Looking for nontoxic bedding solutions? Wondering which mattresses are safe?
Our bed is one of our biggest furniture decisions when it comes to our health. Yet the choices can be confusing and expensive. Thankfully, there are many options in a wide range of prices that can improve the quality of our sleep and overall health.
How to Choose a Safe Bed and Bedding
Keep the following parameters in mind as you weigh your options.
When possible, choose bedding that is organic. Standard mattresses are laden with petroleum-based chemicals that emit harmful volatile organic compounds. These VOCs have been linked with a range of health issues—from headaches to cancer. Children are especially vulnerable to VOCs, making organic an excellent investment for infants and toddlers.
Metal bed frames or mattresses with box springs are highly conductive. Metal, therefore, can heighten our exposure to non-ionizing electromagnetic fields (EMFs). These fields have been shown to inhibit the production of melatonin, which helps regulate and improve the quality of our sleep.
If you have a metal box spring already and are wondering how to prioritize, focus on the organic bedding. Thankfully there are lots of ways to minimize the levels of EMFs at night that don’t necessitate a new purchase. (See Sleep, Melatonin and Electronic Devices.)
Waterbeds (unless unplugged) and electric blankets present the same problem, as each emits high magnetic fields. I recommend everyone purchase a meter that measures magnetic and radiofrequency fields. Non-ionizing radiation is hidden and its effect on health subtle. A meter makes these fields visible and real. I like the Cornet Electrosmog Meter.
A mattress should be made of materials that absorb and dispel moisture without supporting mold growth. The mattress should be “breathable,” allowing air circulation and full evaporation of moisture. Less moisture means less risk of dust mites, bed bugs, as well as mold. (Read about one family’s experience with mold and foam at Happy Mothering.)
Three materials meet the mold-resistant criteria:
- Organic wool
- Organic cotton
- Natural latex
The Optimal Bed
One of the simplest forms of this bedding system is the futon. According to the book Prescriptions for a Healthy House, a futon makes for a breathable, metal-free bed:
The mattress is made of layers. One or more 1-to-4 inch thick untreated organic cotton futons are topped with a 1-to-3 inch wool futon. The layers rest on a slatted frame raised above the floor to a comfortable seating height. The cotton futon provides firm back support while the wool futon adds resilience. Varying the thickness and the number of layers will accommodate different firmness preferences.
The authors suggest airing out the futon weekly in sunlight and rotating the layers to wear the futon evenly.
A slatted wood frame allows air circulation without the conductivity of metal.
Sources of Organic Sheets and Comforters
An excellent first step is to switch out your bedding. Many of the websites featured in this post carry their own line of sheets and comforters, but the following retailers offer a variety as well.
Target offers a nice selection of organic sheets, comforters, and baby bedding. Sometimes you can find these options in stores, but the best selection can be found online. Target is one of the retailers that carries Burt’s Bees organic baby bedding. Burt’s Bees offers quilts, crib sheets, and more.
Amazon carries a wider variety than Target, with competitive prices. You’ll discover quite a few companies that specialize in organic bedding.
Bed Bath & Beyond now offers an Organic & Natural Fibers Shop. Not all options in this category are organic, but you’ll find some interesting options such as 50% cotton/50% linen sheets.
You’ll find a wide selection of baby, toddler, and adult organic bedding at Overstock. They offer some unique options including a combination wool/cotton comforter from Eco-Valley Wool.
Natural pillows come in a wide variety of shapes, sizes, and prices.
1. Organic Cotton
Cotton is pure and natural and has the ability to breathe.
Wool offers excellent moisture wicking abilities, helping maintain a mold-free pillow.
3. Natural Latex
Latex provides excellent support and lasts a long time. It absorbs moisture and breathes well.
Silk is luxurious and soft with a rich history of use. Because of its long fibers, it is one of the strongest natural fibers. It helps keep you cool in the summer and warm in the winter. Silk pillows are expensive, so a 100% silk pillowcase may be a more viable option. (Check out this Anti-Aging Pillowcase or make your own!)
5. Buckwheat or Millet Hull
Grain-filled pillows are natural and breathable, and they conform to the contours of your head, neck, and shoulders. They can be noisy (buckwheat more so than millet), so look for one with an added layer of wool to muffle the sound. A buckwheat or millet pillow is a relatively simple DIY project.
Kapok is a fiber extract taken from the seedpod of the tropical kapok tree—also called the silk-cotton tree. Kapok fiber weighs one-eighth as much as cotton, giving it a much lighter feel, and yet offers excellent support.
Where can I find natural pillows?
Check your health food store and many of the websites cited in this post. Other sources include:
Where to Find a Safe Mattress
As mentioned above, safe options include mattresses made from organic cotton, organic wool, or natural latex. Latex can be tricky, as synthetic latex is very different from naturally derived latex.
More About Latex
Natural latex is made with a milky white liquid that is extracted from a rubber tree (Hevea brasiliensis). Native to South America, rubber trees are tapped much like maple trees are tapped for maple syrup.
When you see the term blended this either means the latex was mixed with chemicals, fillers, or additives, or it means the product is a blend of synthetic and natural latex. It’s important to note that synthetic latex often uses a petroleum-based compound, SBR (carboxylated styrene butadiene copolymer), that emits a strong smell.
**Note: Look for latex that has been Global Organic Latex Standard (GOLS) certified.
Sleep on Latex – latex toppers, mattresses, pillows.
Heart of Vermont – futons, cot futons, DIY options.
Nirvana Safe Haven – DIY latex mattress, wool mattress toppers.
EcoSleep Solutions – wood futons, bed frames, wool mattresses.
BioSleep Concept – wool, affordable mattresses that use HR foam (a synthetic but low in VOCs).
PlushBeds – natural latex mattresses, toppers, and even a natural latex RV mattress.
The East Coast Organic Mattress Store – futon mattresses, baby items, organic cotton blankets.
Natural Mattress Company – pillows, sheets, mattresses
Home of Wool – wool pillows, sheets, mattresses, toppers and more
What about mattress toppers?
A natural mattress topper can be a good intermediary step when transitioning to safe bedding. Many of the websites cited above offer affordable mattress toppers.
For many years after vacating our home, we slept on air mattresses. (Read our story here.) Conventional air mattresses are not eco-friendly by any means, but fortunately they are not a magnet for moisture either. They don’t contain metal and they off-gas fairly well. Still, a plastic air mattress is not an ideal choice.
We had success with a twin-size buckwheat mattress for a couple of the kids. See DIY Buckwheat Hull Mattress.
More recently Chris and I invested in a queen-size high-quality mattress. We chose the Botanical Bliss latex mattress offered by PlushBeds. (I have no financial affiliation with this company, just an interest in sharing information.)
We bought it sight unseen after careful research. We have been happy with the firmness and comfort, and there was no chemical smell when it arrived. This video gives you a closer look.
As with most aspects of nontoxic living, transitioning to natural bedding is more of a journey than a one-time decision. With options like these, you’re sure to find something that suits your needs and budget!