8 Gross Mattress Facts

From allergens and bed bugs to built-up grime, here are 8 gross facts you should know to protect your health and sleep quality.

By Nicole Gleichmann

Apr 28th, 2022

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Even those of us who consider ourselves clean freaks may be astonished by what’s hiding in our mattresses. Without the right precautions, a mattress becomes a breeding ground for dust mites, mold, mildew, and bed bugs. Fortunately, you can protect yourself, but only if you know what you’re up against. 

That’s why we’ve put together a list of 8 upsetting facts that you probably never knew about your mattress, along with ways to protect yourself.

1. Your Bed is Covered in Dead Skin Cells

Every night as you peacefully snooze in bed, your body sheds millions of dead skin cells. They build up in your sheets, blankets, and pillows. Not only is skincell buildup upsetting to think about, but the cells themselves act as a buffet for tiny organisms that irritate allergies and asthma. 

To protect your sleep haven from dead skin cells:

  • Wash your bedding, including sheets and blankets, every week.  
  • Replace your pillows often—every 6 months if you have allergies or asthma or every 18 months if you don’t. 
  • Always use pillow cases, and wash your pillows if they’re washable. 
  • Wear pajamas if you want to keep your mattress extra-clean.  

2. Creepy, Crawly Critters Feast on Dead Skin Cells

You don’t want to see what your bed looks like under a microscope. Tiny creatures called dust mites congregate on your mattress, pillows, and bedding to enjoy a skincell buffet. The millions of skin cells shed each night support a community of tens of thousands of the creepy crawlies. While they aren’t going to bite you, they do aggravate allergies and asthma. 

To limit dust mites:

  • Use an allergen mattress protector and pillow case. These completely surround the mattress or pillow, keeping dust mites out. 
  • Wash your bedding every week in hot water.
  • Replace pillows every 6 months if you have allergies or asthma and every 18 months otherwise. 

3. You May Be Sleeping In Many Years’ Sweat

Have you ever woken up hot and sweaty? It’s normal to struggle with thermoregulation during the night, but when you get too hot, it’s not only your sleep quality that suffers. The excess perspiration has to go somewhere. Unless you’ve taken the below steps, that’s going to be into your mattress and pillow. And if this has been happening for years, your mattress is full of grime. 

To keep things fresh and clean:

  • Let your mattress breathe after a sweaty night. To do this, don’t make your bed, but rather, remove the sheets and blankets to give things a chance to dry. 
  • Use a waterproof mattress protector to keep your mattress clean. 
  • Wash your bedding regularly.
  • Always use a pillowcase, and consider a waterproof one if you sleep hot. 
  • Turn the thermostat down or use a fan to stay cool. 

4. Humid Mattresses Are a Breeding Ground

Mattresses can easily become damp, and humidity is a breeding ground for allergens. Moist beds allow mildew, mold, and dust mites to flourish. From a runny nose to trouble breathing, an abundance of allergens is no joke for those with sensitivities. Even pests like bed bugs and fleas prefer a humid home, and you’re probably not wanting to share your bed with them. 

Related: Best Hypoallergenic Mattresses

To help keep your mattress dry: 

  • Place your mattress on a breathable bed frame or foundation. A box spring or slatted foundation are two of the best. Just be sure to check with your mattress company and see what types of foundations work with your mattress. 
  • Protect your mattress from body sweat, spills, and accidents by using a waterproof mattress protector.  
  • Allow your mattress to air out if it does get wet. This might be leaving it unmade if you sweat during the night or removing fitted sheets fully after cleaning up a spill or an accident. 
  • Buy a new mattress if your old one has mold or mildew buildup. It’s nearly impossible to fully remove these allergens from an old mattress.  

5. Accidents Happen, and They’re Hard to Clean Up

Urinary incontinence is more common that one might think. Between children, pets, and the rare adult accident, there’s no faster way to make a mattress filthy than by soaking it in urine. Even the quickest action is too late if you haven’t protected your mattress ahead of time.

  • Use a waterproof mattress protector. There are protectors that are surprisingly quiet and comfortable. 
  • If an accident happens and your mattress isn’t protected, spot clean it immediately. Do not place sheets or a comforter over it until it’s 100% dry. 

6. Your Mattress Might Contain Toxic Chemical Flame Retardants

Every mattress sold in the United States must meet strict flammability requirements. While this seems like a great idea on the surface, there are few restrictions as to how a company must meet these requirements. As a result, many mattresses are made using toxic chemical flame retardants.  

To protect your long-term health:

  • When shopping for a mattress, ask what is used to protect the mattress from flames. Physical fire barriers are the safest for your health. 
  • Check with your mattress company to see if any dangerous chemicals were used to make your mattress fire resistant. If they were, you may want to buy a new mattress.
  • Look for CertiPUR-US certified foams, which are free from many dangerous chemicals, including certain chemical flame retardants. You’ll find these foams in a lot of top organic mattresses.

7. Bed Bugs Can Infiltrate Any Home

Bed bugs—just the phrase is enough to make most of us shudder. These pests are both incredibly irritating and frustratingly hard to remove once they’ve taken hold. Unfortunately, it’s easy to pick them up from one place and bring them home. You can get them from sitting on infested furniture or having them hitch a ride on your luggage. It’s common to get them without even knowing where they came from. 

While there’s no way to safeguard yourself 100%, here are a few tips that reduce your risk of having to battle these pesky critters.

  • Store your luggage off of the carpet or furniture when traveling.
  • Wash your clothing immediately upon returning home, and store your suitcase away from your carpet or furniture.
  • Use a mattress encasement that’s resistant to bed bugs.
  • Keep your house and bedroom tidy and vacuum often. 

8. You Can Never 100% Clean Your Mattress

There are few household items that we cannot fully clean. Even carpet can get a thorough once-over with a high-quality deep cleaner. But mattresses, unfortunately, are not easy-to-clean. Only water beds can be thoroughly cleaned, and most of us would prefer the plush give of memory foam mattresses or the springy support of an innerspring bed. Outside of spot cleaning, there’s not much you can do to undo damage that’s already occurred. 

To keep your mattress fresh and clean:

  • Use a waterproof mattress cover on a new mattress from day 1. 
  • Discard your old mattress and buy a new one if you have any damage that’s irreversible and causing health problems
  • Always use a fitted sheet to protect your mattress.

Read More: How to Clean and Maintain Your Mattress

There’s nothing quite like slipping into an enormously comfortable bed at the end of the day. To allow your worries to fully fade away, take steps to protect your nighttime retreat. 

You can safeguard yourself from almost every gross mattress problem by doing two things. First, use an allergen-resistant, waterproof mattress protector from the first day you bring a new mattress home. Second, clean your bedding often. This includes sheets, comforters, and pillows. These simple steps can help you get a good night’s sleep without odors, allergens, or irritants.