In the New York City subway, I noticed a series of advertisements from a bedding company called Brooklinen. One advertisement had a surprising claim, which I found again on their website:
The average 2-year-old pillow contains 17 species of fungus.
I was a bit skeptical of this, so I did some digging.
My research so far
Brooklinen did cite a source: Mercola.com, which in turn linked to the website of the University of Manchester, though I was redirected away from the page and couldn't find anything else through the university. Mercola.com's version of the claim was a little different:
When researchers tested samples of pillows, which had been used anywhere from 1.5 to 20 years, they found several thousand spores of fungus per gram of pillow, which means any one pillow could contain more than 1 million spores.
Up to 16 different species of fungus, from varieties found in bread to varieties common in showers, were detected in the individual samples. Pillows made from synthetic materials tended to have higher levels, which is another reason why pillows made from natural wool are preferable.
I found what I think is the paper, Fungal contamination of bedding (Woodcock et al. 2005) (from researches affiliated with the University of Manchester), and it seems like it matches the summary on Mercola.com decently well. There are two key differences between the paper's conclusions (based on a sample of 10 pillows) and Brooklinen's claim:
- None of the samples contained 17 species of fungus; they contained anywhere from 4 to 16.
- The samples occupied a wide age range, from 1.5 years to over 20 years.
The point is, as far as I can tell, the study doesn't match Brooklinen's claim at all, unless I'm misreading it. The supposed number of fungus species found is different, as is the pillow age. It's different enough that I'm wondering if I found the wrong paper and Brooklinen is basing their claim based on some other data. It left me quite confused.
Is there any merit, then, to Brooklinen's claim? Does the average two-year-old pillow really contain 17 distinct species of fungus?