Bedding seems simple but it can be a real challenge to choose sheets, pillows, and a comforter that work together to create a restful sleep space. Bedding 101 can help you learn how to spot genuinely non-toxic, sustainable bedding, which materials are best for your bedding needs, and which bedding certifications really matter.
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Harmful chemicals in bedding
Just like mattresses, couches, and many other household products, bedding can contain a plethora of undesirable chemicals.
These can include:
- Polyfoam or memory foam in pillows
- Virgin synthetic fibers and fills for sheets, duvets, and pillows
- Carcinogenic azo dyes
- Chlorine bleach and other harsh chemical cleaning agents
- Chemical flame retardants and stain repellents
- Antimicrobial treatments that are bad for you and the environment
- Anti-wrinkle or anti-static chemical treatments.
Sheets might seem innocuous, but the negative health effects of chemically treated or synthetic bedding can really add up. After all, you’re exposed to these products night after night, often for many years.
It’s not just your health that matters either; toxic chemicals in bedding also harm:
- Workers making bedding products
- Local communities near textile factories
- Other members of your household exposed to bedding
- Anyone who breathes in household dust laced with chemicals
- Your local environment, whenever you wash and dry bedding.
Synthetic bedding also has an outsize impact on the planet. Compared to organic natural fibers, fossil fuel-based bedding, i.e., polyester, polyurethane, and ‘microfiber’:
- Use more resources, including water and energy
- Contribute more to climate change
- Create microplastic pollution
- Create air pollution
- Don’t biodegrade.
It’s not just synthetic bedding that harms people and the planet. Conventional cotton, wool, and bamboo fibers have their own set of problems, including the rampant use of pesticides, bleaching agents, harsh cleaning agents, chemical dyes, and more.
What’s the alternative to synthetic and conventional bedding materials? Natural, organic, sustainable textile fibers.
Natural bedding materials
Skipping the synthetics helps to narrow the choice when it comes to bedding. There’s still a lot to decide, though, before you hone in the perfect sheet set, duvet cover, or pillow.
The biggest choice is often which natural materials you want to create your perfect sleep space. Some of the best natural (ideally organic) materials for bedding include:
- Buckwheat and millet.
Other materials worth considering for non-toxic bedding include recycled down, silk, and bamboo, although this depends on their source and how they’re processed.
Each natural material has advantages and disadvantages for bedding. Some natural materials sleep cool, while some create a cozier environment. Some are naturally moisture-wicking or water-resistant, while some are very absorbent and naturally antibacterial.
To help you make the best choice for your needs and circumstances, we offer a series of in-depth guides to different bedding materials for:
- Mattress protectors and pads.
And, lest you think we’re asleep on the job, we also scrutinize certifications and ask…
Are those sheets really sustainable and non-toxic?
If you’re trying to avoid toxic chemicals and synthetic materials in your bedding, you need to be certain of what’s actually in the products you buy. This means finding a reputable company that understands the issues and genuinely cares about protecting people and the environment.
Green certifications provide assurance that bedding is actually non-toxic and eco-friendly. Not all certifications are the same, though, and some are nothing more than industry greenwashing.
What you want to look for is bedding that carries at least one, if not both of the following certifications:
- GOTS / GOLS
Other key certifications that suggest a product is more sustainably and ethically made include:
- B Corp.
Other certifications, such as OEKO-Tex and Greenguard Gold, are also common in bedding. While these are a good start, they’re not sufficient to show that a product is totally non-toxic, natural, and sustainable.
Watch out, too, for companies that use devious marketing practices to imply that a product is certified when it actually isn’t. We offer the lowdown on credible third-party certifications for non-toxic bedding here, including what to look for and why the location of a logo matters.
Choosing the right bedding for you
If you’re at a place in life where you can ponder your choice of pillow, there’s a lot to consider. As well as materials and certifications, you’ll want to think about pillow design, fill factor, and care and maintenance. The same attention to detail also applies when selecting sheets, pillowcases, duvets, and duvet covers.
Some sheets are a poor choice if you sleep hot, for instance, while others work well regardless of sleep style. Similarly, some pillows are a poor choice for stomach-sleepers but great for side-sleepers.
If you live somewhere with very cold winters and very hot summers, you may also find it helpful to choose your sheets to match the season. And if you’re prone to allergies, some bedding materials are much better than others for keeping symptoms at bay.
Making smart choices now can save you time, money, and lost sleep. That’s why we’ve put together thoughtful recommendations for bedding based on specific needs.
Check out our in-depth guides to every part of your sleep set-up, including:
- Comforters and duvets
- Duvet covers
- Mattress protector pads and waterproof covers