If allergies are the bane of your existence, you might have come across information about allergy-proof bedding in your quest for a symptom-free life. Allergy-proof bedding might especially pique your interest if you feel like your symptoms get most aggressive when you’re in bed (which should really be a safe haven, right?). So, what is allergy-proof bedding, and how does it work? Here’s everything you need to know.
Allergy-proof bedding is a kind of covering you can use on things like pillows to combat allergens—mainly dust mites.
Dust mites, microscopic organisms with a distant relation to ticks and spiders, are greedy little troublemakers that love to feed on skin cells that you shed, according to the Mayo Clinic. (Gross, I know.)
Proteins in dust mite “debris” (basically their poop and decaying bodies) can trigger an allergic reaction including symptoms like sneezing, a runny nose, itchy, red, or watery eyes, and a cough, according to the Mayo Clinic. Sometimes a sensitivity to dust mites can even induce asthma, prompting symptoms like trouble breathing, chest pain, wheezing (a whistling sound when you breathe), and coughing.
Many of these symptoms overlap with those of other airborne allergies, but one common sign you have a dust mite allergy is that you experience these symptoms year-round, unlike seasonal allergies, for example. Also, a dust mite allergy is most intense when you’re in bed, lounging on upholstered furniture, or have recently spent a lot of time doing either.
Dust mites flourish in warm, humid environments. It’s no wonder, then, that your bed is basically a dust mite’s dream.
Think of how many hours you spend there each night, getting your sheets nice and toasty with body heat and shedding skin cells upon which dust mites would happily feast. This can create an ideal environment for these critters in areas like your mattress, pillows, comforter, and duvet cover.
“It’s nearly impossible to eradicate dust mites,” Jana Tuck, M.D., a board-certified allergist and a spokesperson for the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, tells SELF. That’s because they live in the dust itself—a natural mixture of things like skin cells, random fibers, dirt you track in on your shoes, and matter from outdoor air that circulates inside—which is basically collecting all the time. You can, however, cover things like your pillow or mattress to reduce your exposure. That’s where allergy-proof bedding comes in.
Allergy-proof bedding has a two-pronged approach: It reduces your exposure to dust mites and also helps prevent them from reproducing.
Allergy-proof bedding generally refers to extremely tightly woven covers for the various objects that make up your comfy, cozy bed, like your pillows and mattress. This prevents dust (and dust mites, by extension) from getting in—or out.
“[Allergy-proof bedding] acts as a barrier,” Dr. Tuck says. “It prevents you from being exposed to the allergens that are already in the pillow, mattress, [or other bedding].” On the flip side, allergy-proof bedding is meant to keep your dead skin cells from getting into your pillow, mattress, and other items, so dust mites can’t survive or reproduce, Dr. Tuck explains.
There are multiple brands of allergy-proof bedding on the market. The most important thing is to look for zippered encasements made of tightly woven fabric to go on your pillows, mattress, box spring, and duvet, Dr. Tuck says. Your goal is to protect things you’re either unable or unlikely to wash, like your mattress, pillows, box spring, and comforter, since doing laundry is one of your next best defenses against dust mites. (More on that later.)
The actual fabric itself doesn’t matter as much as choosing one with really tiny little pores. Tania Elliott, M.D., a board-certified allergist and chief medical officer of preventive health care company EHE, recommends looking for allergy-proof bedding woven with a pore size of 6 or fewer microns. “These are very effective at controlling the passage of dust mites … while still permitting adequate airflow,” Dr. Elliott tells SELF. (That means they’ll do their job without making you more likely to overheat.) Since dust mites can live, breed, create waste, and die anywhere where dust collects, it’s best to cover as many of your bed’s surfaces as possible to cut back on as much dust as you can.
You may even hear of products like allergy-proof comforters or top sheets made of the same tightly woven fabric as pillow encasements and the like. Although that can make it harder for dust mites to burrow into the comforter or sheets, they can still settle on top of these items, even if they’re allergy-proof. This is where aggressive laundry habits come in.
Also worth noting: Allergy-proof bedding is most effective against dust mites since they live and breed in places like your bed, Dr. Elliott says. Other allergens, like pollen and animal dander, can certainly wind up in your bed, but it’s not like they need a habitat like your bed in order to make your life miserable. Stopping their spread is really contingent on doing other things like pollen-proofing your home or designating your room as a no-pet zone.
In addition to using allergy-proof bedding, there are other steps you can take to minimize dust mite exposure.
According to the Mayo Clinic, you can consider removing carpeting from your home, swapping out upholstered furniture for hardwood, and getting rid of heavy drapery, thereby reducing places where dust mites can live. (You can extend that thinking into all areas with actions like keeping decorative pillows and blankets that just collect dust off your bed, Dr. Elliott says.) However, these techniques will only go so far (and can also be tough to put into practice, unless you have a ton of money lying around to swap out all your furniture). You also need to devote a fair amount of time to cleaning, which can sound awful—but since it’s helping you breathe by extension, it’s really worth it.
Regularity is key here. You should clean your place at least once a week, according to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology. While you’re at it, do laundry that often, too, making sure to wash your bedding on the highest heat setting to kill off dust mites, Dr. Elliott says. (The water should be at least 130 degrees Fahrenheit.) You can also do things like use a vacuum with a high efficiency particulate air filter to suck up tiny air particles, including dust mites, and keep the humidity in your home below 50 percent with something like a dehumidifier. Here are even more steps you can follow if you think all the dust in your home is making your allergies or asthma go haywire.
That might seem like an overwhelming flood of information, in which case, just remember that allergy-proof bedding can be a good place to start. “It does make a difference,” Dr. Elliott says.