Green sheets are an excellent choice for a calm, contemplative atmosphere in your bedroom. But what if you want crisp white sheets, or racy red sheets? Can these also be green? It might sound nonsensical, but, thanks to a whole host of companies who care about the environment and human health, there are now plenty of green certifications for bed sheets, whatever their color.
In this article in my series on eco-friendly bed sheets, I’ll take a look at the most pertinent green certifications for this particular household textile. There are around 100 international standards and eco-labels for textiles, which can make it hard to figure out which ones are helpful when choosing new sheets. The reality is, however, that only a handful of these certifications assess both the final product and the manufacturing process as a whole.
So, to help you figure out the right eco-friendly sheets for your needs, here are some of the most robust green certifications for bed sheets. These certifications provide a greater degree of reassurance not just of quality but also for environmental and ethical standards, including:
- Growing conditions for raw materials
- Safe, non-toxic manufacturing processes
- Fair working conditions
- Non-human animal welfare
- Overall social and environmental impact overall
Let’s start with one of the key logos you’ll want to look for when buying new bed sheets: GOTS.
Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS)
The Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) requires that at least 95 percent of the materials in a product are certified organic. This standard also prohibits outright the use of certain substances, including in the 5 percent of potentially non-organic certified materials. Prohibited substances include chemical flame retardants and harmful azo dyes.
GOTS is the leading organization for organic textiles, covering clothing, bed sheets, and even tampons and sanitary pads. It is easily one of the best labels to look for on bed sheets as a marker of quality and commitment to sustainability and eco-friendliness. That’s because, in addition to certifying products to a fairly robust organic standard, GOTS also protects workers’ rights and ensures that employment is voluntary, working conditions are safe, fair wages are paid, and no child labor is ever used.
Global Organic Latex Standard (GOLS)
The Global Organic Latex Standard (GOLS) applies only to products made with natural rubber (latex). Yes, some bed sheets are made with latex, for a variety of reasons (you do you, as far as I’m concerned).
GOLS ensures that any bed sheets or other products made with latex contain at least 95 percent organic latex, with restrictions on the make-up of the other 5 percent. The Fair Rubber Association (see below) also offers a certification program for latex products such as latex bed sheets.
Oeko-Tex Standard 100
Oeko-Tex is a testing, auditing and certification system for production sites throughout the textile processing chain. Oeko-Tex Standard 100 lays out limits for the emission of harmful chemicals such as formaldehyde and other volatile organic compounds (VOCs). It also outright bans the use of certain chemical flame retardants, colorants, and allergenic dyes, but it doesn’t offer any guidance on whether materials are organic or sustainably sourced.
Oeko-Tex labelling can also be a bit confusing for some products because it’s not always clear if an entire product or just a single component is certified. For bed sheets, chances are that if the sheets carry an Oeko-Tex label, the entire sheet adheres to the Oeko-Tex standard. But, for a duvet, for instance, only the cover might be certified, while the filling could fall short of the standard.
The certification process for Oeko-Tex is fairly robust and includes testing for a variety of hazardous chemicals, pesticides, phthalates, lead, arsenic, and other heavy metals. If sheets carry this certification, they have been tested and found to contain no:
- Chlorinated phenols
- Carcinogenic dyes
- AZO dyes
- Allergy inducing dyes
The Oeko-Tex Standard 100 Certification is voluntary and must be updated each year in order to remain active. If you encounter an Oeko-Tex 100 logo on bed sheets without other, more robust, certifications, ask the company for more information.
Oeko-Tex Standard 1000
That’s right, Oeko-Tex also offer a more robust Oeko-Tex Standard 1000, which, unlike the 100 standard, requires proof that a company meets additional social standards as well as more exacting environmental standards. These standards cover:
- The use of environmentally-damaging chemicals, auxiliaries and dyestuffs
- Compliance with standard values for waste water and exhaust air
- Optimization of energy consumption
- Avoidance of noise and dust pollution
- Workplace safety measures
- Child labor
- Basic elements of an environmental management system
- The existence of a quality management system
Unfortunately, I’m yet to find any bed sheets that are certified to Oeko-Tex Standard 1000. This may be, in part, because companies interested in such certification have already paid for and embraced certifications such as GOTS, Fair Trade, SA 8000, Nest, and others.
General Green Certifications
In the US, Greenguard and Green America are two of the most common green certifications. These standards are used across numerous industries and have very similar labels but certify different things. Greenguard and Greenguard Gold tend not to apply to bed sheets and are more relevant for mattresses, pillows, and other larger items.
Green America certifies businesses that actively use their business as a tool for positive social change. To be certified with Green America a business must also:
- Operate a “values-driven” enterprise according to principles of social justice AND environmental sustainability;
- Demonstrate environmentally responsible practices in the way they source, manufacture, and market their products and run their operations and facilities;
- Be socially equitable and committed to extraordinary practices that benefit workers, customers, communities, and the environment; and
- Be accountable for their work by continually improving and tracking their progress and operating with transparency in every facet of their business
Green America has been evaluating and certifying small businesses since 1982 and has worked with companies producing bed sheets, such as Holy Lamb Organics and PlushBeds.
