“Keep it clean in bed,” urges a major chain of mattress stores in an advertising campaign.
Using the double entendre slogan, the retailer tries to coax consumers into buying a new mattress at least every eight years. The television commercial features a comically scowling actor dressed in a dust mite costume and another actor feigning disgust at the prospect of sharing a bed with an insect who feeds on dead skin cells and then “poops” all over the mattress.
The ad claims mattresses over eight years old host too many dust mites and should be replaced.
Of course, the age of your mattress is not really the major factor determining how many dust mites will be sharing your bed.
The American Lung Association points to more practical methods of dust mite control for people with allergies and asthma who are sensitive to dust mites: reduce humidity in bedrooms, avoid upholstered furniture, use hard flooring instead of carpets, clean hard floors with a damp cloth to capture dust, and “reduce the places where dust mites can live.”
On this final point, in my home, where I have a child with allergies, we cover mattresses and pillows he sleeps on with allergen encasements. AllerEase, one maker of these covers available at home improvement and furnishing stores, says its “advanced, tightly woven fabric prevents household allergens from passing through and collecting” in mattresses.
Lauren Fountain, a “certified sleep coach,” provides additional tips in an article on the Sleep Foundation’s website. To “extend the lifespan of your bed” and reduce allergic reactions to dust mites, she suggests people wash bedding around once a week, vacuum mattresses using an upholstery attachment, and follow a thorough cleaning process every six months.
The process includes applying a thin layer of baking soda over the entire surface of the mattress and leaving it on for at least a few hours, vacuuming up the baking soda, and repeating the process for the underside. Fountain also recommends a waterproof mattress protector “or at the very least a quality mattress pad.”
A mattress topper is a step up from a mattress pad,
Those concerned about dust mites but unwilling or unable to follow cleaning protocols can use a mattress topper — a step up from a mattress pad — and periodically replace it much more easily and inexpensively than an entire mattress, according to Spencer Simcik, owner of Spencer’s Mattresses in Ventura.
“Our mattresses are made to last much longer than that,” Simcik said. “It would be a shame for someone to recycle a perfectly good eight-year-old mattress just because someone trying to sell them a new mattress is making them scared of dust mites.”
Dust mites are not parasites. They do not bite or burrow into our bodies. They eat mold and dead skin cells we shed, according to the American Lung Association. People allergic to dust or dust mites are reacting proteins in dust that come from mites, the association’s web page on the issue reports.
Mike O’Donnell, managing director of the Mattress Recycling Council, which coordinates recycling programs for California and other states, provided a gauge for how long people keep mattresses.
A 2019 council study said the average age of a discarded mattress is about 11 years, though O’Donnell said the data had limitations because many of the mattresses had no tags showing the manufacturing date. If older units were less likely to have readable tags, the average age could be higher.
“The mattress I slept on as a kid remained in mom and dad’s house for 40 years and was then resold at the estate sale,” O’Donnell said.
Used mattresses are hard to sell or donate, but recycling is free. Retailers are required to pick up a mattress after delivering one. Trash collectors provide annual curbside collection of bulky items for single family residences and Ventura County has five mattress drop-off sites listed at byebyemattress.com.
Nevertheless, illegal dumping of mattresses is still a problem.
On Tuesday, the Ventura County Board of Supervisors will consider approval of a funding agreement between the county Public Works Agency and the mattress council to catch illegal dumpers.
The council, a nonprofit mattress agency group, is offering the county up to $40,000 for public works to install and monitor surveillance cameras in select spots along rural roadways. The agency would also install anti-dumping signs, conduct a public education campaign and report on the effectiveness of these anti-dumping measures in 2023.
David Goldstein, an environmental resource analyst with the Ventura County Public Works Agency, can be reached at (805) 658-4312 or [email protected]. He did not write this column in his role as a member of the California Mattress Recycling Advisory Committee.