Deconstructing the mattress-buying process can help mold patients find and maintain a healthier sleep environment.
Just the other day, I got the following question from a reader:
“Hello. I was wondering if you could recommend a mattress that is good for mold patients? Also, do you have information on how to clean a mattress before you bring it into your home and how to protect it. Maybe a dust cover?”
What a great question! But, it is one that is actually more difficult to give a straight answer for than you would think!
Before getting sick from mold, I never really thought twice about my mattress. I actually think every mattress I had ever had prior to getting married was a hand-me-down mattress from either my parents or one of my sisters. I was always happy to not have to purchase a new one, and to just sleep on whichever one was given to me. Sleep came easy to me then, and the “health” of my mattress did not seem to affect my body whatsoever.
Fast forward to where I am today and where my health is today, (much better, but I still am and will be forever, I think, very mold- and chemically- sensitive); and I feel entirely differently about the whole mattress situation. In fact, my mattress has been one of the items in my home to either make or break a wellness spurt. When you consider the fact that we spend 1/3 of our lives in bed/sleeping, this makes a lot of sense. If your bed and mattress aren’t healthy, you probably will suffer the effects of that. It became clear to me that I was going to have to rethink my mattress when we finally moved back into our home and had to get all new furnishings. Our new mattress sent me into a downward health spiral. My husband had found an allergy-friendly foam mattress and had it delivered to the house. The minute he unwrapped it in our bedroom, I knew it wasn’t going to work for me. It was off-gassing terribly and made my throat and body itch just to be in the same room with it. It literally took me a week to recover and to get the plastic-y, chemically smell out of our room. Have you ever tasted a smell? That is the best way I can describe just how inflammatory it was to my body. I tasted the chemicals from the mattress in my mouth! Thankfully, we were able to return it for a full refund. But, finding another mattress was quite the ordeal. Who would have thought that there was so much to worry about and consider in terms of my health and what mattress I was sleeping on?
I am sure that if you are reading this, on some level, you have had this same sort of experience with a once innocuous item in your pre-mold illness life becoming an inflammatory one in your post-mold life. Well, that is precisely why I wanted to answer this question on the blog. I think that, even though I am writing this about mattresses, and some of my advice will be exclusive to mattresses, you can apply some of the cleaning and maintenance techniques to other things in your home that may give you mold allergy trouble, or that you just spend a lot time on, like a favorite couch, recliner, or chair. In my experience, I have found that, with “stuffed” or dense furnishings, like a mattress, a little mold maintenance goes a long way. Or, as is commonly said, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”
So, without further ado, here is my answer to this wonderful reader:
I know you thought you were asking me a straightforward question, but mattresses are so unique to the individual and their health situation, that this can be a little difficult to answer. To start, there are a few factors at play that may direct your search better, if you address them: 1) Are you chemically sensitive in addition to your mold sensitivity? 2) Do you live in a particularly humid climate? 3) Is your current mattress causing you allergy issues? –If this is the case, you can perform a TAP test on it with an EC3 Mold Screening Test Plate to see if it has a mold issue. You can also perform a dust mite screening test. These tests won’t show you the actual dust mites present, but will let you know the level of dust mite allergens in a sample that you collect from your mattress.
If you are chemically sensitive, traditional foam and latex mattresses can be big problems, because of off-gassing and odors. Also, since 2007, mattresses sold in the U.S. are required by law to be treated with a flame retardant, any of which contain common VOCs. This treatment automatically makes mattresses toxic for most people. Because knowledge about toxins is growing and the market is also changing to reflect that growth, there are mattresses that do claim to be non-toxic and made without harmful materials. My advice is always to look into any claims yourself and read the literature about the most commonly used flame retardants. You will be able to quickly discern what is “smoke in mirrors” and what is actually solid info. This is also true for “organic” mattresses. Some companies claim to produce an organic product, because it is made of naturally-derived materials. You just have to do your own due diligence and look into those claims to make sure that the product has actually attained organic seals of approval and certifications from reputable organizations and regulatory institutions.
We ended up purchasing a Sleep Number mattress. It has a pillow top. You might want to for-go this option, though, if you want to stay away from any extra “stuffing.” The pillow tops sometimes trap moisture and hold it close to the mattress and also attract dust mites. Mold and dust mites often go hand-in-hand, so it is best to look for a mattress that is less likely to attract both. I wish I had considered this more with ours. I just take extra precautions now.
