Disgusting Dust Mites: Everything You (Didn’t) Want To Know

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Dust Mites- everything you need to know
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It only took a little research into finding a new mattress to learn more than I ever wanted to know about dust mites. Little critters related to ticks and spiders that live in your pillow, mattress, and furniture? Ugh!

I mean, do you really want thousands of those cringe-worthy little pests in the picture above in your pillow at night? Not me!

Sometimes ignorance really is bliss. But as much as we’d like to pretend dust mites don’t exist, their presence can really impact the health and happiness of our homes if we are prone to allergies.

Want to know how to control dust mites and the symptoms they cause? Then read on!

What Are Dust Mites Anyway?

Dust mites are microscopic eight-legged bugs related to ticks and spiders. They live in our homes and feed on the dead skin cells we shed every day. Basically, they eat our dust.

Since dust mites extract their water from the air, they prefer warm and humid places close to their food source. This makes the places we sit, lie down, exhale, and perspire prime real estate for them. Mattresses, couches, and carpets are dust mite magnets.

What’s more, dust mites replicate very quickly. A female dust mite lays over 100 eggs a month in her short 2-3 month life span. In the right conditions you can have a serious dust mite problem in very little time.

Here are some facts you may (or may not!) want to know:

  • A used mattress can have between 100,000 and 10 million mites inside.
  • A square yard of carpet contains about 100,000 mites.
  • One study found an average of 16 types of fungi (a dust mite food) on pillows.
  • The particles you might see floating in the air are mostly made up of skin flakes.

Are you grossed out yet? I sure am!

Do Dust Mites Bite?

Although gross, the good news is dust mites do not bite, carry diseases, or draw blood like some of their relatives. And since we can’t see them, most of the time we are blissfully unaware of their presence.

So other than being a creepy thought, why are dust mites a problem?

You might not like the answer!

The real threat is what dust mites leave behind… their waste. There’s a lot of it in fact. A single dust mite can lay over 20 droppings a day. And those droppings are chock full of allergens to the human immune system.

As if we needed one more reason not to have them around!

Am I Allergic to Dust Mites?

The short answer is probably, but it may not be serious.

If anyone in your family has symptoms of congestion, coughing, or watery eyes especially when sleeping or indoors, you may want to consider dust mites as one source of your problems.

Or, if anyone in your family has gastrointestinal issues, you’ll want to pay attention to dust mites.

Most urgently- if anyone in your family has asthma, COPD, or a respiratory issue of any kind, dust mites are a very serious issue for you and you’ll want to take every step you can to control them.

Dust Mite Feces: The Real Problem

Dust mite feces (their poop) contain powerful digestive enzymes that actually allow the resourceful dust mite to eat and gain energy from its own waste.

But for humans, these enzymes can be destructive. In fact there are over 20 allergens in a single dust mite waste packet, which can easily enter the human bloodstream when disturbed and sent airborne.

In 1997 scientists identified the mechanisms by which this digestive enzyme could work its way into the body. Once on the surface of the lungs, Der p1 (the most studied and understood enzyme) attacks and dissolves the ‘glue’ that holds the cells together. If significant, this breach of lung defenses, combined with spillage from undigested contents of the mite’s gut, can raise an alarm in the body’s immune system which may lead to a ‘full-blown’ allergic reactions. Following the discovery of the activity of Der p1, doctors soon found that it actually travels within the body and is capable of reaching the fluid surrounding unborn children. (1)

In fact, studies show that dust mites and the allergic reactions they provoke are a root cause of asthma in children and can actually cause lung cell death. Prolonged exposure to dust mite allergens can also lead to eczema, gut disease, conjunctivitis, hay fever, and ear problems. (3)

How To Get Rid of Dust Mites

I’m guessing at this point you’re eager to get rid of the dust mites in your home, but unfortunately they can hook themselves firmly into your couch or mattress. Vacuuming does very little to dislodge any of them. (Although you still should vacuum carpet, furniture, and even mattresses to remove their food source, dust.)

