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Do you know how old your pillow is?  Many of us don’t realize that pillows are meant to have a shelf life and that they may be harboring germs as bad as those you might find in a public bathroom.  A recent study from had some hair-raising results that may have you running out to the store to get a new pillow before you rest your weary head tonight.

The study examined the pillows and mattress pads of 50 college students from across the country to see if bedbugs were really the only thing we needed to be wary of when we crawl into bed at night.  Across the study, an average pillow had more than 350,000 potentially live bacteria colonies.  While most of those bacteria are harmless, the researchers did find some pillows with live bacteria colonies that are known to be highly toxic and even fatal.  Additionally, the average pillow had more than 100,000 potentially live yeast and mold colonies seething on its surface.  Those results are enough to make it difficult for anyone to fall asleep at night.

The research team also noted that men’s pillows on average have twice as much bacteria colonies, yeast, and mold as their female peers pillows and that the older a pillow is, the more accumulated ick is likely hiding on it and inside it.  When asked, 40% of the study participants admitted to never washing their pillows and many of them were toting the same pillows to college that they had in grade school.

What can you do to avoid nightmares now that you know about the creepy crawlies that you have been resting your head against each night?  Here are five tips to fixing even the most filthy pillow problem.

1.      Figure out the age of your pillow.  If there have been two or more Presidents since your pillow was new, you definitely need to trade it in for a new fluffy, bacteria free replacement.  If you aren’t sure how old it is, opt for safe over sorry and add a replacement pillow to your shopping list.

2.      If your pillow is less than 2 years old all it needs is a good cleaning and you are good to go to sleep tonight curled up and cozy.

3.      The best way to wash your pillow is to find a dry cleaner who does pillows and pay a small fee for peace of mind.  Pillows should be cleaned twice a year and replaced after they hit the terrible twos.

4.      If dry cleaning isn’t an option, you can clean your pillows yourself either in your home washer and dryer or at the local laundromat.   For best results, wash two pillows at a time to keep the washer balanced, wash on the gentle cycle, and use a small amount of detergent.  Send the pillows through a second rinse cycle to make sure all the detergent is removed and then toss them in the dryer on low heat with a couple tennis balls to fluff them back up during the drying cycle.  Make sure the pillows are completely dry so that you don’t invite mold or other unwanted occupants to make their home where you rest your head.

5.    Don’t forget to wash your mattress pad and body pillows too.


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Since 2002, Valley Sleep Center, accredited by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, has provided Arizona with diagnostic sleep disorder testing in a home-like atmosphere, ensuring a comfortable, relaxing experience for patients. Our Board Certified Sleep Medicine Specialists are experienced and knowledgeable physicians who provide expert advice on sleep and sleep-related disorders. We accept most insurance plans as well as Medicare. For additional information about how we might be able to help you, please contact Lauri Leadley at 480-830-3900.

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