(Note: Dust mite feces, not the actual dust mites cause allergic reactions. Dust found in coil mattresses is contaminated with dust mite feces. Reactions to dust mite feces include sneezing, itching, watery eyes and wheezing. Dust mite allergies have also been linked to headaches, fatigue, and depression. Further, old-school innerspring mattresses are notorious for trapping moisture from the body during heat transfer while you are sleeping. The moisture is drawn into the coils of the mattress. Sometimes mold and mildew can be found inside the springs/coils of these mattresses. That is why, after 10-year’s time, a spring/coil mattress can take on 10 pounds of additional weight.)
My husband sleeps very hot, and it is perfectly normal to perspire during sleep. Sweat and perspiration are what most moisture that gets in your mattress comes from. The excess moisture and the dead skin cells from your body combine with the ambient dust in your bedroom to create quite the ideal home for dust mites and/or mold, if you aren’t careful. To prevent all of this from getting into our mattress, we have a zippered mattress encasement from Aller-Ease that covers the whole thing. These mattress encasements have been proven to be your best defense against dust mites. There are many good mattress encasements. Just look for allergy-friendly ones that are made with non-toxic materials. I remove and wash ours in hot water (hot water is known to get rid of dust mites) with a mild, unscented detergent and the EC3 Laundry Additive once a month. This can be a little labor intensive, because you have to stand the mattress up to remove it from the casing but doing so both treats the cover for mold and allows the mattress to breathe and air out. This is also a great time to flip your mattress, if you purchase one that can be flipped. Our Sleep Number is obviously not a mattress that you flip, but most are, and flipping them greatly extends the life and health of the mattress. Just make sure to check your mattress tag before doing this, though, because some say, “Do Not Flip,” or “No Flipping Required.”
As far as humidity is concerned, we live in Memphis—an extremely humid climate. Indoor moisture and condensation can become problematic, if you are not careful. We do have whole-house dehumidifiers attached to both of our HVAC systems, but ample ventilation in the bedroom is key to preventing moisture from sweat during sleep getting into your mattress and causing microbial and mold growth. I advise anyone who is mold-sensitive to have a dehumidifier as part of their HVAC system, or to place one in the bedroom. You can leave it off during the day and turn it on at night when your breath creates additional moisture in the room. Also, it will help prevent condensation in your bedroom as temperatures outside drop at night and the air conditioning/heat keeps blowing inside. Humid climates also require the use of fans, especially in the summer, to keep the air moving in your bedroom, so that the indoors air stays dry, cool, and comfortable. Scientists also recommend that your throw back your bedcovers in the morning to allow your bed to air out and dry out prior to making it. This creates a less hospitable environment for both dust mites and mold. Additionally, using only 100% cotton sheets that breathe will prevent moisture from being trapped in your bed, close to the mattress which could create mold.
The following mattress brands have reportedly been purchased and used successfully by mold patients that I know personally: Some Sleep Number mattresses, Essentia mattresses—they are foam, but are a foam that is totally naturally derived and that does not off-gas, Avocado Green Mattresses, Intellibed, and Royal-Pedic Natural Cotton Mattresses—these are sort of the gold standard for allergy sufferers. I do not endorse or blanketly recommend one brand. This is going to be very individual. Each person I have met who has been through a mold exposure and suffered a health fallout has been very unique in their experience, symptoms, and recovery. Things that I don’t react to, others do, and vice versa. I am just giving my best advice based on communicating with experts and other mold sufferers in this space.
That being said, here is what I would do: First and foremost, do not order or purchase anything, unless the company guarantees the mattress with a warranty and at least a 60-day trial period with no hassle/obligation returns if it doesn’t work out. This is imperative for a mold sufferer. YOUR BODY AND THE WAY YOU FEEL ON AND AROUND THE MATTRESS IS THE ULTIMATE DECIDING FACTOR. Your body may seem like it has failed you with sickness but trust it. Every reaction is a message about your environment. Sometimes, I feel like if we all just listened and heeded the warning signals, we would’ve all saved ourselves from the mold in the first place. Thus, this ability to return the mattress may be the most important piece of the puzzle for you.
Do some research on what you want and what kind of allergies you have and toxins/chemicals you want to avoid. The mattress “space” is very saturated, so there are a lot of choices and a lot of price ranges. Also, look at reviews of the mattresses you are interested in. Many reviews state whether or not the mattress off gasses or if someone reacted to it. This can be extremely helpful and telling on the front end. You can focus on websites that cater to allergy sufferers or environmental illness to see what mattresses they promote and recommend. Their readers/buyers are savvy and discerning, so their reviews are the most helpful, in my opinion.
