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What kills Demodex mites in laundry?

Your Face Is Covered in Thousands of These, And They’re Not Always Nice

Demodex Mite in microscopic closeup

Demodex folliculorum. (Palopoli et al.; licensee BioMed Central 2014/CC BY 4.0)

Demodex are a family of eight-legged mites that live in the hair follicles and associated sebaceous or oil glands of many mammals.

Two species are known in humans – Demodex folliculorum, which lives mainly in hair follicles on our faces (especially eyelashes and eyebrows), and Demodex brevis, which sets up home in the oil glands on the face and elsewhere.

Newborns don’t have Demodex mites. In a study looking for them on adult humans, researchers could detect them visually in only 14 percent of people.

However, once they used DNA analysis, they found signs of Demodex on 100 percent of the adult humans they tested, a finding supported by previous cadaver examinations.

If they live all over humanity, the question arises – are these mites parasites or commensal (harmless) organisms, living in harmony with their unwitting hosts? And which of our daily habits, such as face washing and make-up application, can assist or hinder the mites’ survival?

This is where it gets tricky.

Disgusting companions with no anuses

Demodex mites are tiny. The larger of the two human species, D. folliculorum, is about a third of a millimeter long, while D. brevis spans less than a quarter of a millimeter. They also carry a range of bacterial species on their bodies.

A number of methods are used to directly detect mites. The best method is a skin biopsy involving a small amount of cyanoacrylate glue (superglue) on a microscope slide.

Four images showing a skin biopsy taken from face, a scientist

Cylindrical dandruff around infected hairs is characteristic of mites in residence due to their living habits. Mites can also be squeezed out of follicles with a zit extractor.

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The mites feed on skin cells and sebaceous oils, which they predigest by secreting a range of enzymes. As they don’t have an anus, they regurgitate their waste products.

Ensconced in cosy follicle homes, the mites mate and lay eggs; after a lifespan of about 15 days, they die and decompose right there in the follicle.

These fairly disgusting habits may be one reason Demodex can cause allergic reactions in some people, and might also explain a number of associated clinical effects.

Face mites can cause a range of problems

Unfortunately, recent studies suggest a number of conditions involving Demodex mites:

  • a range of rashes
  • acne and pustules on the skin
  • blepharitis or inflammation of the eyelid
  • Meibomian gland dysfunction – blockage of the oil glands on the eyelid, which can result in cysts
  • inflammation of the cornea itself
  • dry eyes and the formation of pterygium, a fleshy growth on the eye.

There are other causes of these conditions, but mites are under increasing suspicion as to their contributing role.

However, not all of us have negative reactions to these creatures. Humans mate randomly, and our genetics are thus highly variable – when we are infected, our genes determine our immune and other responses. Some of us don’t react at all, some of us get an itch for a while, and some get chronic debilitating conditions.

Similarly, mite numbers vary between people – if they reproduce in high levels, they are more likely to lead to issues.

Interestingly, the conditions named above and mite numbers seem to increase with age and in immune-compromised patients, suggesting a correlation with decreased immune function. It appears our immune system is key to understanding mite reproduction and their clinical effects.

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Can you get rid of face mites? Or make them worse?

There are a number of therapeutic compounds that reduce mite numbers, but the consensus is that Demodex are a natural part of our skin flora, so it might be best not to eliminate them entirely.

When people suffer chronic disease, more robust treatment might be necessary against the mite population, although reinfection from human family members is highly likely.

Mites do not survive for long off their hosts. Other than direct contact, personal hygiene products probably present the main mechanism of cross-infection.

Close up of Demodex brevis showing mouthparts used ot eat oils and skin cells off our faces

Sharing make-up brushes, tweezers, eyeliner and mascara is probably not a good idea, although avoiding infection in a shared bathroom might be difficult. In one study, the average survival time for Demodex in mascara was 21 hours.

Other aspects of make-up use, such as regular cleaning and washing of the face, may reduce mite numbers, although other studies suggest mites survive washing quite well.

Thus, it’s unclear how much you can affect your mite population. However, if you suffer any inflammation of the eyelids and nearby areas, avoiding make-up and seeking medical advice might be best.

Overall, as unpleasant as they might sound, Demodex appear to be a normal part of our skin flora. However, some of us do react negatively to their presence and suffer rashes and inflammation.

Controlling such reactions might be as easy as limiting mite numbers with a wash or treatment prescribed by a medical professional – just know that entirely getting rid of our mite friends is probably impossible.

