Mattress Cleaning: An Overlooked Service

September 15, 2003
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Many vendors are offering mattress-cleaning business opportunities. Why is this service getting so much attention? Mattress cleaning and allergen removal really started in Europe about 15 years ago. It is a multi-million dollar business, with approximately 4,500 companies now offering the service.

Why clean mattresses? There is a growing amount of scientific data that reveals better environmental hygiene improves health. The Environmental Protection Agency has consistently ranked indoor air pollution among the top five environmental risks to public health, and according to the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, “50 percent of all illnesses are caused by or aggravated by polluted indoor air.”

So what are these indoor pollutants that can negatively affect our health? They include outdoor pollutants brought inside, combustion products, contamination from chemical products used by the consumer, and biological contamination. This is why EPA statistics show that levels of many airborne pollutants can be 100 to 500 percent higher indoors than outdoors.

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Bio-pollutants include dog- and cat dander, dust mites and cockroach allergens. These indoor pollutants act as triggers for asthma and other respiratory ailments. Over 40 million Americans suffer from allergies due to these pollutants. Children are the most at risk, as their lungs are still in the developmental stage.

The No.1 indoor allergen source? The common house dust mite. Dust mites are microscopic, eight-legged arachnids (not insects) 0.3mm in length. They are invisible to the human eye, so small they can crawl through the weave of bedding fabrics. Dust mites feed on tiny flakes of shed human skin cells. The average adult sheds about 2 pounds of skin per year. This will feed millions of dust mites. The dust mite is not what causes the problem; this lies with a protein found in the fecal matter called Der p1. The fecal mater is lighter than air and becomes airborne when disturbed by activity like fluffing pillows and tossing and turning during the night. The airborne particles are inhaled; the protein Der p1 breakdown the protective mucous lining of the eyes, nose, lungs and skin. The allergens enter the body and cause an over-reaction of the human immune system.

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According to a study published by The National Institute of Environmental Health, 46 percent of North American homes have bedding with enough dust mite allergens to cause allergies.

We cannot forget pets. Proteins in a pet’s dander, saliva and urine cause pet allergies. Grooming by cats cause the saliva on fur to become airborne, which in turn triggers the allergic reaction. Allergy sufferers should not have pets, but of course they do. We can help by introducing regular cleaning and treatment of their home furnishings.

So what about mattresses? For allergy sufferers, the bedroom is the primary source of dust mite exposure in the home. About 60 percent of mites in the home are found in the mattress, as we spend one third of our life in bed – shedding skin and feeding dust mites. To effectively control dust mite allergens, the mattress should be regularly cleaned, about every 6 months for allergy sufferers. For the customer who may not be convinced she has mites in her mattress, it is possible to do a test to determine the levels of mites.

First, collect dust from the mattress by dry vacuuming. Place a black cloth over the vacuum hose and extract about 1 square foot of the mattress. You will be amazed at the amount of white dust on the cloth (Image 1); skin particles and dead dust mites. Fill the small scoop found in the Dust Mite Test Kit with the dust and put it into the enclosed test tube (Image 2). After 10 minutes, put three drops of the liquid in the round window of the test card (Image 3). The appearance of a pink line means allergens are present – requiring cleaning and treatment (Image 4).

The mattress should first be vacuumed (Image 5), ideally with a truckmount so the allergens are vented outside. After vacuuming, wet-clean the top and sides of the mattress. Do not over-wet the fabric. Use an air mover to accelerate the dry time.

At this point a dust mite-neutralizing product should be sprayed on the surface. This will control the mite allergens between regular cleanings.

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For allergy sufferers, applying a mitacide or pesticide to their mattresses is not recommended. These materials are poisons and could cause discomfort to allergy patients, as their skin and face would be in close proximity to these materials. It is best to use a plant-based treatment that does not contain pesticides, perfumes, or VOCs to control the allergens in between regular cleanings.

Don’t forget the pillows. An old pillow can contain up to 20 percent of its weight in dead dust mites, dust mite body parts and their fecal matter. Pillows can be cleaned and treated with a dust mite-neutralizing product, or replaced every six months.

Next, attention should be given to the carpets in the bedroom. Mites can be found here as we change clothes and prepare for the day, all the while depositing skin on the bedroom carpet. Clean the carpets using the hot water extraction method. For allergy sufferers, use cleaning agents free of perfumes, phosphates, hydrocarbons and solvents, as many allergy patients are sensitive to certain chemicals. Apply an anti-allergen neutralizing product to the carpet to control allergens between cleanings.

We have determined the need to clean mattresses, but the big question remains: do you need to invest in a franchise and new equipment to be effective in your cleaning process? Talk to your local supplier to find out if he can help you with the right materials to enter this new and growing area without having to make a major expenditure.

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