Washing sheets and pillow cases rids us of bacteria and other buildup we drag into bed with us.

Or so we think.

One report, presented at the Healthcare Associated Infections 2011 meeting in London, found an array of microorganisms and debris inside pillows. In fact, within 2 years of use, one-third of a pillow’s weight comprises dead skin cells, bugs, dead dust mites and their droppings, according to the research cited in a Daily Mail article.

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The data were gathered from Barts and The London NHS Trust hospitals, where pillows are washed regularly.

But the range of waste found in pillows wasn’t the only reason for concern. Researchers found a total of 30 microbes responsible for a slew of health issues such as chicken pox, methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) infections and leprosy, according to the Daily Mail and one Telegraph article. They also found another bacterium called Clostridium difficile, or C. diff, that poses problems for health care environments.

It’s not clear, however, whether the insides of pillows pose a risk of transmission for patients, but tears in materials and openings from stitching may increase the chances of transferring microbes from pillow to patient.

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It should be mentioned that the study was supported by a company called Gabriel Scientific, which has developed airtight SleepAngel medical pillows. To no surprise, these special pillows did not harbor the same microbes and debris collected by normal hospital pillows.

Despite company sponsorship and collecting data from hospitals, the findings likely apply to pillows at home as well. While mites and allergens in pillows increase certain health problems is debated, it can’t hurt to be on the clean side just in case.

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One New York Times blog post suggests listening to allergy experts and purchasing mite-proof covers to place under sheets and pillow cases if mites are a problem in the area. Knowing where nighttime pests, such as bed bugs, thrive is important, too.

Discovery News contacted Barts and The London NHS Trust to obtain the report and was told the preliminary findings open up new opportunities to help eradicate hospital-acquired infections.

Photo by Kim / Apps via Flickr.com