How can we make a healthier sleeping environment? I posted in the past about mattresses and the common toxic materials they contain. I mentioned that IKEA carries some natural alternatives, and we purchased one for my toddler daughter in preparation for her big-girl bed.
We chose the SULTAN HEGGEDAL natural material spring mattress. They were a little bit pricier than a “normal” mattress, but more reasonable than some of the more “gold standard” brands. So if you’re an ecoholic on a budget like me, and in the market for a new bed – I’d go to IKEA to check out their natural options!
So – on to bedding! Before I became a little more informed on the whole living green thing, I thought that down pillows and comforters were the top of the line for bedding. So what’s the deal? Down filled pillows and comforters: feathers and down are often plucked from birds while they’re still living. Ouch. And to get them clean to go into the pillows and comforters? They get “sterilized with formaldehyde, bleached and sprayed with chemical anti-allergens” (Vasil, Ecoholic Home, p. 106). Ew! Who wants to be inhaling that while they sleep? If you can’t afford down pillows, a regular old pillow is usually filled with some kind of petroleum-based polyester. And memory foam? That really nasty polyurethane I talked about in my last post. It’s the same thing with the blankets you are covering yourself with and snuggling up under your chin. Down or polyester are the most likely fillers.
So what’s better? There are actually lots of options for pillows.
- organic cotton fill: heavy, firm pillow
- organic wool fill: fluffy pillow – either sheep wool or alpaca wool or popular options
- natural rubber: can be fluffy or firm – either shredded rubber, or rubber that’s in one piece like a memory foam pillow
- buckwheat husk fill: hardest pillow
- kapok pod fill: feels like down pillow
My daughter currently has a toddler pillow that is wool-filled in an organic cotton casing from Turn a New Leaf Designs on Etsy. I’m getting a standard size one for her when she moves to the big-girl bed! (Update: I’ve also done a review of 4 non-toxic pillows here.)
What about blankets? It seems that wool encased in organic cotton is the most popular option. I have actually decided to make my daughter a comforter like this, after seeing instructions from the River Oaks Farm & Studio blog. After doing a ton of research on what I can get (seeing as I don’t have a sheep farm and common fabric stores don’t have wool batting or organic cotton), I sourced some organic wool batting on Etsy from Bungalow Bear, and ordered some wide-width organic cotton fabric from the online store Organic Cotton Plus (from the US, but I couldn’t find any Canadian ones with wide-width fabrics). I’m also getting some organic cotton thread and additional (regular-width) fabric for pillowcases from Cedar House Fabrics on Etsy (It really is amazing what you can find on Etsy!). Read my detailed DIY here.
Other options for comforters include organic cotton or hemp fill.
What about sheets and pillowcases? I always thought – high thread count Egyptian cotton was top of the line. The cotton industry is actually pretty nasty. As Adria Vasil says, “too bad great swaths of the world’s ecosystem had to suffer thanks to water- and pesticide-heavy genetically modified cotton sucking up 25% of the world’s chemical insecticides” (Ecoholic Home, p. 110). Then there’s the human rights issue with Egyptian cotton – child labour and extreme mistreatment involved. Don’t forget about the dyes and finishes, which often contain formaldehyde (seriously, is formaldehyde in everything??). So THAT is why organic cotton with natural dyes is such a big deal! You can also go with bamboo (though it depends on how it is processed, so look for Oeko-Tex certification), organic hemp, or organic flax linen.
Lastly, bed frames. I saw some very pretty upholstered bed frames that I was very tempted by – and then remembered how anything upholstered is likely stuffed with polyurethane to make it all cushy, and then there’s the flame-retardant issue, as well as the fabric covering the foam. So that was a big NO. Solid wood furniture is all well and good – but you have to consider how it’s painted or finished. Paints, varnishes and lacquers can all be source of VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds) that you would be inhaling as you sleep. Keep an eye out for low-VOC and non-toxic finishes. Composite woods are most often bound with carcinogenic urea formaldehyde (same problem with a lot of boxsprings in my last post), so the off-gassing can be pretty gross. Not to keep pushing IKEA, but their pressed (composite) woods are very low in formaldehyde if you’re on a budget. Their solid wood choices are probably safer too, as I did some digging about their lacquers and I think they are safely non-toxic. I also found another Canadian company called South Shore furniture that makes particleboard and MDF from recycled fibres, and are ultra-low in formaldehyde.
Phew! That was a lot of information. I hope that my hours of researching will help someone else have a healthy eco-friendly bed! Tough to do on a budget – but it is possible.
Where do you get your bedding from?
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