WashBy Laurie Ross

Searching for new products at the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (AAAAI) annual meeting exhibit earlier this year, I found numerous products claiming to eliminate dust mites with cold water washing. Since the research gurus have always said it takes at least 130 degree water to do the job,the challenge was on …

What you need to know first is that people are not allergic to dust mites themselves, but to proteins found in their feces (poop) and decaying body parts. So to avoid exposure, you have to remove existing allergens and also eliminate their source – the bug.

I tracked down dust mite experts and reviewed clinical studies, and here’s what I found:

  • When dust mites are exposed to water of at least 130 degrees F, they die. Lower temperatures are not as effective.
  • Dust mites also die when put in a hot clothes dryer for 10 minutes.
  • Any washing, no matter what temperature or detergent, will remove a large number of dust mites – at least 60 percent. It depends a lot on whether you’re washing cotton or synthetics, tight weave or loose. There aren’t enough studies to know exactly how they differ.
  • Both warm and cold water washes – with or without detergents — are effective at removing 90 percent or more of the dust mite allergens (which I’m assuming would include dead mites).

What this tells me is that I don’t really have to obsess over all this. I can take the facts and figure out of a laundry routine that works for me. Mattress and pillow encasings will trap most of the mites and weekly laundering will help with the rest. I’m not about to dry my laundry outside in the pollen-and-polluted air, so any mites that survive the warm water wash with my scent-free detergent will be destroyed in the dryer.

I don’t sleep with my stuffed bear anymore, but if I did, I’d wash him too.

First published in The MA Report, July/August 2012.