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What is in your pillow?

What is in your pillow?

In one of the Peanuts comic strips, Linus embraces his security blanket after rescuing it from the trash, and says "Are you all right, ol' buddy?" To many people, their pillows are like security blankets. I even see people dragging their pillows through the airport. Pillows are personal – fulfilling very personal needs and comforts.
However, Linus and his followers may want to loosen the tight embrace on their favorite security blanket. It is not always healthy.

We "autopsied" pillows, chosen at random, that had been in use for 2 to 3 years and found some interesting results. After cutting open the pillows, the microbiologist who analyzed the pillows reported that there were no visual indications of bacteria present on the fabric's inner surface or in the fiber fill. We asked that he take swab samples and run a bioburden test to identify any bacteria that might be present. To his surprise, he then reported the existence of a number of bacteria. Just a few are listed below. The medical conditions that can result from these bacteria are noted in parentheses.

  • Bacillus cereus (food borne illness)
  • Bacillus subtilis (food contaminant)
  • Paenibacillus alvei (food borne disease)
  • Staphylococcus capitis (infections)
  • Corynebacterium spp. (common skin contaminant; infections)
  • Staphylococcus hominis (harmless; can cause infection in people with compromised immune systems)
  • Corynebacterium coyleae (infections)

In this case, we were only looking for bacteria. Pillows are also favorite hiding places for dust mites. As noted in another post, ten percent of the weight of a two-year old pillow can be composed of dead mites and their waste. Like the bacteria found in the pillow autopsy, you can't see dust mites either. But they are there. And they love your tight embrace.

Washing your pillow is a simple way to remove most of these contaminants. However, many people do not often launder their pillows. And pillows are particularly difficult to thoroughly clean and dry in a household washer and dryer. An ideal solution is to follow the lead of those people who are afflicted with allergies and asthma. They usually encase their pillows with a zippered cover made from a tightly woven fabric which blocks the passage of dust mites, dust, pet dander, and food particles to reduce contamination, while allowing air and moisture vapor to pass through to maximize their sleeping comfort. And when they launder their bedding, they also launder their pillow encasements.

Something to sleep on …

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