Your bed may be a germ-filled petri dish, microbiologist warns

LONDON — Your bed is likely the comfiest spot in your home. Unfortunately, it may also be one of the germiest as well, a microbiologist in London warns. In a new paper, a researcher from the University of Westminster explains all the hidden dangers that may actually be turning your mattress into one giant petri dish.

Medical Microbiology lecturer Manal Mohammed says all the sweat, saliva, dandruff, and dead skins cells people leave behind after a night’s sleep is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to a less-than-cleanly bed. All these things create the perfect environment for bacteria, fungi, viruses, and even microscopic bugs to grow.

Starting with bacteria, Dr. Mohammed specifically looked at the dangers of Staphylococcus bacteria. Although these germs are usually harmless to humans, they cause serious illness and possibly death if they enter the body through an open wound.

Strains like Staphylococcus aureus have been discovered on pillowcases and they can be resistant to antibiotics as well. This potentially harmful strain is also commonly found in hospital beds.

Although a hospital room is much different from someone’s bedroom at home, Dr. Mohammed says gram negative bacteria like Staphylococcus and E. coli can still make their way into a normal bed.

“In fact, around a third of people carry Staphylococcus aureus in their bodies. People that carry S. aureus can shed the organism in large numbers – meaning it’d be pretty easy for Staphylococcus bacteria to be transferred into your bed at home,” Mohammed writes in her article in The Conversation.

Lots of bugs crawling around in people’s beds

The author adds that people shed about 500 million skin cells each night while sleeping. This provides microscopic dust mites with a smorgasbord to feed on. Unfortunately for humans, these mites (and their droppings in your bed!) can cause people to develop allergies or even asthma.

Even worse, bed bugs have become a growing problem, especially in big cities like Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York. Dr. Mohammed says people can track these pests into their homes in a variety of ways from the dirty, outdoor environment.

“Washing and drying bed linens on a high temperature (around 131 degrees Fahrenheit) will kill dust mites, but bedbugs may need to be professionally exterminated,” the microbiologist explains.

A messy house can lead to a dirty bed

The report also notes that the items inside your own home can contribute to a germ-infested bed. Bringing soiled clothing and towels into the bedroom can expose your bed to more germs, including S. aureus and E. coli bacteria.

“Improper laundering can also spread these germs to other items – including our bed sheets. Even diseases like gonorrhea can be transmitted through contaminated towels or bedding,” Mohammed warns.

What are the best hygiene practices for your bed?

The study author explains that the best thing to do to keep your bed clean is to wash early and often. It may be tough for most people wash their sheets every day, but airing out your sheets every morning can be helpful. Pulling back the covers and exposing the sheets to air makes your bed a less attractive nesting spot for germs and bugs.

Along with washing your bedding every week to two weeks, the author recommends also vacuuming the mattress to remove excess allergens and dust. Also, never keep a bed around for too long. After 10 years, it’s time for a brand new mattress. Showering before bed and avoiding naps in bed while sweaty will cut down on the germs you track into your sheets as well. Finally, Dr. Mohammed recommends people avoid eating in bed and allowing their pets in bed.

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About the Author

Chris Melore

Chris Melore has been a writer, researcher, editor, and producer in the New York-area since 2006. He won a local Emmy award for his work in sports television in 2011.

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