What’s Hiding in Your Mattress?
A guide to the not-so-scary and just plain terrifying things that have made their way under your covers
Has your mattress been parked in your home since the Clinton administration? You probably give your mattress a flip once in a while, or maybe you’ve even have it steam cleaned. But do you really know what’s hiding in there?
The truth is, your mattress is most likely a petri dish of bugs and bodily fluids. Some of these things are unavoidable — who hasn’t broken a sweat during a night without air conditioning? But other things — like tiny critters — are enough to have you running for the hills and the mattress store.
There are few creatures in the world that cause people to shudder like bedbugs. These small bloodsuckers are known for infesting everything from apartment buildings to hotels, and once they make their way into your bedroom, it’s hard to turn back. The first step of life with bedbugs is to confirm that they’re the problem. While they may be hard to spot, the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) says the first indication of an infestation may be itchy, red welts in small clusters on your body. Have you caught a sighting of the creepy crawlers on your clothing and sheets? These small, oval-shaped bugs are normally dark brown but turn redder after eating. You also may notice a sweet, musty smell and may find their exoskeletons near the infested area, the AAD says. If you’re still not positive what type of bug they are, consult an exterminator.
While it’s not always financially feasible, throwing away whatever fabrics you can is the easiest way to start over. If there was ever a time to buy a new mattress, this would be it. If you do choose to say goodbye to your mattress, responsibly dispose of the piece of furniture after giving it a thorough vacuuming by wrapping it in a plastic mattress bag so no more bugs can get out. If you place it outside by the curb for garbage pickup instead of putting it directly in a dumpster, put a sign on it about the bedbug infestation so eager passersby won’t be encouraged to pick it up and take it home themselves.
After you’ve vacuumed every inch of your bedroom, it’s time to clean the bed itself. Sheets and clothing that you’ve chosen to keep need to be thoroughly washed with hot water. If you’re thinking about taking the bedbug elimination process into your own hands, the Environmental Protection Agency suggests consulting a professional first, due to the possibly dangerous effects of the pesticides or chemicals. If you’re planning on having certain items professionally cleaned, put them in a strong, sealed bag to separate them from your other belongings. Consult dry cleaners to see who is willing to take in infested fabrics for cleaning.
Dust mites may not be as scary as bedbugs, but they can certainly raise hell for any sleeper that happens to suffer from allergies or asthma. According to the American Lung Association, hundreds of thousands of dust mites can live in the bedding, mattresses, upholstered furniture, carpets or curtains of your home. So where do they come from? Dust mites occur naturally and appear in almost all homes, the American Lung Association says. They feed off dead skin and occupy places where people spend a lot of time, like beds and plush chairs. Be sure to vacuum regularly and vacuum the mattress itself with the special upholstery attachment.
If you’re a parent of a bed wetter, chances are you’ve scrubbed down your child’s mattress once or twice. If you aren’t using a rubber mattress cover, try to get to the urine stain while it’s still wet and hasn’t seeped too deeply into the mattress. Karen Sokal-Gutierrez, MD, MPH, a pediatrician who represents the Fisher Price Company, advises intensive blotting to remove as much of the liquid as possible. If the area is already dry, saturate it with hydrogen peroxide, and allow it to dry for a few minutes before blotting that off. Spread baking soda on the mattress, gently rub it in with a sponge and allow it to sit overnight. Take a vacuum to the mattress the next day, making sure it has fully dried. Hydrogen peroxide also can be used to remove other bodily fluids, like blood and sweat, from mattresses.
Prevention is the best method of keeping your sleeping quarters free of bugs and bodily fluids. While keeping 100 percent of foreign bodies out of your mattress may be impossible, you can try your best by using a mattress pad or a mattress cover. These layers will benefit you in two ways: by serving as a shield to keep bedbugs and other critters out, while also making it easier for you to see anything that doesn’t belong there.
Now good night, sleep tight and don't let the bedbugs bite!
Megan Johnson is a writer in Boston. She is a regular contributor to People Magazine, the Boston Globe, Boston Magazine and a variety of other publications.