Anyone can suffer from the microscopic allergens lurking in bed linens while others might be reacting to the chemicals or dyes in the fabric itself. However, before you spend a small fortune replacing all your pillows, sheets and comforters, find out what you really need to avoid waking up with red watery eyes, itchy skin or a chronically stuffy nose.
Dust Mite Mattress and Box Spring Casings
You can't see them with the naked eye but dust mites thrive in the fibers of sheets, blankets, pillowcases and mattresses - feeding on an endless food supply of dead skin cells from both people and pets that share the bed. However, zippered casings for mattresses and box springs can be made to completely encase the mattress, the box spring, pillows and even comforters.
Waterproof vs Breathable Casings
Findings from a 2010 review by scientists at the Good Housekeeping Institute (GHI) notes that the best protection against allergens comes from nonporous fabrics made into zippered casings. Web MD offers this same advice as well, noting that casings helped reduce asthma symptoms in children.
Fully waterproof casings are made from vinyl or contain an inner membrane made from polyethylene. Although these casings are inexpensive and prevent liquid spills or accidents from pets or children from absorbing into the mattress, they tend to be noisy and trap body heat.
GHI recommends casings made from microfiber polyester, cotton laminated with a nylon membrane or extreme fine thread cotton with an ultra-tight weave. Casings made from these materials are still breathable while being water resistant, comfortable to sleep on and are very effective at blocking allergens.
Buying Options for Mattresses and Box Springs
Consider your personal needs and lifestyle in addition to professional recommendations, manufacturer warranties and customer reviews when choosing allergy free bedding products.
- For example, if you're buying a casing for an asthmatic child who wets the bed occasionally but sleeps soundly through the night, this antimicrobial Zippered Vinyl Mattress Protector by Dry Defender would be a good option. Vinyl cases also work extremely well as inexpensive box spring encasements. About $17-$25 at Protective Bedding Store.
- The Aller-Ease Waterproof Zippered Mattress Protector earned the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval in 2010 and was the only vinyl free casing they tested that prevented liquid from seeping through to the underside; making it a good choice for pet owners. It stands up well to repeated washing and dust mites, according to customer reviews, but must be air dried and testers found it noisy to sleep on. About $18-$28 on Amazon.
- SafeRest's Premium Hypoallergenic Waterproof Zippered Mattress Encasement has a laminated urethane lining on the backside of cotton terry fabric. While the majority of Amazon customers gave it high ratings for being bug and allergen proof, easy to put on and comfortable to sleep on, a minority of customers scored it low on being waterproof. This review by verified customer, SJo, who contacted SafeRest about the waterproof issue, may shed some light on why a breathable casing should be correctly labeled as water resistant instead of waterproof. About $40-$53 at BedBug Supply Store.
Hypoallergenic Sheet Set Fabric Choices
Once your mattress and springs are encased, turn to your sheets. Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (MCS) is a condition similar to allergies but even more complex to diagnose. It's an adverse reaction to toxic or synthetic materials with a wide range of symptoms including skin rashes, itchy skin, headaches, dizziness, muscle and joint pain, eye irritation, respiratory problems and trouble sleeping. Creating a "clean oasis" in the bedroom and particularly with bedding makes perfect sense as one third of your life is spent there.
Those who suffer more from chemical sensitivity should steer towards natural and organic fabrics that are chemical and dye free. Sheets made from the following materials may help cut down on dust mite numbers or prevent skin irritation:
- Silk - Sheets made from 100% silk have an extremely fine weave that is inhospitable to dust mites. Silk worms produce natural oils that repel fungus and dust mites and the presence of sericin in silk makes it naturally resistant to mold and mildew.
- Bamboo - Sheets made with 100% Viscose from bamboo inherit bamboo's natural antimicrobial resistance to dust mites, bedbugs, mold and mildew. Bamboo is grown without the use of pesticides, leaving no chance of any remaining chemical residues.
- Microfiber - Sheets made from 100% polyester microfiber don't pill like other fabrics and the fine weave repels dust mites and fine particles. However, you should avoid polyester sheets if you suffer from MCS.
- Cotton and organic cotton - Finely woven 100% cotton sheets feel soft and soothing against the skin and help wick away moisture; good for those with eczema. Organic cotton is grown without pesticides and is not treated with synthetic chemicals, resins, bleach or dye.
If you have been diagnosed with MCS or you've noticed skin problems or allergy symptoms that get worse when you're in bed at night, you might find relief with sheet sets like these:
- Bamboo Dreams Sheet Set - Made from 100% Viscose fiber from bamboo, these super soft, breathable sheets are excellent at wicking moisture away. They are free from finishing agents and contain only low impact dyes; a good choice for those with mild skin sensitivity. Available in Queen, King and California King, prices start at $255-$289 at Allergy Buyer's Club. Free shipping is offered on orders totaling $150 or more and don't miss their low price match guarantee. If you find this sheet set offered at a lower price online, Allergy Buyer's Club will refund you the difference.
- Organic Cotton Sheet Set - Made from 100% certified organic cotton, these sheets are free from chemicals, dyes, resins, finishes and bleach, giving them a rustic Ivory color. They are a good choice for anyone with sensitive skin. Available in Twin, Twin long, Full, Queen, King and California king, prices range from $139-$179 at The Allergy Store. Orders totaling $75 or more qualify for free shipping.
- Mulberry Silk Sheet Set - If you're allergic to cotton or suffer from skin conditions like eczema, these 100% natural, undyed silk sheets will feel soft and soothing against your skin. Available in Twin, Queen, King and California King, prices range from $460-$695 at Sleep N' Beauty.
