Dorm mattresses are notoriously uncomfortable. But why are they so exceptionally bad? A big part of it boils down to cost as schools want the least expensive mattress, which means cutting costs on materials.
However, cheap materials can result in a mattress that’s not just uncomfortable, it’s also unsanitary and potentially unsafe.
The Main Culprits Behind Bad Dorm Beds
When your school buys a new mattress, they want one that’s gonna last more than just a couple semesters. As a result, most dorm mattresses are built using extra-firm foam designed to handle a beating.
“Most purchasing departments buy extra firm mattresses because they anticipate years of abuse,” writes Foamite Industries C.E.O. and founder R.C Dimas on LinkedIn Pulse.“These mattresses, when new, can feel like they’re made out of the same cinderblock as the dorm room walls.”
For you, the student lucky enough to get a new mattress, that means you get to experience the joys of breaking in a new, rock-hard bed.
Realistically, It’s not likely you’ll get a brand new bed though (sorry!) Your new mattress will probably be approaching its sunset years, which translates to a bed that’s lumpy and lacking in support. And because dorm beds so often double as seating, there’s a strong likelihood that it’s worn in irregularly, too. And the worst case scenario, you get a mattress so exhausted that it’s got a worn-out ravine down the middle, like an underinflated camping pad.
Better quality mattresses incorporate fabrics that are designed with your body heat in mind. In an attempt to reduce costs, a lot of manufacturers will encase the foam mattress core in a cheap fabric, which will absorb and trap your body heat, creating hot spots.
This makes it super difficult to find a comfortable temperature to sleep. Finding the right fabric— one that combines the right ratio of ruggedness-to-thermal-transference — will be a major factor in how comfortable your bed will be.
Dust Mites and Allergies
Older mattresses can turn into a magnet for dust mites, which can aggravate allergies. According to WebMD, as many as 20 million people or more are allergic these invisible invaders, who can present major issues for people with asthma. Mattresses with lower quality fabric are more susceptible to rips and tears, which are the gateway for a variety of microscopic allergens into your bed.
Cheap fabrics do little to prevent spills from getting into the foam core of your mattress, which can trap moisture inside. Over time, that dampness can turn into mold and mildew, which you may not even notice until your allergies start acting up.
Getting into bed with mildew and mold isn’t just gross, it can also be hazardous to your health. Black molds produce spores that can trigger serious health problems!
Everything that makes a mattress comfortable also makes it particularly susceptible to catching fire. For this reason, mattress companies treat their products to prevent them from igniting from common heat sources like electronics and lit cigarettes. However, according to Leslie Haddad at Herculite, “Poor quality fabrics are often not treated to be flame retardant, so exposure to hot items, cigarettes and electrical hazards can prove to be dangerous or even deadly.” Lovely!
On the other hand, some chemical treatments designed to make your mattress fireproof can also present risks themselves. Joan Blades writes in HuffPo that some school-recommended egg-crate mattress toppers come treated with brominated flame retardants, which are “usually persistent, bioaccumulative and toxic.” Chances are your school won’t let you cut a hunk of your bed out for testing, but you can ask where they buy mattresses from if you’re concerned about this possibility.
Unfortunately, you can’t really do much about your uncomfortable, weirdly-shaped, potentially-dangerous mattress (aside from just buying your own). Like all-nighters and cold pizza, it’s kinda all part of the experience. What you can do, though, is buy yourself a cozy pillow top mattress cover now and hope for the best.
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