By Laurie Ross 

Does your morning begin with watery, itchy eyes, coughing and reaching for the nearest tissue? Look no further than your pillow, which is probably full of one of the most common household allergens:  dust mites.

They are everywhere – carpets, upholstery, stuffed animals, dusty corners – but they are most common in mattresses and pillows. There they find the ultimate conditions for survival: a warm, moist environment, compliments of our sleeping selves, and an unending supply of their favorite food, bits of skin.

What to do about it? “It’s almost impossible to eliminate dust mites from mattresses and pillows,” says Carol Jones, RN, AE-C, and a consultant with Allergy Guardian, a leading allergy supply company. “You can wash them out of linens, but there’s no way to clean inside a mattress. Also, it’s not the insect itself that sets off symptoms, but proteins found in its waste products and tiny bits of body pieces. The best way to protect yourself while sleeping is to put a barrier between them and you with dust-mite-proof pillow and mattress encasings.”

When shopping for encasings, read labels carefully and use this chart to compare features:

Pros Cons Comments
Nonporous materials Polyurethane laminate or plastic membranes totally seal allergens inside. They are often water-resistant and less expensive than woven materials Since they don’t “breathe,” they can be hot to sleep on. Also tend to be crinkly and loud. f no pore size is listed, encasing likely uses a nonporous
Woven materials Must be woven tightly, with pore size no larger than 10 microns to seal dust mite allergens; Cotton and other woven materials can be comfortable to sleep on. 3-4 microns pore size will protect against pet allergens and mold, but only those that are inside your pillow or mattress. Pore size is not always listed on labels. Check manufacturer’s or allergy supply websites.
Coverage Measure your mattress and pillow and choose encasements that will fully cover them. Full-zip mattress encasings can be hard to put on; elasticized partial covers allow allergens to escape
Zipper closings should have inner and outer flaps to prevent allergens from seeping through.
Warranty A good indication of how well the encasing will stand up to washing and wear and tear. Read care instructions and fine print carefully. Encasings do need to be washed from time to time. Some top brands offer lifetime warranty.

Empty Promises

  • “Kills dust mites” – Killing only solves part of the
    problem, as it’s the bugs’ fecal waste and body parts
    that contain the potent allergen proteins. These proteins can be eliminated with hot water or special detergents; you don’t need a built-in insecticide.
  • “Hypoallergenic” – This is no guarantee of anything; it’s simply a marketing claim that requires no proof.
  • “Allergy-friendly” – Certification programs don’t usually make their testing procedures public, so it’s hard to judge reliability; many simply require manufacturers to pay a fee to be certified.