I’ve wanted to write about bed mites for a long time but keep putting it off because of other more important topics. Well, I finally run out of important topics.
Bed mites are in the general family of dust mites. They thrive in environments with high humidity and warm temperatures, which describe most American homes. Exposing Mickey Mite is not easy because he is only a fraction of a millimeter long. He and several of his buddies would fit on the period at the end of this sentence. But he is real, and his story needs to be told.
When you snuggle up in your cozy bed tonight, Mickey Mite will be there to snuggle up with you, eight hairy legs and all. If you doubt my word, consider the evidence. According to a renowned bedmitologist (that’s a scientist who studies bed mites), odds are at least a million to one that Mickey Mite and his buddies will be in your bed tonight, as in a million of them to only one of you.
There’s a good reason why mites like your bed so much. While you’re sleeping, they’re waiting for you to shed some dry skin for a late night snack, and to excrete a little sweat to wash it down. It takes a lot of dead skin to feed a million bed mites but that’s no problem because you shed about 50 million skin cells each day and sweat continuously. By deduction, you can understand that a million bed mites, even for their size, can produce a lot of waste. The reason your mattress seems heavier than it did a few years ago is not because you’re getting older, it’s because dead mites and their waste can add a pound or more of weight to your mattress every year. So how many years have you owned your mattress?
They also like your pillow. Have you ever gone to bed and after a few minutes noticed your nose beginning to twitch like you needed to sneeze? That’s because Mickey Mite and his buddies stopped by to say hi. To be disgustingly precise, it’s the fecal pellets and dead mites in the fibers of your pillowcase that make you sneeze. That’s because each bed mite can produce 200 times its weight in waste product during its 40-60 day lifespan.
When researchers at the University of Manchester examined pillows, they found no significant difference between new pillows and old pillows-so buying a new pillow probably isn’t going to help. Surprisingly, researchers found synthetic pillows were worse than feather pillows for microbial activity (that’s science speak for dead bed mites in your nose).
These guys are so light weight they can become airborne during activities such as bed making, and in this way can be distributed throughout every room in the house. So what can you do? Bedmitologists recommend washing your sheets and pillow cases in hot water every week. Plastic mattress and pillow covers can also help, although they may not be very comfortable and will make noise when you roll over. Strong sprays, like DDT, might help too, but could be hazardous to your own health. I find it peculiar that one researcher recommended vacuuming your mattress regularly, while another observed that mites in a vacuum sweeper bag can breed for hundreds of generations, with each pair producing up to 300 eggs in their lifetime.
I do have one piece of good news about bed mites. Unlike their cousin the itch mite, bed mites do not bite. In 1694, Robert Hooke, looking through his invention the “microscope”, reported sighting mites living in dust. After 300 years, it’s safe to conclude they aren’t going away. Maybe the best thing we can do is just pretend they aren’t there, as in out of sight, out of mind.