Health Information | Resources | Patient Care | University of Pennsylvania Health System | Penn Medicine

Health Information

How to control dust mites

Has allergy testing revealed that you react to dust mites? If so, take heart -- here are some action steps you can take to control dust mites!

  • Encase your pillow and mattress with dust mite-proof covers.
  • Wash linens in hot water every week.
  • Maintain a dry environment in your bedroom with a dehumidifier. Keep the dehumidifier tray clean and dry.
  • Consider removing carpet.
  • Keep rooms clutter-free. Keep stuffed toys off the beds. Close closet doors.
  • Use carpet treatment on existing carpets to kill mites.

Focus on your bedroom...

If you're allergic to dust mites -- and millions of people are -- you must take steps to minimize them in your home. Believe it or not, there can be as many as 30,000 of these tiny creatures in one ounce of dust! Dust mites are found all over the home, but the biggest problem is your bed. Dust mites are attracted to your bed because they live off the skin cells that we all shed each night. They also live in upholstered furniture.

Here's the problem: As you sleep, your skin sloughs off and works its way down into your bedding. If the air in your room is humid, dust mites get into your bed and pillow and happily grow into large colonies. Furthermore, your own body creates humidity as you breathe and perspire. Trying to kill the dust mites will only have a limited effect, because the dust mite feces that cause the problems will still exist in high concentrations.

Dust mite covers

Your first step is to encase your pillow and mattress with dust mite covers. Studies have shown that these covers are very effective at reducing dust mite allergens. This step has three main goals: to keep the existing dust mites trapped inside the barrier, so you won't be exposed to them, and to prevent new dust mites from getting into your pillow and mattress, and to starve the mites by preventing sloughed skin from settling into your mattress.

The material of your pillow can affect your allergies. For a long time, people with allergies and asthma have been encouraged to avoid feather pillows because they were thought to aggravate allergies more than the synthetic alternatives, which are often referred to as "hypoallergenic" pillows. However, some studies have shown that more dust mite allergen can be found in synthetic pillows than in feather pillows. Recent research reported at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology (AAAAI) shows that synthetic pillows may contain more pet allergens than feather pillows. Regardless of its material, if your pillow is washable, wash it regularly. (Read the pillow manufacturer's directions for cleaning.) Or, as an alternative, fluff it occasionally in the dryer to remove dust mites, but make sure the dryer is on the hottest setting.

Wash bedding regularly

Don't forget that you continue to shed skin cells that accumulate on top of the dust mite-proof covers. To tackle this problem, make sure to wash the dust mite-proof covers with your linens in hot water (130 - 140° F). Buy dust mite-proof covers and linens that can withstand frequent trips to the washing machine. A small amount of bleach added to the washing machine will also help destroy the dust mite allergen on bedding, but it will also take the color out of the fabric. (Consider buying all white linens.) Since bleach can irritate the airways, have someone without asthma or allergies do the laundry.

More tricks

If you really want to get rid of those dust mites, get a stand-alone, single-room dehumidifier. Central dehumidifiers are also available, but cost more. Dust mites hate dry air. Maintain a relative humidity of 35 - 50%. Make sure to empty the dehumidifier tray frequently and keep it clean. If the tray isn't clean, mold growth will appear that could cause you more problems, like mold allergy. Be aware that if the humidity is too low (20 - 25%), it can irritate the sinuses and respiratory system.

Next, consider removing wall-to-wall carpeting from bedrooms and other frequently used spaces. Carpets trap dust, dust mites, skin, pet dander, mold, spores, pollen, and chemicals that can trigger allergies or asthma-like symptoms. Small, synthetic area rugs are easy to keep clean. Since removing your wall-to-wall carpet is an ambitious step, balance the cost and hassle with how miserable your allergies or asthma are making you. If you decide to keep your carpet, keep it clean! Standard upright vacuums tend to stir dust and allergens, making them airborne. A better option is a vacuum with a HEPA filter or a central vacuum.

Some experts believe that treating your carpet with dust mite pesticide powder can be effective. Others claim that carpet treatment powder can irritate airways of people with asthma and allergies. Dr. Scott Carroll, President of Atlanta Allergy & Asthma Clinic, says, "Mite treatment of carpet [with Acarosan] needs to be done every two months to be effective, and it can be expensive. This is really necessary only if kids [with dust mite allergy] are playing on the carpet."

Make it hard for dustmites to find a home...

Finally, keep your home free of clutter and dust. Wipe surfaces weekly with a damp rag. Vacuum the dust off the floor, and vacuum upholstered furniture. (If you live with someone who isn't allergic to dust mites, have them do the vacuuming and cleaning!)

Keep stuffed toys off the beds, or wash them weekly. Consider replacing Venetian blinds or heavy cloth draperies with pull-down shades that don't collect as much dust and are easier to clean. Keep closets clean with the doors closed.

Consider using the following products:

  • Allergen-impermeable bedding
  • Washable pillows
  • Stand-alone dehumidifiers or central dehumidifiers
  • HEPA stand-alone air cleaners or central air filtration system
  • HEPA-filter vacuum cleaner or central vacuum cleaning system
  • Carpet treatment (Acarosan)
  • Washable toys


Main Menu

Review Date: 6/29/2011
Reviewed By: Paula J. Busse, MD, Assistant Professor of Medicine, Division of Clinical Immunology, Mount Sinai School of Medicine, New York, NY, Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.
The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- A.D.A.M., a business unit of Ebix, Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.