What is UV radiation?
Ultraviolet (UV) radiation, in the form of UV rays, is a type of energy sourced from the sun and a few other artificial sources.
Besides being the leading cause of skin cancer, UV rays are also known to cause sunburn, eye damage, and even premature ageing.
The Science Behind Using UV Rays as a Disinfectant
UV rays don’t disinfect by killing bacteria or dust mites on the spot. Instead, it attacks the photochemical reaction the bacteria undergo to be able to replicate.
The UV rays penetrate the cell of the microorganism, thereby reacting with the cell structure, damaging them and their remaining capacity to replicate.
Did you know that UV rays are used to kill bacteria in [drinking] water in a process called solar purification?
In fact, studies have shown that exposing a two-litre soda bottle filled with water - with its cap closed - to the sun for 6 hours can make “the heat and UV radiation kill the contaminating organisms and make the water safe to drink.”
However, the effectiveness of UV rays as a disinfectant depends on a) the strength of the UV rays in a certain area, and b) the amount of time the microorganism is exposed to it.
How effective is this method?
Not as easy as it sounds, apparently.
According to Dr Euan Tovey of the Allergen Team at the Woolcock Institute of Medical Research, placing your mattress under the sun to kill bacteria with UV light can only kill dust mites, not the allergens themselves. It’s only a band-aid solution as the allergens include just more than the dust mites themselves, but also their faeces, secretions, and other body parts.
The idea of using UV rays was adopted by some companies in creating UV vacuums to specifically kill dust mites. But even the well-known vacuum brand Dyson believes this can’t be entirely effective. Their website notes that for UV light to actually kill a dust mite, it would have to be held over the same spot for a minute and would only work if the dust mite wasn’t moving at all.
So now we know placing your mattress out in the sun CAN work ONLY when done properly.
How to Disinfect Your Mattress Under the Sun (The Efficient Way!)
It’s more fun under the sun - even for your mattress. But before you even take it out, cleaning/spot-cleaning your mattress from indoors can be a better way of kickstarting the disinfection.
Here are 6 easy steps from our previous article on cleaning your memory foam mattress:
- If your mattress foam has a zip cover, remove it and machine-wash. Leave to air dry.
- Vacuum the mattress surface - an upholstery attachment or a handheld vacuum will both work. Remember to go through the sides and the crevices as well.
- Spot clean the stain with a damp cloth and mild detergent (e.g., dishwashing liquid). Mix them together until foamy – please use as little water as possible to avoid leaking through the mattress. This can create a site for moulds to grow on. Lastly, steer clear of any harsh chemicals like bleach and ammonia to avoid permanent damage.
- Work your way from outside the stain towards the centre in a circular motion.
- If bad odour is present from urine or sweat, vinegar could do wonders to remove it. Fill in a spray bottle with a mixture of a ¾ cup water and 1/4 cup vinegar.
- Spray on the smelly area and scrub in circular motion.
Then place your mattress in a dry and clean spot where it can peacefully dry up and disinfect under the sun. Leave it there for at least six hours.
TIP: To maximise the UV exposure of your mattress, check the Bureau of Meteorology website for the day’s UV index. If the range sits at VERY HIGH to EXTREME, more dust mites can be killed. Don’t forget to account for the humidity too! Choose a day with low humidity, no chance of precipitation, and a high UV index.
IMAGE: Ultraviolet Index (Source: Bureau of Meteorology)
The Solution: Protect Your Mattress at All Costs
They say prevention is better than cure - and we’d like to believe so too for mattresses. From the very beginning, invest in a mattress protector or a waterproof mattress specifically built to combat dust mites, bed bugs and bacteria.
But as stated here, you can always spot clean AND use sun exposure to disinfect your mattress. It can never hurt to care and protect your mattress at all costs - you sleep on it every night.