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)
- Boric acid
- Toxic dyes
- 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:
- An Organic or Natural Latex Mattress
- Organic Pillows
- Organic Cotton, Linen or Hemp Sheets
- Organic Duvet/Comforters
Let’s break it down:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.