The Green America Gold certification is reserved for companies who are industry leaders for responsible, sustainable business practices. Holy Lamb Organics is Green America Gold Certified.
Some bed sheets sold in the U.S. state that they are ISO-certified, which is misleading at worst and incorrect at best. If a company says its bed sheets are ‘ISO-certified’ but don’t detail a specific standard, ask for more details. Why? Because there is no such thing as ISO certification for bed sheets.
Rather, the ISO (International Organization for Standardization) creates standards which are then used by other organizations (such as Health Canada and the US Food and Drug Administration) to confer certification. ISO management systems are recognized and practiced in over 160 countries around the world.
Some standards are industry-specific, but many of the most popular standards are generic, meaning that companies can implement these standards no matter what product or service they provide. These are some of the most relevant standards you might want to look for when buying bed sheets:
- The ISO 9000 series – quality management
- The ISO 14000 series – environmental management
- ISO 50001:2011 – energy efficiency
- ISO 26000 – social responsibility
- ISO 10993 – product health and safety
- ISO 14021 – standards for environmental claims made by a company
It’s great to see more companies citing ISO standards, particularly those dealing with environmental stewardship, as this can offer an indication that the company genuinely cares about being eco-friendly. That said, these standards don’t certify that any particular set of bed sheets is green, so you’ll also want to look for green certifications alongside ISO numbers.
California Prop 65
California’s Prop 65 is a state-administered program intended to reduce exposure to toxic, problematic compounds in consumer goods and in drinking water. The program requires that products sold in California carry appropriate warnings if they could expose people to any of the more than 900 problematic chemicals known to cause cancer, birth defects, and/or reproductive health problems. Prop 65 also requires that businesses operating in the state take steps to avoid polluting the environment with any of these toxins.
It seems odd to think that your bed sheets could contain lead, nickel, other heavy metals, or toxic chemicals but you’d be surprised at some of the Health Hazards of Household Textiles. For instance, sheets colored with azo dyes might warrant a Prop 65 warning if intended to be sold in California. That’s because azo dyes may contain one or more of 20 carcinogenic amines listed under California’s Proposition 65.
The penalties for not complying with Proposition 65 are high, which means that most companies label their products with a Prop 65 Warning. This doesn’t actually mean that the product is problematic, though, as companies err on the side of caution to avoid fines.
Prop 65 is similar in some regards to the European Union’s REACH and ROHS initiatives and is an excellent marker for safety to look for when choosing between products, especially if you’re buying sheets that are dyed, bleached, or made with synthetic materials (including bamboo viscose or rayon).
USDA Organic and OTCO
If you’re buying bed sheets made with cotton, it’s always best to go organic, for reasons I explain here. This means knowing which organic certifications you can trust in the US, as many products that claim ‘organic’ status are not actually certified to any meaningful standard, if at all.
The main standards by which a product is certified organic are laid out by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA). Other organic standards include the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS), and the Global Organic Latex Standard (GOLS), which I’ve mentioned above.
Oregon Tilth certify products and businesses to USDA Organic standards, GOTS, and to other industry standards depending on the nature of the product or operations. As such, Oregon Tilth is not a certification in itself but is, rather, the body that certifies goods to standards laid out by other organizations.
If you see the Oregon Tilth Certified Organic (OTCO) logo on bed sheets, that offers assurance that Oregon Tilth has certified the product to USDA Organic standards. If the company just displays an Oregon Tilth logo, however, without the OTCO logo or certificate, be wary as this might not mean much at all.
While organic standards vary for different crops and products, for most products to be certified organic, the company must demonstrate that they are protecting natural resources, conserving biodiversity, and using only approved substances. In most cases, USDA certified organic products are free from most synthetic pesticides and fertilizers, sewage sludge, irradiation, and genetic engineered/modified organisms (GMOs).
For a bed sheet to qualify for the USDA Organic certification, it must contain a minimum of 95 percent certified organic materials and be processed without potentially harmful chemicals. Similar ‘whole-product/process’ standards apply for GOTS and GOLS.
It is particularly important to look for USDA Organic (or GOTS, OTCO, or other meaningful certification) when choosing bed sheets made with cotton. Conventional cotton growing uses up vast amounts of energy and resources and involves the liberal application of herbicides, pesticides, and insecticides. If a cotton product just says ‘organic’ or ‘natural’, this is not certified organic and is more likely to contain these toxins.
For other textiles, USDA organic certification is arguably less important and not always available. For instance, raw materials such as hemp and flax don’t typically require the use of herbicides, pesticides, or insecticides for growth. So, rather than look for USDA certification on these products, you’re better off scrutinizing a company for fair working practices, corporate social responsibility, and overall safety and toxicity.
It’s also important to note that while a product may be made with organic raw materials, these materials may be sprayed or dyed with toxic chemicals to produce the final product. To qualify for USDA Certified Organic status, the bed sheets as a finished product must meet strict criteria, not just the raw materials.
So, if a company claims their sheets are made with organic materials but aren’t certified organic, make a point of finding out if the company uses any hazardous materials or processes. One good way of doing this is to check for compliance with California’s Prop 65 or certification from Oeko-Tex.
