Bed sheets become littered with bacteria and other germs. Here’s what to do.
Manal Mohammed is Professor of Clinical Microbiology at the University of Westminster. The views expressed in this commentary are solely those of the authors.
There’s nothing like climbing into bed, wrapping yourself in a blanket and burying your head in your pillow. But before you get too comfortable, you might want to know that your bed is no different than a petri dish. [recipiente usado em laboratórios por exemplo para analisar micro-organismos].
The combination of sweat, saliva, dander, dead skin cells and food particles creates an ideal environment for bacteria, fungi, viruses and a whole host of germs to grow.
Here are some of the things hiding under our beds.
Your bed can host bacteria
Our beds can play host to a wide variety of bacterial species.
For example, research on hospital beds found that staphylococcus bacteria were common. These bacteria are usually harmless, but they can cause serious illness when they enter the body through an open wound — and some types of staphylococcus can cause more damage than others.
Take the example of Staphylococcus aureus, which is highly contagious and can worsen skin infections, pneumonia, and acne. Not only has Staphylococcus aureus been found living in pillowcases, research has also shown that some strains are resistant to antibiotics.
Research also shows that staphylococcus, E. coli and similar bacteria called gram-negative bacteria are common in hospital beds. Gram-negative bacteria are a serious health problem because they are highly resistant to antibiotics and, if they enter the body, can cause serious human infections, including urinary tract infections, pneumonia, diarrhea, meningitis, and septicemia. E. Some strains of E. coli can also be highly contagious, and can cause urinary tract infections, traveler’s diarrhea, and pneumonia. That’s why it’s important to wash your hands thoroughly after using the toilet to avoid transferring this bacteria to the rest of your home.
Of course, hospitals are very different from our home environment. But that doesn’t mean it’s still impossible for these bacteria to find their way into our beds. In fact, one-third of people carry Staphylococcus aureus in their bodies. People who carry it can shed the organism in large numbers – meaning it’s very easy to transfer staph bacteria to your bed at home.
Beds attract insects
While sleeping in bed – you shed about 500 million skin cells per day. These skin cells can be attracted and eaten by microscopic insects. These insects and their residues can trigger allergies and even asthma.
Bed bugs can also be dangerous. Although these tiny insects (about five millimeters in length) have not been shown to transmit disease, they can cause itchy red bite marks – along with a range of mental health effects, including anxiety, insomnia and allergies.
Bed bugs can be found on soft surfaces such as clothes or backpacks, or carried into the home by other family members.
Washing and drying bedding at high temperatures (around 55℃) will kill dust mites, but bed bugs may need to be professionally exterminated.
Germs can also be brought to bed from contaminated household items such as clothes, towels, bathroom, kitchen surfaces, or pets.
Bathroom and kitchen towels play host to many types of bacteria, including Staphylococcus aureus and E. coli. Improper washing spreads these germs to other items — including our bed sheets. Diseases like gonorrhea are also spread through contaminated towels or sheets.
Different types of microorganisms survive in tissues for different periods of time. For example, Staphylococcus aureus can survive for one week on cotton and two weeks on terry cloth. And fungal species (such as Candida albicans, which cause oral thrush, urinary tract infections, and genital and genital infections) can survive in tissue for up to a month.
Influenza viruses can survive in clothes and tissues for 8 to 12 hours. Some other types of viruses, such as vaccinia virus, can survive on wool and cotton for up to 14 weeks.
Regular and proper washing is important to ensure that germs do not become a real health threat. But how often should the bedding be changed?
Since we can’t wash our sheets every day, one thing you should do daily is air your sheets every morning. Because they hold more moisture while we sleep, pulling back sheets or duvets so they can breathe before making the bed will make your sheets and mattress a less attractive place for bacteria and dust mites to nest.
Mattresses can be a major source of bacteria and microbes because of years of skin flakes, food particles, and mold. Because it’s difficult to wash a mattress, using a washable cover — and washing it every week or two — can help reduce the number of microbes that live there. Vacuuming the mattress and bed base every month will help remove allergens and dust. Turn your mattress often or get a new mattress if it’s over ten years old.
Washing your bedding every week (or more often if possible) is recommended — especially if you spend a lot of time in bed, sleep naked, or sweat a lot at night. Changing pillowcases every two or three days is also recommended.
All bedding should be washed at warm to high temperatures (around 40℃ to 60℃) to effectively kill germs. Avoid overloading washing machines and use enough soap or detergent and make sure the bedding is completely dry before using it.
Bathing before bed, avoiding sleeping or sweating in bed, removing make-up and avoiding lotions, creams and oils before bed – all these things will help keep clothes clean between washes. Not eating or drinking in bed, keeping animals off the sheets, and removing soiled socks can also help.