How To Get Rid Of Dust Mites In Pillows


Everyone who has an allergy in my family, including me, has a dust mite allergy as well. Dust mites can be anywhere in the house, but their most significant populations located primarily in areas where humans sleep or rest, such as pillows, couches, and mattresses.

Since I am affected by dust mite allergy, I spent several days researching the subject, and half of that time in the university library. I presented my findings below.

So, how to get rid of dust mites? The best way to get rid of dust mites in pillows is to wash and dry them in the temperature higher over 130°F (54.4°C) for at least 15 minutes. If the pillow cannot be washed in high temperature use special detergents or detergent additives and washed in cold water.

Facts about dust mites

There are two primary allergen carriers in houses: cockroaches and house dust mites. Everyone has seen cockroaches and knows ways to get rid of them. In the worst case, you can chase the roach with the slipper.

Dust mites, however, are microscopic: the adult ones are about 0.3mm long. Can you see dust mites with the human eye? Very unlikely. Mites belong to the same family as ticks. The size of an adult tick varies from 2 to 6 mm, so the average tick is about 10-20 times bigger than an average mite.

Sometimes on forums, I see people claiming that they were able to see them. I believe those people confuse dust mites with bed bugs, which can range from 2.5 to 4.5mm. The only way to see those tiny creatures is by using a microscope.

Here’s how they look like:

Dust mite (Wikipedia)

How do I know if I have dust mites in my bed?

While it is impossible to see them with a naked eye, one can collect the sample of dust from the affected area and examine it under a microscope. There was also a detection kit called Avarex. It’s been used by National Institutes of Health in 1993. Unfortunately, I was not able to find the test anywhere online.

What are the signs of dust mites?

Symptoms caused by dust mites can point to a mite infestation. Allergy symptoms include sneezing, running nose, cough and itchy eyes, nose, and throat. Dust mites are even worse for people with asthma who may experience difficulty breathing, chest pain, coughing, and wheezing when sleeping.

Can you see dust mites with a magnifying glass?

Possibly. The typical 2x magnifier will not be strong enough to help. With a 10x magnifier, however, objects become ten times bigger, and the dust mite will be seen at 0.3 * 10 = 3mm size, the size of a bed bug.

What attracts dust mites?

Dust mites appear everywhere in the house. But since their most favorite food is human and pet dead skin cells and skin flakes (also called dander), they mostly can be found in pillows and mattresses. They also live in upholstered furniture such as couches and sofas, and stuffed animals. So, anything that attracts dust and comes to contact with humans or pets can potentially attract dust mites as well.

Do dust mites bite you?

No, dust mites do not bite. Dust mites feed on the dead skin cells and flakes that reside on pillows and bedsheets. If a parasite bit you, it was most likely a bed bug or a flea. If you have a rash, then it might be caused by some allergic reaction. In this case, it makes sense to see a dermatologist.

Can you feel dust mites crawling on you?

Since dust mites are so small, even if they reside on people, they go unnoticed. If you do feel that something little is crawling on you while you sleep, the cause is most likely psychological. Anyone who sees dust mites under a microscope might have nightmares and imagine those tiny spider-like organisms on their faces.

Dust mites in pillows

I read many articles claiming that in 2 years a pillow adds 10% of additional weight which consists of live and dead mites and their fecal matter. I didn’t find any scientific evidence of such ridiculous claims. The danger of dust mites is that they trigger allergic reactions and increase the severity of asthma symptoms.

We established the fact the dust mites accumulate in places such as pillows, bedsheets, etc. Now, let’s consider different pillow materials and their anti-mite properties if they have any.

Can dust mites live in memory foam or latex pillows?

It is common knowledge that dust mites appear in feather, cotton, and down pillows. These materials are natural, and skin flakes can easily sift through. And we know that dead skin attracts these little organisms. But how about memory foam pillows?

After all, memory foam is a solid block which skin cells cannot penetrate. However, dander and dander-loving dust mites can still stay on the surface of the memory foam pillow. According to Entomology Lab at the University of Kentucky “the evidence is contradictory as to whether foam pillows are any less prone to dust mite allergens than are feather pillows.”

Also, I found another study about memory foam mattresses. In this study, the researchers found dust mite feces (which cause the allergy) in 40.5% of foam mattresses without covers. At the same time, they only found mite feces in 12.5% spring mattresses. Based on the findings, they even concluded that replacing memory foam mattresses with spring ones can reduce mite allergies.

I am not suggesting to replace your memory foam mattress or pillow on your vintage rustic bed. There are other ways of fighting allergies which I will cover below.

Can dust mites live in polyester?

In 1996 Kemp at all published the results of their study about house dust mites allergens in pillows. Specifically, they compared pillows with synthetic and feather fillings. The results were surprising. According to the study, they found polyester fiber pillows contained 8.5 times more dust mites than feather pillows (1.01g vs. 0.13g). It’s now called House Dust Mite Paradox.

Dust mite remedies

Now, when we know almost everything about these nasty micro creatures, it’s time to protect our families from them. There are two guidelines I used to develop the protection strategy:

  1. Guidelines for the diagnosis and management of asthma by the National Asthma Education and Prevention Program (NAEPP)
  2. Guidelines for health care providers by the National Environmental Education & Training Foundation (NEETF)

According to both of them, the first thing you have to do is to encase your pillow in a dust mite protector. In case if you don’t know which one to choose below are my top picks from Amazon:

What kills dust mites naturally?

