Sunday, August 1

What kinds of viruses, bacteria, and insects can live on your bed sheets (without you knowing)?

There is nothing like getting into bed, wrapping yourself in the covers, and laying your head on the pillow. But before you get too comfortable, maybe you’d like to know that your bed is not much different from a laboratory petri dish.

The combination of sweat, saliva, dandruff, dead skin cells and even food particles make that environment is optimal for them to grow a lots of germs like bacteria, fungi, viruses and even small insects.

Here are just a few of the things that are hidden under our sheets.


Our beds can host a vast variety of bacterial species.

For example, studies that looked at hospital bedding found that staph bacteria were common.

These bacteria are typically harmless, but can cause serious illness if they enter the body through an open wound. And it is that, certain types of staph can be more harmful than others.

Let’s take the Staphylococcus aureus (staph aureus), which is quite contagious and can cause skin infections, pneumonia, and aggravate acne.

This bacteria has not only been found in pillow cases, research also shows that some strains are resistant to antibiotics.

The analyzes also indicate that along with staph, E. coli and other similar bacteria, known as gram-negative bacteria, are also common in hospital beds.

Gram-negative bacteria present a serious health problem as they are highly resistant to antibiotics and can cause serious human infections, including urinary tract infections, pneumonia, diarrhea, meningitis, and septicemia if they enter the body.

Some strains of E. coli can also be very infectious and can cause UTIs, traveler’s diarrhea, and pneumonia.

Staphylococcus aureus in a Petri dish
Staph aureus is quite contagious and can cause skin infections, pneumonia, and aggravate acne. (Photo: Getty Images)

That is why proper hand washing after going to the bathroom is important to avoid the transfer of these bacteria to other parts of our home.

Of course, hospitals are very different from our home environment. But that does not mean that it is not possible for these bacteria to get into our beds.

In fact, about a third of people carry staph aureus on their bodies. Carriers of staphylococcus aureus can spread the organism in large quantities, which means that it is quite easy for the bacteria to transfer to your bed at home.


Your skin sheds about 500 million cells a day while you sleep in bed. These skin cells can attract and be eaten by microscopic mites. These mites and their feces can cause allergies and even asthma.

Representation of mites seen through a magnifying glass
The millions of skin cells we shed every day are a feast for microscopic mites. (Photo: Getty Images)

Bed bugs can also be a danger. Although these tiny (about 5mm) insects are not known to transmit disease, they can cause red, itchy bumps, as well as a variety of mental health effects, including anxiety, insomnia, and allergies.

These insects can be brought into homes on soft surfaces, such as clothing or backpacks, or by family members.

Washing and drying bedding at high temperatures (about 55 ° C) kills the mites, but las bed bugs have to be exterminatedas professionally.

Household germs

A messy bed with clothes and a cardboard box on top.
Some microscopic germs can survive for a long time in certain tissues and can be carried into our beds from the outside. (Photo: Getty Images)

Germs can also be carried into the bed from contaminated household items, such as clothing, towels, the toilet or bathtub, kitchen surfaces, or even pets.

Bathroom and kitchen towels are receptacles for various bacterial species, including Staphylococcus aureus and E. coli.

Bad washing can also spread these germs to other objects, including our sheets.

Even diseases like gonorrhea can be transmitted through contaminated towels or bedding.

Different microbial species can survive on fabrics for varying periods of time. Staphylococcus aureus, for example, can survive for one week on cotton fabric and two weeks on terry cloth.

And species of fungi (such as Candida albicans), which can cause thrush (oral infection), urinary tract infections and genital candidiasis, are able to survive on fabrics for up to a month.

Influenza viruses can also survive on fabrics and tissues for eight to 12 hours. Some other types of viruses, such as vaccinia, can stay on wool or cotton up to 14 weeks.

Bed hygiene

A woman's hands filling the washing machine with bedding
Wash bedding every week or more frequently if possible. (Photo: Getty Images)

Correct and regular washing is key to ensuring that germs do not become a real threat to health. But how often should you change the bedding?

Since we can’t wash the sheets every day, something you can do is air the sheets every morning.

Since moisture builds up on them while you sleep, removing the comforter (or blankets) to allow the sheets to breathe before making the bed makes the sheets and mattress less attractive places for bacteria and bed bugs to nest.

Mattresses can also be a great source of bacteria and microbes. due to the accumulation of dead skin, food particles and fungi over the years.

Since a mattress is difficult to wash, putting a washable cover on it — and washing it every one to two weeks — could help decrease the number of germs that live there.

Vacuuming the mattress and bed base every month also helps remove allergens and dust. Flip the mattress frequently or buy a new one if it is more than 10 years old.

A woman in bed with a dog, a cup and a croissant
Avoid eating in bed and letting pets climb onto the bed. They are a source of more germs. (Photo: Getty Images)

It is recommended that you wash your bedding every week (or more often, if possible), especially if you spend a lot of time in bed, sleep naked, or sweat a lot at night.

It is also advisable to change the pillowcases every two or three days.

All bedding should be washed in medium to high temperatures (between 40 ºC and 60 ºC) to effectively kill germs.

Avoid overfilling the washing machine and use enough detergent, and make sure bedding is completely dry before use.

Showering before bed, avoiding naps, not lying down sweaty, removing makeup, and refraining from using lotions, creams, and oils before bed can all help keep bedding cleaner between washes.

Avoiding eating or drinking in bed, not letting pets climb, and removing used socks can also help.

*Manal Mohammed is Professor of Medical Microbiology at the University of Westminster, UK. This article was originally published in The Conversation, whose English version you can read clicking here.

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