Colds have a sneaky habit of hitting when you least expect it. Even with careful behaviour, it’s possible for viruses to make their way into homes and bodies.
During a cold, the bed is where we do most of our resting and healing. However, that also means that the bed sheets have high levels of exposure to germs.
Once the germs have gotten onto bedding, we need to know how long they’re going to stick around and how we can get rid of them!
BEDDING HYGIENE KEY QUESTIONS AND INFORMATION
- What are Germs?
- How do Germs get on Bedding?
- How Long to Cold Germs Live on Bedding?
- Prevention of Spreading Germs
- How Bedding can Spread Germs
- Most Hygienic Bedding Options
WHAT ARE GERMS?
'Germs’ is an informal, non-scientific term for the various tiny organisms that can cause illness, infection or disease in the human body. The organisms largely consist of foreign bacteria and viruses.
The immune system fights off germs every day, successfully overpowering them so that we don’t become ill. Unfortunately, there are also plenty of potentially damaging germs that can cause symptoms ranging from a runny nose to death.
Most common illnesses and colds are caused by three main groups of viruses. First, the Rhinovirus group, which is the cause of up to 40% of common colds, is rarely serious and most active from spring and throughout summer.
A more serious group of viruses is the RSV and parainfluenza. This group of viruses are responsible for around 20% of colds, commonly known as the flu, and most often occurs in the autumn and winter.
Most people with an influenza virus will recover fine after a few rough sick days. However, influenzas mostly affect the respiratory systems and some people, particularly those with weakened immune systems, children or the elderly, can develop life-threatening pneumonia.
The final group of viruses are the coronaviruses. They are most common in the winter and cause around 20% of common colds. There are over 30 different types of coronavirus but only around 4 are damaging to human health.
Although the human body is well-equipped with white blood cells and antibodies to fight off invading germs, it is still worth creating hygienic environments to limit exposure to the dangerous organisms.
One vital way to do that is to create a healthy sleeping environment. Ideally, we spend at least a third of our day in bed. By keeping bed sheets and the surrounding area clean, we reduce the chance of catching and spreading germs.
HOW DO GERMS GET ON BEDDING?
Viruses, bacteria and fungi don’t just appear from nowhere. To get to the bed sheets, they were most likely brought in from the outside world on clothing or skin.
In general, germs spread through personal contact, from one human to another. When out and about meeting friends, in a crowd or even standing near strangers, it is possible you are catching or transmitting a number of germs.
It’s also possible to pick up germs after touching a surface that was had recently been exposed to them by an infected person. Indeed, viruses and bacteria can live on surfaces without a human host, only to be transmitted the next time someone puts their hand down or brushes against it.
The germs are then carried back to the home, into the bed room and onto the bed sheets.
HOW LONG DO COLD GERMS LIVE ON BEDDING?
We know that people can become infected with viruses and germs simply by touching a surface that an infected person previously interacted with, but how long do germs last on these surfaces?
In general, germs don’t last for very long periods of time outside the human body. They are structurally quite weak and break down quickly in the harsh conditions of the outside world.
Additionally, how long they are detectable on a surface is different to how long they are infectious. To infect a new person, the virus has to be completely intact. When outside of the body, they quickly begin to degrade. So, even if the degraded virus makes its way inside the body, it won’t be able to do any harm.
How long they survive is dependent on a number of factors including the type of surface it lands on, the type of pathogen, and further environmental factors like humidity and temperature.
Some studies have been conducted to test how long viruses remain on various surface. The SARS and MERS viruses, which are both types of coronavirus, were shown to persist on average around 4-5 days on non-porous surfaces like glass, metal and plastic.
It’s understood that viruses, bacteria and fungi last for shorter amounts of time on porous surfaces. Porous surfaces include any types pf fabric like carpets, clothing and bedding. Although, the exact amount of time depends on the specific fabric.
Influenza viruses were found to remain infectious on non-porous surfaces for only up to 9 hours. On porous surfaces, they lasted even less time, remaining infectious only for 4 hours.
Viruses prefer warm, humid environments which is why they often make their way into the human body through the throat and the nose. So, why do they last longer on non-porous surfaces which are generally hard and cold?
Porous fabrics are able to absorb moisture and actually suck moisture away from the virus, leaving it dry. The lack of moisture is what causes the virus structure to degrade.
This is how absorbent bed sheets are better for health than non-absorbent sheets. Having breathable bedding that wicks moisture away from the body creates a more hygienic sleeping environment. Any viruses that are introduced to the bedding will soon break down from dehydration.
PREVENTION OF SPREADING GERMS
The number one, most useful way of preventing germs from spreading or even reaching the bed sheets is to wash hands routinely. The hands are the most likely areas to pick up germs and washing with water and simple soap will effectively clean them.
The best times to wash the hands are immediately after coming home, before eating and after being in contact with public areas or facilities such as public transport and handrails. Additionally, when coming into the home, it’s a good idea to immediately change into clean ‘inside’ clothes and place the outside clothes into a laundry basket.
Bedding should be washed frequently in hot water, even if it is a highly absorbent fabric. If the fabric permits, then add in some colour safe bleach or hydrogen peroxide to sanitise sheets effectively (be careful though, as this could damage your sheets depending on what they are made from). They should also be given time to dry properly either in a dryer or in the sun.
When an illness has entered the house, extra precautions need to be taken. Pillowcases should be changed and washed daily, and the infected individual’s toothbrush should be kept separate from others.
Additionally, sanitation of exposed areas is needed. Nearby items like alarm clocks, lamps and nightstands need regular disinfecting along with exposed laundry hampers and the washing machine.
Finally, keep windows and curtains open when possible to air out stale air while benefiting from the disinfecting properties of sunlight.
HOW BEDDING CAN SPREAD GERMS
When bed sheets are contaminated with germs, they can be a source of infection. If a bed is used by more than one person, the bed and bed sheets provide an easy way for germs to spread, cultivate and infect.
Additionally, when a person is recovering from an illness, they go through a stage called convalescence where the immune system is regaining strength but is still vulnerable. If sheets are not cleaned frequently, they can become a cause of reinfection.
To reduce the risk of exposure to viruses and other germs, it helps to be on top of cleaning habits, particularly with regards to laundry. Putting bed sheets in the same laundry basket as dirty clothes or even on the same wash cycle can spread germs from clothes to bed sheets or vice versa.
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MOST HYGIENIC BEDDING OPTIONS
The ideal bedding to prevent the prevent the infection of spreading of germs is one that creates an environment that is difficult for viruses and germs to exist in.
Germs can live on bedding for just a few hours and are able to survive on different types of bedding fabric for different amounts of time. When it comes to health and the risk of getting sick, the less chance of germs surviving, the better.
Therefore, the best bedding is the most absorbent bedding. Artificial fabrics like polyester or nylon are not very absorbent. They often create a sweaty environment throughout the night that is uncomfortable for humans but ideal for germs.
Standard, short fibre cotton is better but not by much. The short fibres make the fabric less absorbent than its long fibre cousins and unable to wick away a lot of moisture.
Organic cotton is well known for its breathability and ability to wick away moisture. They typically create a comfortable, cool and dry environment throughout the night.
Additionally, the semi-synthetic fabric Tencel™ is a favourite option for bedding partly due to its incredible breathability and comfort. The absorbency of the fabric gives it anti-bacterial properties and creates a harsh environment for any invading germs.
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The hygienic properties of Tencel™ means it is commonly used as a medical dressing as germs are unlikely to be able to exist and duplicate.