Dust mites require specific conditions to survive. They like warm and humid environments. If the temperature falls below 30°F, they die. If the temperature increases over 130°F (54.4°C) the effect is the same. So you can either freeze or fry them.

Another natural way to reduce their population is dehydration. Dust mites are more likely to live in houses in Florida than in Arizona. Consider purchasing a dehumidifier if the air in the house is too humid. As someone said if you get static electricity, then your home is probably mite-free.

Does washing pillows kill dust mites?

Washing pillows in a temperature higher than 130°F for at least 15 minutes is the best way to get rid of dust mites. Unfortunately, not all pillows can be machine washed or dried. This approach only works with cotton or polyester pillows. Feather and down pillows can only be washed in the cold water, and memory foam pillows shouldn’t be machine washed at all.

Learn more about washing bed pillows by hand in my other article:

How to Wash Pillows by Hand

Laundry detergent that kills dust mites

So, if some pillows cannot be washed in hot water how do get rid of dust mites in them. Two products can help fighting dust mites and can be used with feather and down pillows:

  • DeMite Laundry Additive. It’s not a detergent, use it in addition to a gentle scent-free detergent of your choice. It has a smell, however, which some people like and some people not. According to the manufacturer, its active ingredients (Benzyl Benzoate, Tea Tree Oil & Methyl Salicylate) are non-toxic, but they eliminate mite allergens.
  • Allergen Wash Laundry Detergent. This laundry detergent removes pollen and mold in addition to dust mite allergens. According to the manufacturer, it’s safe for people, pets, and the environment.

Will putting a pillow in dryer kill dust mites?

Yes, placing pillows in a dryer with a high-temperature cycle is a good way to get rid of dust mites. Just use Manual, Timed settings and run in highest available temperature for 15 minutes or more. Do not use automatic sensor because it will stop as soon as it detects the lack of moisture in the pillow.

Note, however, not all pillows can be dried in the dryer. Check my article for more details.

Alternative approaches

There are other less common approaches to mite problem besides washing and drying at high temperature. Let’s review some of them.

Do essential oils kill dust mites?

There was a study aimed to identify the effectiveness of essential oils against house dust mites. According to the research, four essential oils, clove, matrecary, chenopodium, and fennel were most effective. Eucalyptus and rosemary were less efficient. So, if you are thinking about using an oil-extract when washing pillows pick the first four.

Does vinegar kill dust mites in the laundry?

This solution is often cited in many blogs. I found no scientific evidence for this claim. Vinegar is a right solution against bacteria, but mites are not bacteria. So the answer is no, vinegar does not kill dust mites.

Do air purifiers get rid of dust mites?

Air purifier manufacturers suggest that their products can eliminate up to 95% of mite allergens. However, there was no sufficient research to prove their claims. For instance, this guy who was suffering from the dust mite allergy tested six various purifiers and didn’t find a single one that could help him with his sufferings.

So, it’s up to you whether to invest in these expensive products. We, at Comphy Pillow, cannot recommend them.

What spray will kill dust mites?

If you remember, according to the study I referenced above, the best essential against mites was clove oil. I found only one spray based on clove oil, so it should work better than other solutions based on inorganic ingredients. If you decide to go with the spray, make sure that the pillow is absolutely dry (air-dry it or use no-heat setting in dryer machine) because damp pillows attract even more dust mites.

Will baking soda kill dust mites?

No, it won’t. Baking soda is used to eliminate unpleasant odors, but it’s useless against house dust mites.

Conclusion

If you or someone in your family is suffering from dust mite allergy or asthma, there are several things that will help to reduce mite population or minimize their allergens:

  • Encase all pillows and mattresses with pillow protectors
  • Wash pillow covers and pillows in hot water if possible
  • Reduce humidity level in the house
  • Remove carpets from the bedroom if possible
  • Remove stuffed animals from the bedroom or wash them weekly
  • Vacuum rooms using HEPA filters

Resources:

  • BREYSSE, JILL, et al. “Nurse Case Management and Housing Interventions Reduce Allergen Exposures: The Milwaukee Randomized Controlled Trial.” Public Health Reports, vol. 126, May 2011, p. 89
  • Tsurikisawa, Naomi, et al. “Encasing Bedding in Covers Made of Microfine Fibers Reduces Exposure to House Mite Allergens and Improves Disease Management in Adult Atopic Asthmatics.” Allergy, Asthma & Clinical Immunology, no. 1, 2013
  • Luh Putu Winansari Ratih, and Hendra Santosa. “The Benefit of Using Plastic-Covered Mattresses and Pillows on the Frequency of Asthma Attacks in Children with House Dust Mite Allergy.” Paediatrica Indonesiana, no. 2, 2016, p. 60
  • T. J. Kemp, et al. “House Dust Mite Allergen In Pillows.” BMJ: British Medical Journal, vol. 313, no. 7062, 1996, p. 916
  • National Asthma Education and Prevention Program (NAEPP). Control of environmental factors and comorbid conditions that affect asthma. In; Expert panel report 3: guidelines for the diagnosis and management of asthma. Bethesda, M&. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute; 2007.
  • National Environmental Education & Training Foundation (NEETF). Environmental management of pédiatrie asthma. Guidelines for health care providers, Washington, DC: National Environmental Education & Training Foundation (NEETF); 2005.

Image credits:
Flikr
By CSIRO, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=35497118

Feruza

Feruza is a mom and a blogger. She had a neck pain for 15 years, which made he interested in everything about pillows.

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