The Best Bedding for Allergies
If you suffer from allergies, you need to be particularly careful about the kind of bedding you put on top of your mattress, as well as how you care for it. Your bed can easily become the perfect breeding ground for certain allergens, but the right bedding can help keep irritants out.
Here, we outline the most common allergens that can build up in your bed and explain how to choose the best bedding for allergies.
What allergens are living in your bed?
Most of us never think about the icky things that accumulate in our mattresses and pillows over time because they're all typically harmless to most people. If you have allergies, though, the following list of allergens commonly found in your bed can seriously mess with your sleep.
Dust mites are microscopic bugs that feed on the dead skin cells of humans and animals. Your mattress is the piece of furniture you spend the most time in close contact with, making it the primary location for the accumulation of dead skin cells—and a feasting ground for dust mites. According to the BBC, the average bed is home to up to 1.5 million dust mites.
While dust mites themselves don't cause allergies, the enzymes released from their excrement after they gobble up your dead skin cells do. “Even [if] you're not allergic, you will respond to dust mites debris and dust mites in an allergic way," Philip Tierno, microbiologist and pathologist at New York University School of Medicine, tells Business Insider. “Everybody responds, especially to the feces of dust mites. Dust is basically everywhere."
Mold and mildew
As you sleep, your bedding and mattress soak up sweat, contributing to the growth of mold and mildew. Both of these can cause respiratory issues or other allergic reactions in some people. And sweat isn't just an issue for people who sleep hot—it's estimated that the average human loses 10 ounces of fluid per night.
We hate to break it to all the dog and cat lovers out there, but pet dander—composed of microscopic flecks of skin shed by animals—can be a huge problem to those who are allergic to it. (According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, that's up to three in 10 people, with cat allergies being about twice as common as dog allergies.)
What's more, pets that spend a lot of time outdoors pick up all kinds of allergens, including dead skin cells of other animals, pollen, and mold spores. If you let Rocky into your bed, he'll bring all that stuff with him. (Here's how to keep your pet from ruining your sleep.)
The best bedding for allergies
Choosing the right bedding will go a long way toward minimizing the buildup of allergens in your bed. Here's how to pick a mattress protector, sheets, pillows, and more if you have allergies.
A mattress protector is a must for anyone, but it's especially important for allergy sufferers, as it helps prevent the buildup of allergens in your mattress. Choose one that is breathable to promote good air circulation and waterproof to prevent spills and moisture from getting into your mattress and encouraging mold. Natural fabrics like cotton and bamboo will give you the breathability you need, as will Tencel® Lyocell, a hypoallergenic, moisture-wicking fabric made from the pulp of eucalyptus trees.
A traditional fitted mattress protector is a fine choice, but if you want to be absolutely certain that dust mites or other allergens won't get in, use an encasement style mattress protector—it encloses your mattress on all sides and has a zipper. It also protects your mattress from bed bugs.
Pillows, just like your mattress, can easily become a breeding ground for dust mites if you're not careful. Down and feather pillows are not a great choice due to the particles of dust that remain in the down after washing. Choose a memory foam or a latex pillow since they're naturally hypoallergenic. Memory foam is too dense for dust mites to penetrate, and latex is naturally resistant to dust mites.
Look for a pillow with an organic cotton cover. It's naturally breathable, known to create a dry and inhospitable environment for dust mites, mold, and mildew, and free of harsh chemicals that can irritate your skin. You may also want to keep your pillow inside a pillow encasement, just as you do your mattress, to further protect against allergens.
For allergy-friendly bedding, always go with natural fibers, such as organic cotton, bamboo, or linen. Because of their breathability, these materials will keep you and your bedsheets dry, preventing the spread of dust mites, which prefer humid environments. Linen, specifically, also has unique filtering properties that greatly reduce the number of allergens and germs typically found in bedsheets.
Our Best Sheets and Pillows for Allergies
Down, which is the most common fill for comforters, should be avoided if you're prone to allergies. That's because down (or more precisely, the dust particles that remain in the down after processing) can cause allergic reactions in some people.
Silk comforters are a great alternative to down. In addition to being hypoallergenic, silk has natural thermal properties, which makes for a lightweight yet warm filling. If you crave the feeling and warmth of down, a silk comforter might be the way to go.
Wool comforters are another great choice. Wool is great at absorbing moisture and wicking it away from the body, creating an environment that is too dry for dust mites to thrive in. Be aware that lanolin (the wax that is naturally secreted by wool-bearing animals) is said to cause allergy in a very tiny percentage of people. Make sure you're not allergic to lanolin before buying a wool comforter.
Good-quality synthetic filling can be another fine choice for people with allergies. It won't give you the insulating power of down or silk, but it will still keep you warm. Some manmade fibers—gel fibers, for example—were specifically made to resemble the properties of down.
Related: The best bedding for sensitive skin
How to clean your bedding if you have allergies
No matter what kind of bedding you get, if you don't keep it clean, the buildup of allergens is inevitable.
If you have allergies, wash your bedding about once a week on a hot cycle using a fragrance-free, dye-free detergent or one that is specifically formulated for allergy sufferers. Rather than line-drying your sheets (which is guaranteed to attract pollen), use a dryer, the heat of which will kill any dust mites that survived the hot wash.
Of course, some of your more delicate hypoallergenic bedding items such as wool and silk may require a gentler touch, so do always follow the manufacturer's instructions. It helps if you shower, shampoo, and wash your face every night to help keep allergens out of your bed. And of course, allergy-proofing your bedroom is also a must.