If you’re not allergic to dust mites you may not need to do much about them. But there’s no doubt that decreasing your dust mite exposure could prevent a future allergic problem from developing, and it’s always a good idea to take steps to reduce toxins from dust in your home.

There are chemical procedures to reduce dust mites, but of course I’ll list only natural methods of attack here!

Protect Your Mattresses and Bedding

Perhaps the most important step you can take in the war against dust mites is to encase your new mattress or pillow right away in a dust mite blocking mattress cover. (The material is woven so tightly anything over 5 microns can’t get through, or get out.)

Here is an option that doesn’t use plastic membranes.

The initial cost will be worth it to guarantee you can use your mattress without allergy problems and rest easy for a long time to come.

Change and Wash Your Bedding Often

A hot wash and a hot dryer is the best defense. Wash pillows, sheets, blankets, comforters, and mattress pads often. Can’t wash it? Put it in the freezer for a night.

Dust First, Dust Often

Dust before you vacuum so any loose dust will be captured by your vacuum’s HEPA filter. Always use a wet cloth rather than dry dusting.

Here’s a particularly charming description I guarantee will motivate you the next time you don’t feel like dusting:

cigarette ash, incinerator ash, fibers (wool, cotton, paper and silk), fingernail filings, food crumbs, glass particles, glue, graphite, animal and human hair, insect fragments, paint chips, plant parts, pollen, polymer foam particles, salt and sugar crystals, human skin scales, animal dander, soil, fungal spores, tobacco, wood shavings. (4)

I’m resisting the urge to stop writing and dust right now!

Use a HEPA Filter Vacuum

While my favorite vacuum for quick use unfortunately doesn’t have a HEPA (High Efficiency Particle Air) filter, I definitely recommend one if you suffer from allergies.

Keep in mind carpet is a dust mite haven no matter how good your vacuum is. Consider replacing carpet with hardwood which is easier to keep dust free and is inhospitable to mites.

Run a Home Air Filter

Back up your allergen fighting efforts by running an air filter in your home to remove dust particles before they settle. I really like this one.

Air Out Your Bed

While my husband hates it when I don’t make our bed right away, there are some researchers who say it is healthier to leave your bed unmade during the day (I often cling to the hope that I’ll be able to climb back in if the kids decide to take a nap!)

Something as simple as leaving a bed unmade during the day can remove moisture from the sheets and mattress so the mites will dehydrate and eventually die. – Dr. Stephen Pretlove, BBC News, 2005 (2)

Use a Dehumidifier

Decrease your indoor humidity to below 50% when possible using dehumidifier. When using a humidifier in the winter, keep it at 35-45% humidity. This will help dehydrate the mites and kill them off.

Keep It Cool

Keeping your thermostat below 70 degrees Fahrenheit will decrease dust mites. Keeping your windows closed in the summer also reduces pollen in your home, a dust mite food. I recommend this step only if you have an allergy to dust mites, as indoor air contains more pollution and toxins than outdoor air.

Do you struggle with indoor allergies? Do you think dust mites could be the cause? Please share any remedies that have helped you and your family!

Everything you didn't want to know about dust mites and how to get rid of them
Katie Wells Avatar

About Katie Wells

Katie Wells, CTNC, MCHC, Founder of Wellness Mama and Co-founder of Wellnesse, has a background in research, journalism, and nutrition. As a mom of six, she turned to research and took health into her own hands to find answers to her health problems. WellnessMama.com is the culmination of her thousands of hours of research and all posts are medically reviewed and verified by the Wellness Mama research team. Katie is also the author of the bestselling books The Wellness Mama Cookbook and The Wellness Mama 5-Step Lifestyle Detox.


46 responses to “Disgusting Dust Mites: Everything You (Didn’t) Want To Know”

  1. Nina Avatar

    What I like to do is when I’m washing sheets and mattress pad, I spray my mattress with rubbing alcohol. When mattress dries I vacuum it.

