Not everybody makes time to read books  with titles like The Secret Life of Germs.  But don’t you want to know what’s in a book with a title like that?

Among other things, the author, Phillip Tierno, PhD and director of clinical microbiology at the New York University Medical Center, says that there are lots of germs in our beds.  While we sleep, we inhale all kinds of things that settle into our pillows, sheets, blankets and mattrasses, including:

  • bacteria
  • human and animal hair and dander
  • fungal mold and spores
  • chemicals
  • lint
  • fibers
  • dust
  • dust mites
  • insect parts
  • and a variety of particulates that include dust mite feces


Additionally, in our beds, we have several pounds’ worth of perspiration, skin cells, hair, and built up human secretions.   The average person sheds about 1.5 million skin cells per hour (!) and perspires a quart every day –even while doing nothing, according to Tierno. These skin cells and secretions accumulate in everyone’s pillows and mattresses –and dust mites grow and settle.

A normal mattress doubles in weight  –yes, doubles in weight– every 10 years, because of the accumulation of human hair, bodily secretions, dust and other things.   Tierno says that after five years, ten percent of pillow’s weight is dust mites.

This is what we inhale while we sleep. Okay, it’s gross, but is it dangerous?

“What you’re sleeping on can exacerbate your allergies,” says Tierno.

But even if you don’t have allergies, if any of this information troubles you, Tierno suggests a few solutions.

First, cover the mattress, box springs, and pillows with allergy proof outer covers.

“Allergy-proof coverings seal the mattress and pillow, preventing anything from getting in or out, which protects you,” Tierno explains.

He also suggests, simply, that we all wash our sheets weekly in very hot water.  We should make sure that the temperature of the water is from 130 to 150 degrees Fahrenheit.

Tips from Tierno:

  • Cover the mattress, box springs, and pillows with allergy proof outer covers
  • Wash sheets weekly in very hot water

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