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Dust mite poop and dead skin: Why you should bin old bed pillows

A bed pillow
(Image credit: Getty)

Going to bed should mean sweet dreams, but according to a recent TikTok by Dr Karan Raj, falling asleep on an old pillow (opens in new tab) could in fact be a nightmare. In the video (opens in new tab), which has now been viewed over a million times, he says: “You need to change your pillows at least every two years.” The medic goes on to explain that, “The average person sheds about 4kg of skin every year. Most of that ends up on your bed or pillow – a feast for microscopic dust mites.” Add in the fact that just one dust mite produces about 20 droppings a day, and how there could be hundreds of the critters living in your old pillow, and the nastiness quickly ramps up. 

It gets worse too, as a build-up of dust mite feces can lead to allergy symptoms and breathing problems. But Dr Karan doesn’t stop there, and reveals how the moisture from oil and sweat produced by your body – “those nasty yellow spots on your pillow” – can breed mold and other gross bacteria. Even the world’s best mattress (opens in new tab) and pillows aren’t immune to all this, so a quality bed protector is a must. 

Dr Karan rounds things off with a tip regarding support: “If you can fold your pillow in half and it doesn’t spring back, then that thing is dead… It’s no longer keeping your neck and spine in alignment, causing neck and shoulder pain.” We’d caveat this by saying how some thicker memory foam pillows aren’t designed to be folded in half, but it’s a good general tip.

Why old pillows are a buffet for microscopic dust mites

As Dr Karan explained, dust mites love nothing more than munching on shed skin and pooping in your pillows. As grim as this is, it’s helpful to remember that you can keep the hungry critters at bay by making sure they have no reason to set up home in the first place. How so?

Microscopic dust mites can live for up to 90 days and can be found in all sorts of pillows, no matter what material they’re made from, so the best course of action is to ensure your bedding is regularly aired and cleaned. This is easy to do by keeping your entire bed squeaky clean. Read our guides to how to clean pillows (opens in new tab) and how to clean a mattress (opens in new tab) to get some top tips.

A 3D medical illustration of a dust mite

(Image credit: Getty)

Another way to avoid the symptoms associated with dust mites is to invest in some mite-proof covers (see below), which create more of a barrier between you and the mites.

Do dust mite droppings aggravate or cause allergies?

As we explain in our feature on how to identify bed bugs (opens in new tab), dust mites are not to be confused with bed bugs, which are bigger and therefore easier to spot in your bed. Dust mites are microscopic, and according to (opens in new tab) the Asthma And Allergy Foundation Of America (AAFA), these tiny creatures could be the most common triggers of year-round allergies and asthma. Symptoms to look out for include sneezing, runny nose, a cough and itchy or watery eyes. 

While dust mites are impossible to eliminate entirely, the Allergy Asthma Network offers some good advice (opens in new tab) on how to reduce how many are in your home, as they can also be found in soft furnishings, carpets and even stuffed toys. The tips include reducing humidity (dust mites need moisture to survive), using mite-proof covers for your bed, and vacuuming the house regularly to keep dust levels down. For your child’s bedroom, it’s also a good idea to keep stuffed toys to a minimum and only choose ones that can be washed in hot water.

How to protect your pillows from dust mites

As mentioned, covers can help prevent dust-mites from bothering you as you sleep, and also protect your pillow against sweat, oil, and bacteria. Here are a few top-rated choices to get you started... 

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SureGuard Pillow Protectors | $27.97 at Amazon (opens in new tab)
These machine-washable zippered pillow protectors fit around your pillow and under your pillowcase to form a barrier against dust mites. They’re super-comfy and also protect against bacteria, mold and bed bugs.

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2-Pack Pillow Protector with Bed Bug Blocker | From $27.99 at Kohls (opens in new tab)
This duo of pillow protectors not only make it tough for the dust mites to get anywhere near, but they add an extra defence against bed bugs, odors, and other allergens too. Meanwhile the covers are also stain-resistant and waterproof.

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Coop Home Goods Adjustable Loft Pillow | $59.99 at Amazon (opens in new tab)
This luxury memory-foam beauty already comes with a case designed to keep away dust mites, so you can sleep easy knowing there’s an extra layer of protection, while staying super-cosy too.

If you think it's time to replace your existing pillow, ensure you choose one that suits your dominant sleep position - so whether you go to sleep on your stomach, back, side, or a bit of all three. A quality one needn't cost a lot of money, but try to pick one that is either machine washable or comes with a washable cover, as these are more hygienic in the long-run. 

Looking to buy a new mattress? There are plenty of offers around, and we have rounded up the latest Purple mattress deals (opens in new tab), and the best Casper mattress deals (opens in new tab) for a budget-friendly bed-in-a-box. For luxury sleep, try the best Saatva mattress discounts (opens in new tab)

Freelancer writer and sub-editor Davina has over 20 years’ experience under her belt, and is one of our go-to writers for wellness content. From handheld massagers to mattresses, Davina has a keen interest in all things relaxation and rejuvenation, and spends a lot of her time covering these areas for Top Ten Reviews. So if you’re wondering which essential oil to use for easing stress, or whether a percussive massager really can banish your knotty muscles, Davina is the one to ask. When not working, she loves reading, practicing yoga and writing fiction.