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Never Make a Warm Bed

A favorite household tip from my mother and aunt is to never make a warm bed. When I was old enough to make my own bed in the mid 1940s, I was taught to fold the covers back to the foot of the bed and let it air out before making it. I dressed, ate breakfast and was ready for school before I made my bed. Some of you may remember that we used flat muslin sheets of about 130-140 thread count (considered quite low by today's standards) and ironed the pillowcases and top sheet borders. For the weekly change of sheets, the flat bottom sheet was pulled off and the current top sheet was rotated to the bottom. A clean top sheet was put on, that would in turn be rotated to the bottom the following week.

Sheets weren't used until the late 1800s when women made their own from bolts of sheeting cloth. Ready-made sheets weren't widely available until after World War I with mail order distribution, and fitted sheets were just becoming available in stores in 1951. At that time, household washing machines were small and cumbersome to operate. By rotating just one sheet to the laundry, it saved energy and time. A Whirlpool ad in a 1954 Good Housekeeping magazine bragged about their new push button washer that could wash a huge 10-pound load of clothes. Today, most washers boast closer to 20-pound loads or more.

To this day, I still follow the advice of my mom and aunt and let the bed air out and cool before I make it. Curious about whether it is a good idea or outdated advice, I started doing some research. Soon I had a small collection of housekeeping books from new and used bookstores and stacks of papers from research at the local libraries.

One of the reasons for letting the bed air out may have to do with unseen pests. Beds are particularly appealing to dust mites who like warm, moist, dark environments. Allowing the bed to air by folding the covers back to the foot of the bed, the sheets cool and dry from the warmth and humidity of our bodies and the mites run from the daylight to other dark places in the room. Dust mite fecal particles are the source of many of our allergens. Water temperatures below 130 degrees will kill the allergens but will not kill the dust mites themselves. To kill both, water needs to be at least 130 degrees or higher.

It seems other experts agree with the female members of my family. Cheryl Mendelson, author of Home Comforts: The Art & Science of Keeping House, recommends airing the bed for an hour or longer. For mite control, Mendelson advises using water over 140 degrees, washing bedding weekly and drying it on high heat in a dryer, or better yet, hang outdoors for a fresh smell and a sanitizing treatment from the sun.

Heloise's daughter, and successor, in her book All New Hints from Heloise, suggests making a bed while still in it - simply sit in the middle of the bed, pull up the covers, smooth them, and then slide out the side. My mother and aunt would not approve! Neither would Heloise's mom. According to a 1962 edition of a book by the original Heloise, Heloise's Housekeeping Hints, she counsels airing the bed before making it.

In matters of the bed, to air or not to air is a choice relative to your personal preference, and maybe even household customs that have been passed down from generation to generation.

For me, I'm listening to my mom: Never make a warm bed.

Never Make a Warm Bed