Materials for Hypoallergenic Pillows and Pillow Covers
Like mattress casings, a dust mite-proof zippered pillow cover is the best protection for indoor allergies; especially where you lay your head and breathe. If you have sensitivities to certain chemicals or dyes, pillows made from natural and organic materials are your best bet. Breathable fabrics like cotton and wool dry out dust mites, which thrive in moist, humid conditions. Organic pillows can be pretty expensive, so be sure to protect your investment with a dust mite-proof zippered case.
- Down - Made from the finest and fluffiest goose feathers, allergy-free down must go through repeated washings to remove all dust, dirt and allergens. A tightly woven cotton cover prevents feathers from passing through. Down pillows are available in soft, medium and firm support.
- Hypodown - Made from a blend of 70% goose down and 30% Syriaca clusters, Syriaca is a hollow, floss like fiber from the seed pods of the milkweed plant that is harvested and cleaned without the use of chemicals. It traps and suppresses any allergens in down that might cause a reaction.
- Down Alternative - Made from shredded and shaved polyester microfibers housed in high thread count cotton shells, it mimics the feel of down for those who prefer to avoid it.
- Natural Latex - Natural latex foam is an antimicrobial material resistant to dust mites, mold and mildew. It regulates heat and supports well in both solid and shredded form. Unlike memory foam, natural latex doesn't produce unpleasant off-gasing fumes.
- Wool - Wool wicks away moisture and is cool and breathable like cotton; naturally resistant to dust mites, mold and mildew.
- Kapok - A natural down alternative made from the silky, cotton-like fibers produced on seedpods of the Kapok tree, it provides a cruelty free option without the use of synthetic materials.
The following products come from companies who specialize in clean, eco-friendly, healthy living, and/or allergy relief. The best options are highly individualized from one person to the next, as some people react to polyester while others react to latex or down.
- AlleRest Double DownAround Pillow by Pacific Coast - This company uses an eight step environmentally friendly cleaning process called "Hyperclean" to remove all dirt, dust and allergens from their down pillows and guarantees them to be allergy-free or you get your money back. Encased in a dust mite resistant 300 thread count cotton shell, it's a good option for those sensitive to latex or polyester. About $44.
- 100% Natural Kapok & Organic Cotton Pillow by PureLivingSpace - For those allergic to or who prefer to steer clear of animal based products, these pillows have a similar feel to down with dust mite resistant organic cotton sateen covers. Prices range from about $61-$69.
- Germ Fighter Pillow by BedCare - The first pillow of its kind to have a breathable filter and fabric treated with a special antimicrobial agent that prevents the growth of bacteria, mold, mildew, yeast and algae; a good choice for someone with asthma or a compromised immune system. Prices range from about $60-$80 at National Allergy.com.
- My Wooly Wool Pillow is filled with naturally hypoallergenic wool and comes with a 100% natural cotton sateen cover; excellent for reducing night sweats and skin irritation, $45-$55. Keep any pillow free of dust mites and fine particle allergens with AllergyCare's zippered cotton cover ($9-$25) or organic cotton cover ($18-$21) all available at The Allergy Store.
Hypoallergenic Covers for Duvets
Duvet covers make an excellent choice for hypoallergenic bedding because they protect the comforter from dust, dirt and allergens. The duvet cover is much easier to remove and launder in a normal washing machine than a thick, bulky queen or king sized comforter. Some duvet covers have an inner urethane liner which makes them waterproof as well.
To be an effective barrier, the duvet cover must have a tightly woven, mite-proof fabric and a zipper enclosure. Indoor allergens such as dust mite fecal particles and cat dander are measured in units called microns. Research has shown that woven fabric must have a pore size of 10 microns or less to effectively block allergens. The most common fabric choices for hypoallergenic duvet covers include:
One drawback to hypoallergenic duvet covers is that many of them are only available in white or off-white colors.
Waterproof duvet covers are a good option for kids' beds and those who welcome pets aboard. Silk bedding is soothing to skin and adds a luxury look and feel to master bedrooms and guestrooms but lacks the durability of cotton.
- BedCare Classic Comforter Cover - Made from a soft, lightweight polyester knit backed by a urethane liner, this duvet cover provides unbeatable protection against dust mites and spills but will trap body heat. Consider using it as an inexpensive seasonal cover in cold weather. Available in Twin, Full/Queen and King, $60-80 at Allergy Asthma Technology, LLC.
- Allersoft Cotton Dust Mite & Allergy Comforter Cover - Made from 100% cotton, this cover is free from chemicals and has a mean flow pore size of 3.44 microns, making it an excellent choice for serious allergy sufferers and those with MCS. Sizes include Twin, Twin Long, Full/Queen, Jumbo Queen, King and Jumbo King, $114-$138 at Allergy Guard Direct.
- Smart Silk Duvet & Pillow Shams- Made from a 65/35 blend of cotton and silk, this breathable fabric naturally adjusts to body temperature and wicks away moisture. Duvets are available in cream, champagne and blush colors. Smart Silk bedding (which includes pillows and sheets) is certified asthma and allergy friendly by the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. Duvet sizes range from Queen to King and California King and cost $540-$630.
Before You Buy
If you haven't done so yet, visit your doctor and discuss your allergy symptoms before you invest in allergy free bedding. Learning to recognize your allergy triggers can help you decide what materials work best for you and your family and what you should avoid.