  2. Sheila Avatar

    I use EOs in my homemade laundry powder. Tea tree, eucalyptus, and rosemary all deter dust mites. I usually use several drops of tea tree, eucalyptus, lemongrass, and lavender. It smells nice and fresh after.

  3. Jacquellyne Hengst Avatar
    Jacquellyne Hengst

    Our son just tested positive for a dust/dust mite allergy and the difference we all feel now that we’ve added air purifiers to our home is absolutely amazing. I also use a vacuum with a HEPA filter and never clean or vacuum when he is in the house to avoid inhalation of dust particles. Great article!’

    1. Elizabeth Avatar

      You could also just purchase a Rainbow vacuum so that ZERO dust particles come back out of the vacuum to inhale… As they say, wet dirt don’t fly… 🙂

  4. karen Avatar

    My daughter has issues with eczema. We found that washing your laundry with a couple drops of eucalyptus oil essential oil and then drying with a couple drops on a dryer ball does wonders. Plus we wash our sheets every couple weeks and have the dust mite covers on our mattress and pillows. If we don’t do this shes itchy skin all the time that is exasperated from the dust mites along with her eczema. We have a spray for the drapes and I have a spray that we use on her mattress when she gets up and before she goes to sleep of eucalyptus and lemon essential oil mixed in water. It’s been a challenge but she hasn’t been itchy for a month. I suggest doing some of these things if you have a problem with itchy skin. My daughter also has had breathing issues that have gotten better with dust mite control. It’s changed our lives by figuring this out.

  5. Katie Avatar

    Do you have to replace mattress or can you put a cover over an existing mattress?

  6. Blanca Avatar

    Hi catty, have you research if leather sofas would be best to have regarding chimicals and also for dust mites?

  7. Sophia Avatar

    Does anyone have recommendations for dealing with mites and down comforters? Can you recommend a plastic free duvet cover as well?

    1. Lana Avatar

      We have Allerease mattresses covers. They have many different levels of them, ours has a cotton type top and I’ve been very happy with it. I’ve seen them at Kohls and Target, but online is the best price. What I don’t know is the potential offgasing, in any brand really. As much as I usually am usually concerned with that, my daughter has asthma from these little monsters so my first order of business was buying something (I bought box spring covers from another company too) that would work. We cover pillows too but they are sort of noticable. Hope that helps!

  8. Anita Avatar

    Cleaning – I soak bedding in cold water and soap overnight. Then wash. Hang out to dry. It seems the soak would kill critters. Much less energy used than using hot wash and hot dryer.

  9. Ben Avatar

    I will try this as I think I am having problems. With asthma that does not help.

  10. Evelyn Avatar

    Hi Katie, I’ve been looking for a mattress enclosure recently. However the one you linked to doesn’t have a queen size. Any other reputable brands you’re aware of?

  11. Eleanor Avatar

    For what it is worth, I have used Norwex Mattress cleaner spray intended to resolve the dust mite and refuse issue. It is an “enzyme-based formula designed to help remove organic material.” I am not a representative of or seller for this company, but have heard consultants/demonstrators applaud the helpfulness of this product for allergy sufferers. Check their website for more information.

  12. Clara Avatar

    I get my pillows from a company called Mission Allergy. They are supposed to be impervious to dust mites. They also have pillow covers if you don’t want to replace your pillows. I am very allergic to dust mites and have really been struggling with my allergies this summer. I totally forgot about how dust mites contribute to my allergies and so I’ve gotten back to basics recently with taking better care of my sleeping area. Thanks for the info!

  13. Beth Avatar

    Great but gross post. Thankfully I just vacuumed, dusted, and washed/dried the bedding this weekend. Although I have always dusted after vacuuming. Will change that from now on.

    Thank you!

  14. Emily Avatar

    On a semi-related note, I couldn’t help thinking of Wellness Mama when I saw cockroaches in my kitchen the other day! I live in Sydney, Australia and they’re very common here and perhaps not where you live, but would you have any advice on how to manage them without using harsh chemicals?

