It’s not a particularly nice thought, but in reality, none of sleep alone. The average bed contains literally millions of tiny creatures called dust mites, which are about 0.25mm in length. They like to live in dark, damp and humid areas, and enjoy feeding off our discarded skin cells. We know: gross, right?
The good news is that dust mites don’t cause us any actual harm… well not directly, anyway. Unfortunately, many people are allergic to their tiny droppings, which (double gross) are easily inhaled during our sleep. And that can cause unpleasant symptoms such as sneezing, coughing, asthma, eczema and rhinitis.
By far the most important way to minimise dust mite infestation is to clean your bed, bedding and bedroom thoroughly and regularly (to get started, read our article on how to clean your mattress). But if you’re doing all that, and still suffering from allergies, then it may be time to buy new bedding.
This article will show you how to choose the best duvet for allergies. Once you've absorbed this advice, head to our best duvet roundup to make your choice.
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1. The importance of machine washing
It’s very difficult, if not impossible, to secure your bedroom against dust mites completely. So the main weapon we have in armour against dust mite allergies is cleaning.
This means the main thing you need to look for in a duvet is that it and its cover are machine-washable at 60C. Just to spell it out: any duvet that proclaims itself ‘anti-allergy’ but is not washable at 60C is no such thing.
2. Hypoallergenic or anti-allergy?
When shopping for duvets, you often see the terms ‘hypoallergenic’ and ‘anti-allergy’, and may assume they’re interchangeable. However, they are actually very different.
Hypoallergenic, or non-allergenic, means that the materials used are relatively unlikely to cause an allergic reaction. This doesn’t mean, though, that the manufacturer has applied any specific treatments to the duvet to prevent allergies.
Anti-allergy, in contrast means that the duvet has been specially treated to prevent the development of dust mites, protect against dust-mite infestation, or both.
3. Are some duvet fillings better?
There’s a widespread belief that down, and other feather-based duvet fillings, are more likely to encourage dust mite allergies. However, this is not backed up with any reliable scientific research, and seems to be mainly based on anecdotal evidence and gut instinct.
As you’d expect, it’s a belief that tends to be propagated by the makers of synthetic duvets, and hotly disputed by the makers of down ones! It should also not be confused with the fact that some people are specifically allergic to feathers themselves (the numbers affected by this problem are relatively small).
That said, if you tend to run hot at night, you may wish to avoid a down-filled duvet on the grounds that it traps heat, and thus create an environment more conducive to the growth of dust mites. Conversely, a filling that’s naturally breathable and temperature-regulating such as wool may be more helpful, both in keeping you at the right temperature and discouraging infestation.
4. Anti-allergy covers
Ultimately, the duvet cover is far more important than its filling in preventing dust mite infestation. Hence the rise of anti-allergy duvet covers, which use a variety of means to keep dust mites out, such as tighter weaving, non-permeable materials and chemical treatments.
However, be aware that keeping dust mites out of your duvet is only likely to direct them to your pillows and mattress instead. So at the risk of repeating ourselves, we should stress that regular washing and cleaning of all your bedding is the key to minimising allergies.
In summary, look for a duvet that's machine-washable at 60C, consider a temperature controlled duvet if you're a hot sleeper, and pay more attention to 'anti-allergy' claims than 'hypoallergenic' ones. Meanwhile, worry more about the duvet cover than the duvet itself, establish a regular cleaning routine, and you won't go far wrong.