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January 5, 2022 — 11:02 AM
Once you’ve found your dream mattress—breathable and the perfect firmness to support you in all the right places—it’s tempting to want to keep it forever. But alas, home toxicity experts say that isn’t such a good idea.
Here’s why it’s important to replace mattresses every few years, and how to know when yours has gone from cozy oasis to hot mess.
How often to replace your mattress.
While different mattresses will come with different lifespans and it’s worth checking in with the manufacturer’s recommendation, Caroline Blazovsky, the founder of My Healthy Home, and Ryan Blaser, a building biologist and environmental consultant, agree you should only keep a mattress that’s slept on nightly for five to 10 years on average.
In that time, the toxicity experts say that mattresses tend to accumulate a pretty grotesque amount of dead skin cells.
Excuse me as I get graphic for a moment: Since our skin is constantly regenerating, we shed an estimated 500 million skin cells daily—a good portion of them as we toss around in bed at night. On their own, these dead skin cells—though gross to think about—are harmless. However, they become a potential health issue once they start attracting dust mites. These tiny little critters love to feed on dead skin cells and burrow into soft surfaces to live, reproduce, and otherwise go about their … business. Plush mattresses provide an ideal spot for them to do so.
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In one 2002 study, researchers in northern Norway analyzed the beds of 152 schoolchildren and found mite feces in over 40% of certain kinds of mattresses polled. (Soft foam mattresses tended to be more of a mite hotbed than firmer spring ones.)
Dust mites are super common, and an estimated 20 million people (and growing) in the U.S. are allergic to the creepy crawlies and their feces. Sneezing, itchy skin, and congestion are all signs of a dust mite allergy. Mites can also aggravate respiratory symptoms in those who have asthma and disrupt sleep quality in anyone else. If you experience any of these symptoms upon waking and have had your mattress for a while, it’s likely time to swap it out.
Even if the dead skin and mites don’t cause you to wake up with the sniffles, the fact that they exist is enough reason to reassess your bed situation. (Blazovsky says that most mattresses actually weigh significantly more when we get rid of them because of this buildup—ick.)
If your current mattress is sagging in places, uncomfortable to sleep on, or holding onto lingering odors, it may also be time to invest in a new one.
How to make yours last longer.
Now, the news that will spare you from endless mite-themed dreams: With proper care and cleaning, you can get rid of most of the irritants in your mattress and extend its lifespan to the latter part of that five- to 10-year window.
Blazovsky says that the best way to do so is to get in the habit of washing your sheets and vacuuming your mattress regularly. Every one to two weeks, strip the bed and throw all your sheets, pillowcases, and duvet covers into the wash on high heat, at least 140 degrees Fahrenheit, to kill off mites and bacteria. Be sure to dry them completely on high heat before putting them back on the bed.
While the laundry is in, Blazovsky recommends running a HEPA-filter vacuum over the tops and sides of your mattress. This will help extract dead skin cells that have made their way into the mattress itself before they can become a food source for hungry dust mites. “Use a tool specifically for your mattress,” she cautions. “Don’t use the same one you use on your floor on your bed.” Once you’re done with your mattress, move on to your pillows and you’re good to go.
In addition to this weekly spruce, covering your mattress with a protector that has antimicrobial properties and rotating it (so the spot where you put your head becomes the spot you put your feet) every six to 12 months will also help it stay fresh for longer. Finally, keeping the rest of your bedroom clean will keep dust and other irritants from infiltrating your sleep sanctuary.
Most mattresses should be replaced after five to 10 years of heavy use. If you regularly wake up with sniffles, itchy skin, or aches and pains, it may be time to invest in a new one. In the market? Here are our top nontoxic mattresses of the year.