    1. Wellness Mama Avatar

      I’ve heard that mixing borax and corn syrup will attract and kill them, though we thankfully don’t have roaches, so I haven’t tried it.

  15. Cindy Avatar

    Would diotomaceous earth on the mattress (but inside the mite casing) be of any use?

    1. Sara Avatar

      I’ve tried the DE powder on my mattress. I have no idea if it helped, but theoretically, I would think that it should kill them and their eggs. Guess that you could use it on furniture as well. Maybe use it at night an vacuum in the morning, or before you leave for work and vacuum when you get home, or use it before you go on a vacation and vacuum when you return.

      I used to be terribly allergic to dust mites, but I’m not anymore. I think that God healed me! 🙂

  16. Suzanne Avatar

    My best advice? Air your house as much as you can! If you are allergic to pollen, get something to filter out the pollen for in the window pane. Dust mites hate dry air, and they love our moist environment indoors.

  17. Lea Avatar

    Ok…I’m totally grossed out. We just moved and have so. much. dust. Now…oh just nevermind! I’m gettin serious about this, we have always had 3 of our kids having runny nose inside, at home etc…now I think I see. I’m not worried about dust per se, but again, cleaning, airing out needs to be done more often! We live in the country and wish it was only good microbiomes, but unfortunately, I worry alot about the chemicals sprayed on surrounding farms. Any suggestions for that Katie?

  18. Christy Avatar

    My son is allergic to these things. However, we live in Utah and I was told that in Utah dust mites aren’t a problem because of our altitude and low humidity levels? I’d love to know if someone knew where I could find definite information on this.

    1. Tracy Avatar

      I was also told this by my allergist, that we don’t that the humidity here. (Live in SLC) Based on the scratch test results the doctor knew that I grew up in the Midwest.

      1. Christy Avatar

        I really hope that is right because cleaning for those boogers will be a nightmare! I will call our allergist today. And… if that is true… then all the duct cleaning services are lying saying that they clean up all the dust mites… very misleading.

  19. calle Avatar

    Hi All,

    I am amazed my grandmother was able to live in a Soddy, give birth to 12 babies, raise them and not die young.
    In fact she didn’t walk for over 50 years but lived to near 99.
    We live in a wilderness area, have no running water or power.
    We have dogs cats and all kinds of wildlife, including mountain lions, and rattle snakes.

    Re drag all kinds of scat and other stuff in the house.
    We vacuum dust and scrub the beast we can

    I was so allergic in the city, covered the mattress, pillows, etc.
    But when I changed my diet to healthy, stopped drugging myself, drank pure water, gardened it all changed.
    My microbiome was so sick from meds and junk.
    There are now studies out there that attest to the fact that Americans scrub their needed body oil off, thus they can’t make D3, and their skin breaks down our skin microbiome.
    Our eyes have one, our nose has one, our ears..our total body.
    Have you ever wondered why cows, horses and other animals stay clean? Their microbiome has creatures that eat the dirt and other things. Horses will roll in the dust after being ridden to get the soil microbiome to eat the sweat.
    Amazing how nature works, isn’t it.

    I bathe once a week unless doing out side painting or hard labor in the heat.
    God made our bodies to self cleanse.
    Not crazy here, all science.

    Happy Microbiome,

    1. Michelle lindo Avatar
      Michelle lindo

      Rebuilding our microbiome is good!

      We had many respiratory problems in our household growing up on a humid island. Everything would go green with mold!

      We always slept better on the boat under the stars or in a tent… Why?

      So We did away with all closet doors- just used sheer washable curtains. No more carpets! They are the worst. Stuffed animals go in the freezer once a month to kill mites. And cleaning (scrubbing) the air conditioning filter is vital! We really blitzed the place and now no problems.

      My mom is a school nurse and she can’t emphasize this enough to parents of sick wheezy asthmatic kids…

      Working on our mattresses and pillows now…

      Happy cleaning! 🙂

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