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This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Laundry Tips to Reduce Dust Mites

Mary Marlowe Leverette 2018

Mary Marlowe Leverette is one of the industry’s most highly-regarded housekeeping and fabric care experts, sharing her knowledge on efficient housekeeping, laundry, and textile conservation. She is also a Master Gardener with over 40 years’ experience; writing for over 20 years.

Updated on 07/15/21
Fact checked by

Jillian Dara

Jillian is a freelance journalist with 10 years of editorial experience in the lifestyle genre. She is a writer and fact checker for TripSavvy, as well as a fact-checker for The Spruce.

Clean Laundry With Teddy Bear

Dust is all around us in our homes, workplace, and vehicles. And where there are humans and dust, there are dust mites. Dust mites, or bed mites as they are sometimes called, are tiny insects (spiderlike arachnids) that feed off dead skin flakes found on sheets, pillows, fabric, and dust around your home. While they don’t bite like bed bugs or head lice or spread disease, they can aggravate allergies and asthma. It is the excrement waste from the mites that cause allergic responses.

They are too small to be seen with the naked eye, and the highest concentrations are found in carpeting, mattresses and bedding, upholstered furniture and stuffed animals. Because they are so small, they float into the air when a fabric is disturbed, when carpet is walked on, or when a vacuum is used. It is when they float that the dust mite droppings and pieces of dead dust mites most aggravate allergies and can even cause asthma.

Fortunately, you can decrease the number of dust mite droppings by doing laundry often and handling fabrics correctly.

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Of course, some fabric-covered items like mattresses, box springs, and upholstered furniture cannot be easily washed. To remove dust mites, consider a fabric allergen sanitizer vacuum. These vacuums use ultraviolet light to kill dust mites and bacteria and then a dual filtration system to eliminate 99.9 percent of the offenders from fabric surfaces.

In Bedding and Bedrooms

Dust mites thrive in warm, humid environments and multiply quickly and easily, especially in summer months. Consider changing your pillow cases more frequently than the rest of your bedding—like every other day.

Hand Zipping Pillow Case

On Bathroom Towels and Bathmats

Dust mites thrive in the humidity of a bathroom. Towels and bathmats should be hung to dry thoroughly and as quickly as possible after each use. Towels and bath mats should be washed at least after two or three uses and in hot water.

We spend a great deal of time in the bedroom, where direct skin contact with bed linens makes the perfect spot for dust mites to thrive. Since one of the keys to controlling the mites is the frequent washing of fabrics, it is important to select linens that can withstand frequent washing.

If you have a dust mite problem in your home, bedding—sheets, blankets, and bed covers—should be washed at least weekly in hot water (130 to 140 F) to kill the mites. Cold water will not always be as effective. However, if you prefer to use cold water, be sure to tumble dry the linens in a hot dryer for at least ten consecutive minutes at 130 F to kill the mites.

Bed pillows should also be washed regularly. “Mite-proof” cases on should be placed on all mattresses and pillows. Those covers should be washed at least monthly.

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On Stuffed Toys

Stuffed toys should be washed frequently—especially if the child sleeps with the toy. Most fabric toys can also be cleaned.

Teddy Bear Getting Cleaned

On Curtains and Household Fabrics

The key to controlling dust mites is to reduce the number of places they can thrive. Removing wall-to-wall carpeting is one of the best steps. However, it is important to regularly clean area rugs and wash throw rugs. If you do have wall-to-wall carpet, have it steam cleaned regularly because the heat of the steam will kill the dust mites.

Choose leather or vinyl upholstery rather than fabric. Or, make the upholstery easier to clean by using washable accessories like sofa covers and removable covers on throw pillows. Use a dust mite sanitizer vacuum on fabrics that cannot be washed.

Skip heavy drapes that can not be washed. Opt for washable fabrics, shades, blinds, or shutters.

In addition to regular vacuuming and dusting, remove as many dust collectors like artificial flowers, bric-a-brac, and fabric wall hangings from the home, especially the bedroom.

Hand Holding Window Blinds

Article Sources

The Spruce uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.

  1. Dust Mites. American Lung Association.
  2. Lah, Ernieenor Faraliana Che, et al. Effect of Germicidal UV-C Light(254 Nm) on Eggs and Adult of House Dustmites, Dermatophagoides Pteronyssinus and Dermatophagoides Farinae (Astigmata: Pyroglyhidae). Asian Pacific Journal of Tropical Biomedicine, vol. 2, no. 9, 2012, pp. 679–683., doi:10.1016/s2221-1691(12)60209-3
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