Some bedding companies, such as West Elm, Boll & Branch, Lily & Mortimer, and Ara, make goods in factories that are Fair Trade Certified. This certification offers an independent guarantee that disadvantaged producers in the developing world are getting a better deal. For bed sheets to be awarded this mark they have to be inspected by Fair Trade USA, and any crops, such as cotton, linen, or hemp, must be grown and harvested in accordance with the fair trade standards set by Fair Trade USA. Some of the supply chains are also monitored by FLO-CERT to ensure the integrity of labelled products.
The Fair Trade Certified Mark was introduced into the US market by TransFair USA in 1998 and is essentially the North American equivalent of the International Fairtrade Certification Mark used in Europe, Africa, Asia, Australia and New Zealand.
Fair Rubber Association and QUL
The Fair Rubber Association expands the concept of Fair Trade to products made from natural rubber. The Fair Rubber Association’s aim is to promote improvements in working and living conditions of those producing goods made from natural latex (rubber), and to promote environmentally-friendly rubber production that is chemical-free. The Fair Rubber logo is reserved for products which fulfill the criteria of Fair Trade in natural rubber.
If you’re considering buying bed sheets made with rubber, look for at least one of the following certifications: GOLS, QUL, and/or Fair Rubber Association. It is extremely difficult to differentiate between natural rubber latex and synthetic latex, which is a toxic petroleum-based product. Many products advertised as natural contain only a small amount of natural rubber mixed in with synthetic or recycled rubber.
The QUL seal was created in 1994 to protect the term ‘natural latex’ and help differentiate natural latex from synthetic latex mattresses. Since 1997, QUL (quality association for environmentally-agreeable latex mattresses e.V.) has been extended to cover a range of natural latex products, including bed sheets to cover those mattresses. Now, QUL certifies that products are free from VOCs, heavy metals, pesticides, nitrosamines, and pentachlorophenol.
SA 8000 (Social Accountability Certification)
The SA8000 Standard is the leading social certification standard for factories and organizations across the globe. It was established in 1997 by Social Accountability International, involving multiple stakeholders and has developed into a comprehensive framework that helps certified organizations demonstrate their dedication to the fair treatment of workers across industries and in any country.
SA8000 offers guidelines for decent working conditions, based on global workplace norms of the International Labor Organization (ILO), the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. While a product itself is unlikely to carry SA8000 certification, it’s a good idea to ask if the company making that product ensures that the factories producing their goods are SA8000 certified.
Certified B Corporation
Certified B Corporations (B Corps) are companies that use the power of business to solve social and environmental problems. Savvy Rest are one of the few certified B Corps making eco-friendly bed sheets. Check out my review of Savvy Rest Bedding here.
B Corp Certification demonstrates that a company adheres to rigorous standards of social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency, including how a company’s practices and products impact employees, community, the environment, and customers.
Before I wrap things up, I want to mention three certification programs that haven’t yet gotten a foothold in the market for bed sheets but that are worth looking out for nonetheless. It’s also worth mentioning that there is currently no green certification for silk sheets, making it hard to know if ‘ethical’ silk really is ethical.
The Eco Institute is an independent organization with more than 25 years of experience testing products for the presence of pollutants and emissions, even in trace amounts. If bed sheets are Eco-INSTITUT certified, you can be assured that they don’t contain even trace amounts of hazardous chemicals and will not off-gas undesirable chemicals and odors while you sleep.
Some of the chemicals the Eco-Institute certification rules out include volatile organic compounds (VOCs), phthalates, formaldehyde, pesticides, heavy metals, and persistent organic pollutants.
So far, I’ve yet to track down any bed sheets for sale in the US that are Eco-Institut certified. If you spot any, let me know!
Cradle to Cradle Certification
Cradle to Cradle is one of the best eco certification programs around but is yet to gain traction in many industries, including in bedding. To date, only two companies (Mary Rose and Lomotex) are listed as Cradle to Cradle certified for bed sheets, and neither sell direct to the public.
A growing number of companies carry Nest standard products. Nest is similar to Fair Trade certification, but while Fair Trade ensures that factory, farm and fishery workers are treated ethically, Nest sets standards for labor conditions for artisans worldwide who work out of their homes. This impacts female artisans in particular as women form a majority of the 300 million or so ‘homeworkers’ estimated to be active globally. So far, I’m yet to find any bed sheets with Nest certification. As always, if you know of any, please let me know.
As with many of the products we review at Leaf Score, smaller companies may not have the funds to cover the cost of certification, or they may be exempt from certain regulations. California’s Prop 65, for instance, does not apply to businesses employing fewer than 10 people. In cases where independent certification is not available, you might want to ask for a formal statement signed by senior company officials on the possible toxicity and safety of products.
If a company doesn’t provide details of how they source their raw materials, their use of chemicals during manufacture, or other relevant considerations, ask. This might mean emailing, calling, or writing to the company with specific questions about certifications and processes. If the company makes products that are eco-friendly, they are very likely to respond with enthusiasm. And, if they don’t, the more of us who ask these questions, the more likely a company is to feel pressure to change their practices.