Your other option is to go to a reputable brick and mortar store. Many mold patients can’t tolerate mattress stores, but if you can, it can be important to physically touch, smell, and be around the mattress you are going to purchase. Also, if the company sells floor samples, you can see what type of environment the mattress has been exposed to. If you like the mattress and everything feels right, you may even be able to get a discount on one that is out on display and has already off-gassed. I know quite a few people who have gone this route.
Now to address cleaning a mattress prior to bringing it into your home. Unfortunately, cleaning or treating most mattresses prior to bringing in your home may void the return agreement. If there is no statement of this in your warranty or return agreement, I suggest unwrapping the mattress in a guest room or other space that is open with good ventilation. Allow it to air out and get any plastic smells and off-gassing taken care of. If you can tolerate it, turning the heat up makes items off-gas faster. Maybe do this one day when you do not need to be home for a long period. Unwrap the mattress and crank the heat up. Also, if you have an air purification unit, like an IQ Air, you can place it in the room with the mattress. This will help to gather up any VOCs being emitted from it. If you are concerned specifically with mold and treating the mattress for mold, you can cold fog the entire mattress with the EC3 Mold Solution Concentrate per package instructions or treat it with the EC3 Mold Spray. When it is completely dry, use a HEPA vacuum to thoroughly vacuum the entire mattress. At this point, it should be good to go.
Mattress/Bed Mold Maintenance:
Once you have decided on the one for you, you can do the following maintenance things to prevent allergy symptoms and mold growth in the future:
1.) When you change your bed each week (yes, change and wash your sheets weekly), use your vacuum, preferably a HEPA vacuum with the upholstery attachment to vacuum the entire top of the mattress. Then, mist it with EC3 Spray. Allow it to dry completely. While it is drying, wash your sheets in hot water with a mild, unscented detergent and EC3 Laundry Additive. When your sheets are clean, put them back on the bed.
(Note: A study from the University of Otago was published in the Journal of Asthma in 2012 that investigated whether daily vacuuming of mattresses significantly reduces dust mite allergens, bacterial endotoxin, and fungal β-glucan. Twenty volunteers vacuumed their mattress daily for 8 weeks. Dust samples were collected at two weekly intervals and analyzed for house dust mite allergens, for endotoxin and β-glucan (fungus). Percentage reductions in total house dust mite allergens, endotoxin, and β-glucan after 8 weeks of daily vacuum cleaning were 85.1%. Thus, the study concluded that vacuuming mattresses over time significantly reduces house dust mite allergens, endotoxin, and β-glucan. This gives patients a practical and cheaper alternative to reduce their exposure to indoor house dust mite allergens and microbial bio-contaminants.)
2.) Place an air purifier in your bedroom, like an IQ Air. This will help with dust and mold spores in the air around your bed.
3.) Flip your mattress each month (if it is one that you can flip) to help keep both sides aired-out and mold free.
4.) Control humidity in your bedroom by using overhead fans, space fans, etc., and by not leaving bathroom doors open into your bedroom during showers. You can also place a dehumidifier in your bedroom. If your bathroom is connected to the bedroom, make sure you are allowing your bathroom ventilation fan to run for at least 30 minutes after your shower.
5.) HEPA vacuum and dust your bedroom at least once per week. Do this more frequently if you are mold sensitive.
6.) Don’t go to bed with wet hair or moisture on your body, as it can become trapped in your mattress and/or pillows and create mold.
7.) Never put damp sheets or a damp mattress pad on your bed. I remember my grandmother doing this when I was young to prevent wrinkles. While it was a great housekeeping “hack,” these days, I’d rather have some wrinkles in my sheets, than mold in my mattress.
8.) Do shower or rinse off prior to going to bed to remove any mold spores from your hair and/or body before bed. Just make sure to dry your hair.
9.) Change into fresh, clean clothing before getting into bed to prevent bringing mold and bacteria into bed with you.
10.) This isn’t a must, but I find it extremely helpful in staying well–I completely change out our pillows 2 times a year. I put all of our pillows in allergy-control pillow protector covers too. I wash these covers every other week when I change our bedding. I purchase less expensive allergy-free bed pillows, so that this doesn’t break the bank. Pillows pick up so many allergens, that getting new ones before they are full of dust and dead skin helps me a lot.
I hope I have sufficiently answered your questions. Good luck in your mattress search!
Have I answered your mattress questions? I hope so. This reader ended up purchasing an Avocado Green Mattress. I hope she will let me know how it turns out.