Finding Inexpensive Non-Toxic Bedding

by Justin Thomas •

Update 2016: See my updated article on non-toxic bedding.

We spend about one third of our lives in bed. It’s a time when our body regenerates itself. We release about 3 liters of water while we sleep, and our bodies go through cycles of cooling down and heating up. We also absorb substances through our skin and through our lungs. So keeping one’s bed toxin-free is optimal.

To create a non-toxic bed we must ensure that the mattress, pillows and sheets are free of toxins. Unfortunately, in the U.S. it is quite difficult to acquire a non-toxic bed without a lot of searching and expense (a recent article in the New York Times explains the tangled situation). So here’s a guide to finding a inexpensive, chemical-free bed:

Specifically, the aim here is to avoid:

  • Fire-retardant chemicals (PBDE)
  • Formaldehyde
  • Boric acid
  • Toxic dyes
  • Bleaches
  • Pesticides & herbicides

Most conventional bedding contains many of these contaminants. Unfortunately, some chemicals even put there deliberately, such as the fire-retardant chemical “Polybrominated Diphenal Ether” or PBDE. To buy a mattress in the U.S. that is free of the PDBE, you still need permission from a doctor. This is despite the fact that PBDE has been banned by Europe, Canada, California and Washington.

It’s also a good idea to avoid synthetic materials. Natural fibers allow for changes in body temperature, because they do not reflect heat and because they can absorb moisture.

The rationale for choosing chemical-free, organic bedding can be found in book Toxic Bedrooms: Your Guide To A Safe Night’s Sleep (this book is a great source of information). See also the activist website People For Clean Beds.

Here’s my recommended bedding materials:

Let’s break it down:

Organic Mattresses

latex organic mattress

Natural Latex Mattresses: 100% Latex Mattress

The key here is to choose an organic material, free of toxins and able to absorb moisture. Organic mattresses are commonly made with organic cotton, organic wool or 100% natural latex.

I think natural latex is the optimal mattress material, in terms of price and durability. Latex has natural antimicrobial properties that resist dust mites and other allergens, and it’s mold and mildew resistant. Unfortunately, the word “latex” has also been used to describe synthetic latex,which is derived from petroleum.

Natural latex is the milky sap of the rubber tree. It is mostly harvested in South East Asia, where trees are tapped for latex by cutting a groove in the bark of the tree. It is a renewable process — each tree can produce latex for 20 years. Latex requires little energy to process and it’s 100% biodegradable.

Natural Latex Mattress: Non-Toxic

Latex is a yielding but highly resilient material. Latex mattresses do not require flipping or turning, and last around 15 years.

The best prices I’ve seen for a natural latex mattress are the ErgoSoft natural latex mattress toppers. You can find a 4″ Latex Mattress Topper for about $510 for a Queen size and $630 for a King Size.

ErgoSoft mattress toppers are not certified organic. However, the manufacturer (a company in Sri Lanka) says the mattresses are “100% natural latex, free of glues, petrochemicals, and industrial additives”.

You can find organic latex mattress at The Latex Mattress Company (the best prices we’ve found) and LifeKind (this company’s entire operation is certified organic). You can also find good, inexpensive organic cotton mattresses at Soaring Heart — I purchased my first organic mattress from this company.

Organic Sheets

Organic Cotton Sheets

It’s particularly important to find non-toxic sheets since they are in direct contact with your skin while you sleep. Optimal materials here are: organic cotton, organic flannel or organic linen and hemp. To really minimize chemical exposure, you can opt for undyed sheets, because the “low-impact” dyes commonly used on organic sheets involve some kind of chemical processing.

Organic Pillows

Natural Latex Pillow

Natural latex is also my recommended material for a pillow. Natural latex pillows are springy and soft — their texture is supple and skin-like. You can expect a natural latex pillow to hold its shape and retain it springiness for 15 years or more. The pillows don’t require cleaning or fluffing like feather pillows.

You can find natural latex pillows at Amazon.

Organic Comforters

Organic Comforter

In my opinion, organic wool is the best filling material for an organic comforter. Organic wool is more hypoallergenic and breathable than down. I also think organic wool has an edge over organic kapok, because it is better at regulating temperature.

Organic comforters are available on Amazon.

Comments 15

  1. I am so confused about all the different information about a natural mattress. All of the discussions regarding organic or natural latex is very confusing. Latex is natural but it has to undergo a tremendous amount of processing in order to make it useful. Most of the processing includes a lot of harmful chemicals. So why is everyone recommending latex.

    1. I wrote this article a while ago. I just bought a mattress from SavvyRest. Here’s how they explain the advantages of latex:

      The primary difference between natural latex and synthetic foams, including memory foam, is that true natural latex foam is 95% (or greater) pure rubber, derived from the sap, or serum, of the rubber tree. It contains no chemical flame retardants and minimal additives (only what is necessary to process rubber serum into foam). Natural latex is comfortable, responsive, durable, and more breathable than any synthetic foam.

      See this page for more information.

  2. Just because sheets say “organic” does not necessarily mean they haven’t been treated with formaldehyde or something in another phase of the production. The cotton they came from might not have been treated with pesticides but that’s all we get from the label unless they go further and state “non-toxic” or something. I am finding this very frustrating as I am currently looking for non-toxic and affordable bedding in a less popular size (California King).

      1. I tried wool from a company and ended up with something that smelled like manure and seeped brown stuff when I wiped it down. They wouldn’t replace it or anything. I am now sleeping on the floor, and I’m no longer confident in that option. I too have skin allergies, are there any affordable options?

        1. Have to tried a natural latex topper? When I was on a budget, I found that enough to sleep on.

  3. When you consider buy Organic bedding you should consider Raw Material – The choice here is between using energy saving recycled materials or to manufacture biodegradable fibers. If there is a naturally grown fiber available, it must be a rapidly renewable resource and have the ability to grow with minimal chemical use (sound familiar?).

    The Process – In preparing the raw material for use, there are a series of steps taken. From yarn-dying and spinning to the weaving and finishing of fabric, there should be no harmful chemicals involved. Additionally, the manufacturing facility must comply with environmental protection laws governing energy conservation, water treatment and chemical regulation.

    Facility and Social Responsibility – Taking in the human factor, this criterion demands that manufacturers comply with fundamental human rights laws for improved working conditions. Also, manufacturers must initiate programs to promote green policies which can include recycling programs, using air quality improvement devices and educating employees on green consciousness.

    Happy and healthy purchase!

  4. Thanks so much for this great article! I’m just getting into organic bedding and this was a really helpful breakdown of all the different possibilities and considerations. Thanks especially for the links for good prices on latex mattresses.


  5. That was a good breakdown, thanks! I sleep on a Natural Latex Mattress with pure wool topping and organic cotton cover. It was a great price too because I bought from the factory in North Vancouver BC. I think it was called Flexwood (Near Rona). Great mattress.

    Also check out mattressrecycling.ca who recycles mattresses and deal with the crappy toxic ones every day. They cut them apart and recycle them.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *