Mattress 101

How to Kill Dust Mites in Your Mattress

Everything you need to know about dust mites - myths, truths, prevention, extermination, and future proofing.

By Elizabeth Hennigan

What are dust mites?

Dust mites are microscopic arthropods of the Arachnida class, meaning they are related to spiders and scorpions. They have a globe-shaped body and eight legs just like their bigger cousins.

However, you won’t be able to see the little pests unless you’re armed with tools that provide 10x magnification and the know-how of what to look for. Their tiny, translucent bodies are only 420 microns in size making these pesky critters virtually impossible to spot with a naked eye.

Hence, that’s why they are notoriously difficult to detect and… kill.

Dust mites are not insects, though they are often confused with bed bugs. They feed on dead skin cells rather than blood or actual fresh tissue, as bed bugs do. House mites are not parasites, either. They are microscopic scavengers with an insatiable appetite for dead human cells (hair and skin) regardless of how many times you flip the mattress.

Where do dust mites lurk?

Humans shed anywhere between 0.5 and 1.5 grams of skin per day. This makes our homes the perfect habitat for dust mite colonies to grow. Humidity from perspiration makes your mattress or couch a particularly hospitable environment for dust mites to infest and grow, which is rather unfortunate if you’re an allergy sufferer. Carpets, drapery, cushions, table covers and other upholstered furniture also offer an excellent environment for mites to develop.

To make matters worse, dust mites are not quick to die.

The most common dust mite species found in an average household are The American dust mite (Dermatophagoides farinae) and the European dust mite (Dermatophagoides pteronyssinus) and can live north of 60 days, which is particularly impressive considering their size. They take roughly 20 to 30 days to mature, yet their quick reproduction cycle still poses a threat to your interior (a female can lay anywhere between 30 and 60 eggs during her lifetime). AKA dust mites can become a serious problem very quickly.

Why are dust mites dangerous?

So why should you care about something so small you can’t even see them? Although small, they are mighty. In fact, dust mites are one of the main sources of household allergies.

The mites themselves, as well as their particles and even their feces, can be a cause for allergic reaction. Coming into contact with dust mites or particles and pieces of their exoskeletons is enough to cause an immune response. And contact is likely considering these little critters are everywhere around you lurking in the dust. Not to mention, in your mattress—their primary breeding ground.

Even if you’re not prone to allergies, you can always develop one.

3 Ways to Prevent Dust Mites

Although dust mites can be difficult to manage, it’s not impossible. The key is to prevent their presence before they become a problem. Once you have a dust mite problem, it’s much harder to rid your home of them. With that being said, here are three ways to help prevent dust mites:

  1. Use dehumidifiers and air purifiers. Mites require a certain temperature and humidity level to live and thrive. If they don’t have that, they just die out. If you’re having trouble with dust mites, purchasing an air purifier or dehumidifier could make a huge difference for severe allergy sufferers. Even in a seemingly clean home, air can still cary many particulates like mold, pet dander, and, of course, dust mites. Lowering the humidity in your room to less than 40% is an effective way to kill and control dust mite populations and using air purifier will help you reduce the allergens floating around. However, there are some drawbacks to this method, such as the cost of constantly running a dehumidifier, as well as, sensitivity to low humidity levels especially when asleep. Although this method will not fully cure your mattress of dust mites, it’s still a viable option to finding a sustainable dust mites solution.
  2. Limit the use of upholstery. This is a more radical solution, but it will work. Replacing curtains with blinds, trading your upholstered sofa for a leather one, and switching to a latex mattress can have a significant impact on dust mite populations. As mentioned, upholstered areas are popular breeding grounds for this species. If you take that breeding ground away, you make life a little more difficult for them.
  3. Keep your room dust-free. You should be dusting regularly anyway, but especially if you have a dust mite problem or you are prone to allergies. Do your best to keep your room as dust-free as possible. The more regularly you dust and vacuum, the better. You should even vacuum your mattress. If you’re suffering from allergies, use a mask when cleaning your mattress.

Why You Should Consider a Hypoallergenic Mattress or Cover

The effectiveness of hypoallergenic covers and mattresses has been widely debated in recent years. This meta-analysis shows that hypoallergenic covers do not have a considerable effect on the symptoms of allergies. In other words, placing those covers on your mattress won’t make your allergy go away. This is often quoted as the main evidence for the case against these covers and hypoallergenic mattresses.

However, this could be misleading, because the results of the same study show a significant decrease in the number of dust mites in mattresses, meaning these additions actually work. The interpretation of the results should be that hypoallergenic materials cannot be used to solve the mite problem on their own, but in conjunction with some of the other prevention methods, we talked about.

Similarly, most latex mattresses are naturally hypoallergenic, meaning they are invulnerable to mold, microbes and, you guessed it, dust mites. Additionally, latex foam is more breathable than traditional memory foam, which is known to trap heat. A mattress that provides greater airflow, helps regulate body temperature and prevents perspiration. The cooler and dryer your sleep surface, the fewer dust mites will want to share a bed with you.

How to Get Rid of Dust Mites in Your Mattress

Getting rid of dust mites isn’t always easy. On top[ of the preventative measures already mentioned, here are a few more things you can do to help solve the problem.

Extreme Temps

“One of the most sure way methods to get rid of these pesky little creatures is to soak your bed linen in high temperature water,” says Alexander Crawley – entomology consultant at Fantastic Pest Control (Australia). Anything over 140 degrees Fahrenheit should be enough to kill off all dust mites according to one study. “Laundry detergent is also pretty effective, especially when combined with soaking,” he adds. You should perform this operation every week. It’s advisable to purchase bed linen that won’t be easily damaged by frequent washing and high temperatures. Alternatively, you can use steam cleaning to the same effect.

Extreme cold is another weakness of these microscopic invaders. Putting your pillows or toys in the freezer for a few hours will make them dust mite free. You can do the same with stuffed animals if you want to kill the mites with cold. However, if you worried about damaging your nice pillows, you might want to take a more professional approach.

Dust Mite Sprays

There are also dust mite sprays on the market that may help keep their numbers in check. However, treating them with sprays alone won’t be enough to solve the problem completely.

Additionally, cleaners like Lysol kill dust mites; however, it doesn’t remove their feces nor their remains, so it doesn’t solve the problem. The only way it can be effective is if it’s used with the other methods we’ve presented. Also, we don’t recommend spraying the place you sleep down with a cleaning solution…yikes.

Do home remedies work?

Although popular, homemade alternatives like vinegar, essential oils, baking soda, and diatomaceous earth typically don’t do much when it comes to cleansing your home of dust mites.

So what do I do?

Dealing with dust mites takes patience. It’s recommended you use a combined approach to preventing a treating a dust mite infestation. Although inconvenient, it’s worth it for the sake of your health and sleep.


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