What’s more terrifying than dust mites? How about companies that use misinformation and scare tactics to manipulate consumers.
Have you ever heard that your mattress actually doubles in weight over time, due to sweat, dead skin and millions of dust mites? If you have, you’re not alone.
One Mattress Firm commercial even claims that "after eight years, your mattress practically doubles in weight," thanks to an accumulation of skin cells, perspiration, dust mites, and other matter. Then comes the clincher: "If it's over eight, it's time to replace."
It's a creepy assertion that has become so widespread over the years that mattress retail sales staff -- and even a number of media outlets (typically in connection with large mattress advertisers) -- frequently repeat it as general knowledge. Simmons even got Ellen DeGeneres to say it in connection with an integrated promotion on her show. But as it turns out, the idea that your mattress doubles its weight has absolutely no basis in fact.
The origin of the myth seems to be a Wall Street Journal article published way back in the year 2000 which referenced Ohio State University dust mite researcher Emmett Glass. This article proclaimed (without quoting Glass directly) that "the average mattress will double its weight in 10 years as a result of being filled with dead dust mites and their detritus."
Five years later, a CBS news story about germs in the home quoted NYU microbiologist Dr. Philip Tierno as saying, "The mattress and the pillows actually become reservoirs of human cells, dust mites, bacteria, fungal spores, fungal elements, pollen, dander, and secretions and excretions of the body that accumulate over 10 years. The actual weight of a mattress doubles in ten years from all of that."
A number of news outlets have since attempted to verify this claim and been unable to find any evidence for it. Most notably, Tampa Bay Fox Channel 13 contacted both Glass and Tierno in a news segment they aired in 2011. When Tierno was interviewed by their reporters, he recanted his previous statement, saying that it was based on what he mistakenly thought was fact at the time. He added that "there is no study that I know of, nor is there any scientific literature" that supports the claim that a mattress doubles in weight over 10 years. According to this same report, Glass said he was "misquoted" by the Wall Street Journal and that his research had subsequently been exploited for "scare tactics." Channel 13's analysis went even further and weighed a 10 year old mattress, finding that it had increased in weight by only 5% (to 31.5 pounds, from 30 pounds when new). They also had this same mattress cut open and examined by a biologist, who was not able to find any dust mites or other living matter inside it.
Of course, this does not mean that dust mites are a complete non-issue. People who are allergic to dust mites (or more specifically, to a compound in dust mite feces) often have symptoms such as nasal congestion or asthma. If you suffer from dust mite allergies, you should minimize you exposure to dust mites. To this end, most experts recommend the use of allergen-impermeable covers, along with washing bedding regularly in hot water. However, if you aren’t allergic to dust mites and you’re afraid that you need to replace your mattress simply because of the "ick" factor of pounds and pounds of dust mite or other build-up, don’t believe the hype...