consider, all of which are typically encased in an organic cotton cover:

  • 1.)  Innerspring contains a combination of metal coils and natural fabrics.
  • 2.)  Natural latex (no metal) derived from the common rubber tree. Can be Dunlop or Talalay.
  • 3.)  Natural memory foam (no metal). Can be latex- or plant-based foams and/or synthetic foams.

I highly recommend the second or third option since metal in our beds can distort the earth’s natural magnetic field. While there are many wonderful brands (too many to mention here), some of my favorites in the natural latex category are the Zenhaven ($$) by Saatva and the Samina sleep system ($$$). For natural memory foam, I highly recommend the world’s only natural memory foam mattresses from Essentia ($$), as well as Loom & Leaf ($) by Saatva. Note that the price tag often reflects the quality of materials, and any step toward a healthier bed is a step in the right direction for not only your health, but our planet. Also, most of these brands offer free in-home trials and money-back guarantees.

2. Understand the Importance of Organic

Not all cotton is created equally. In fact, cotton is the most heavily sprayed crop; 25 percent of the world’s insecticides are used to grow cotton, according to the Pesticide Action Network. Look for cotton that’s certified organic. Although it’s sometimes associated with a higher price tag, it’s worth it — cancer and disease are much more expensive.

3. Know Your Materials

If you or someone in your home has a dust mite allergy, it’s essential to use a 100 percent certified organic cotton barrier cover for both the mattress and pillow to avoid allergic symptoms including asthma, rhinitis, hay fever, itching, headaches, fatigue, rashes and eczema. The tight weave and tight tooth zipper will keep the dust mites from penetrating and causing an allergic reaction. Avoid plastic and PVC options, which will off-gas additional chemicals into the air.

Healthy Bedding Fabric Certifications

Important certifications for fabrics include Greenguard for low chemical emissions, as well as certified-organic standards such as:

1.)  Oeko-Tex. Offers varying certifications. The Oeko-Tex Standard 100 is a worldwide independent testing and certification system for raw, semi-finished and finished textile products at all processing levels.

2.)  Skal. Responsible for the implementation and administration of the European organic rules. Inspects and awards organic certification to farms and businesses that meet the organic standards.

3.)  GOTS. The Global Organic Textiles Standard ensures the organic status of textiles from harvesting of the raw materials through environmentally and socially responsible manufacturing to labeling.

Bedding materials to consider

  • Silk: Naturally flame retardant, wicks away moisture and adjusts to skin temperature
  • Wool: Naturally flame retardant; contains lanolin, a natural element that guards against dust mites, mold and mildew; good for allergy and asthma sufferers
  • Natural latex: Naturally dust mite resistant, doesn’t off-gas dangerous VOCs, offers great support and holds shape
  • Kapok: Naturally allergen-free; moldable

4. Avoid Down Pillows and Comforters

It’s not just dust mites we need to concern ourselves with. According to a study by the University of Manchester, the average pillow contains millions of fungal spores, with four to 16 different species per pillow tested. The highest counts were detected in synthetic pillows.

Down is also worth steering away from, as the harvesting of down feathers from geese is typically very inhumane. Additionally, down harbors moisture and thus creates a breeding ground for dust mites. If you must have down, the Responsible Down Standard was created for more-humane treatment of geese, so only purchase down goods with this certification. However, there are so many healthy pillow alternatives like those from Earthsake that offer comfort and support without the use of animal products:

Pillow materials to consider

  • Natural latex: Derived from the rubber tree; naturally resistant to dust mites
  • Kapok: Derived from the ceiba tree, this is all-natural and hypoallergenic
  • Bucky: Derived from buckwheat hulls, lightweight and cool; easily adjusts to provide stable support
  • Organic cotton: Produced without harmful chemicals or pesticides; breathable
  • Pure wool: Comfortable, breathable and light, with moisture-wicking properties
  • Natural memory foam: Derived from natural latex or a combination of corn and soy plant-based foams coupled with synthetic foam

Now that you have the makings of a healthy bed, you can lay yourself down to sleep in your new sleep sanctuary (and you thought bed bugs were your biggest threat!). Sweet dreams!

Now that you’ve detoxed your bed, learn how to design the ideal bedroom for green sleep.

Feature image courtesy of Shutterstock.com

Lisa Beres
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Lisa Beres

Lisa Beres is a healthy home expert, Baubiologist, published author, professional speaker and Telly award-winning media personality who teaches busy people how to eliminate toxins from their home with simple, step-by-step solutions to improve their health. With her husband, Ron, she is the co-founder of The Healthy Home Dream Team and the 30-day online program Change Your Home. Change Your Health. She is the author of the children’s book My Body My House and co-author of Just Green It!: Simple Swaps to Save Your Health and the Planet, Learn to Create a Healthy Home! Green Nest Creating Healthy Homes and The 9 to 5 Greened: 10 Steps to a Healthy Office. Lisa’s TV appearances include "The Rachael Ray Show," "Nightly News with Brian Williams," "TODAY," "The Doctors," "Fox & Friends," "Chelsea Lately" and "The Suzanne Somers Show."
Lisa Beres
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