Is your stylish new sheet set actually organic and non-toxic, or are you cozying up with overpriced conventional cotton dyed with toxic azo dyes? Here are the most important green certifications for bed sheets, so you can spot greenwashing in your sleep.
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Many bedding companies continue to use conventional cotton and a slew of toxic chemicals to make basic bed sheets. These are then sold with marketing materials that hype their ‘natural’ and ‘organic’ qualities, when the reality is anything but idyllic.
Right off the bat, I confess to having been prey to greenwashers. Yes, even someone who works to expose greenwashing slipped up and forgot to check a certification. That was for a set of pack ‘n’ play crib sheets, which were sold as ‘organic cotton’ with a GOTS logo on the box and product listing but arrived with no such logo on the sheets themselves.
Were they actually made with organic cotton? Nope. Did I report the company to GOTS? You betcha. Does the company still list the sheets are GOTS organic? No. Does that help me sleep better at night? Maybe, a little.
Why do I tell you this? Because:
- Sleep deprivation is real for new parents
- You (and I) can learn from my failure.
Certifications matter when it comes to bed sheets. After all, you’re tangled up with them night after night for years of your life.
Here are the most important certifications to look for when buying bed sheets, with tips on when it’s essential to check for the labels on a product and not just on the product marketing.
Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS)
GOTS requires that at least 95 percent of all fibers in a sheet are certified organic. This program also prohibits outright the mixing of organic with non-organic fibers, meaning you won’t see this certification on sheets made with a blend of conventional and organic cotton.
GOTS also prohibits the use of certain substances in the remaining 5 percent of materials. This means that bed sheets with a GOTS logo on them should not contain:
- Hazardous chemical flame retardants
- Azo dyes
- Regulated phthalates
- Polyurethane, the chief ingredient of memory foam
- Conventional cotton and associated pesticides.
I always look for the GOTS logo and ID number on the product listing and check it at the GOTS website before I hand over any money.
Make sure the GOTS certificate covers the exact bedding you’re thinking about buying, not just other bedding in the company’s collection.
When the sheets arrive, look right away for the GOTS label attached to the sheets themselves. If it’s not on the sheets, shams, or duvet cover, you may have been subject to greenwashing.
You’re unlikely to see GOTS certification on hemp or linen sheets. This isn’t because these fibers are not grown organically. Quite the opposite, in fact. Because almost all hemp and flax is grown on smaller farms without the need for pesticides or artificial fertilizers, very few farmers invest in GOTS or other organic certification programs.
Some exceptions include where these crops are grown on fields also used to grow certified organic food crops. Because the fields must remain organically cultivated at all times, this means the hemp and linen are, by proxy, also organic.
All in all, while it’s vital to look for assurance that organic cotton is genuinely organic, it’s not necessary to do the same for hemp or linen.
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Organic certification has similar criteria to GOTS. To qualify, sheets have to contain a minimum of 95 percent certified organic materials and avoid the use of a long list of harmful chemicals during manufacture.
The remaining 5 percent of materials also cannot include non-organic fibers. This means that manufacturers can’t make bed sheets using a blend of organic and conventional cotton, for instance.
USDA Organic has two tiers of organics labelling, however. If sheets are labeled 100% organic with USDA certification, they have to be made purely of organic fibers using only organic processing chemicals. If sheets are labeled as ‘made with organic materials’, they have to contain 70% organic materials at minimum.
Note, too, that while USDA Organic only used to apply to raw materials, it now covers the entire finished product. The program also encompasses elements such as water conservation and biodiversity, but it doesn’t have a social component, unlike GOTS.
You won’t usually see eco-INSTITUT certification for bed sheets made with natural and organic fibers, given that this organization focuses on a product’s chemical composition and emissions. However, if you find sheets made with semi-synthetic materials such as bamboo or eucalyptus, you may want to check for the eco-INSTITUT logo on the product label.
eco-INSTITUT is German and is an independent organization like MadeSafe. The big difference, though, is that eco-INSTITUT actually tests products at its many laboratories worldwide. This makes it more like OEKO-Tex, although eco-INSTITUT certification has stricter standards than both Oeko-Tex and Greenguard Gold.
This seal certifies that sheets have no or low levels of:
- POPs (persistent organic pollutants)
- Heavy metals (such as lead, antimony, cobalt, copper, and mercury)
- Pesticides (such as Captafal, Perthan, Permethrin, Telodrin, and Toxaphen)
You may see an eco-INSTITUT label on bed sheets, but it doesn’t legally have to be present for products to be genuinely certified. Certifications are valid for two years, after which products undergo another round of tests. You can check the validity of an eco-INSTITUT certificate at the following website.
MadeSafe is an increasingly popular non-toxic certification for bedding. This independent certification program is run by a non-profit organization with an extensive list of banned chemicals (more than 6,500 currently). Products that achieve certification cannot contain:
- Heavy metals
- Hazardous flame retardants
- Toxic solvents
The program also aims to certify products as being free of:
- Behavioral toxins
- Developmental toxins
- Endocrine disruptors
- Reproductive toxins.
The caveat, though, is that certification relies on companies being transparent about the materials and processes they use to make products like bed sheets. Unlike eco-INSTITUT and OEKO-Tex, MadeSafe™ doesn’t actually test products itself. Instead, it checks off the companies’ lists of materials and chemicals against its banned list.
In addition to relying on companies being honest, MadeSafe certification is only as good as the security of a company’s supply chain. Otherwise, materials and processes can be contaminated without the company knowing.
MadeSafe also lacks any social or environmental requirements, which means it’s best paired with GOTS, Fair Trade, and other schemes.
Made in Green by Oeko-Tex (and Standard 100)
Made in Green by Oeko-Tex is a newer certification program that takes all the good things about Oeko-Tex Standard 100 and adds in environmental and social components to make it closer to a GOTS certificate just without the organic element.
I used to spend hours searching for products with the elusive OEKO-Tex Standard 1000, but it seems this has been absorbed into the Made in Green program and no longer exists by itself.
OEKO-Tex Standard 100 awards products tested and found to be within limits for VOCs such as formaldehyde, as well as heavy metals, pesticides, phthalates, and other hazardous materials and chemicals. The standard also outright bans the use of:
- Certain chemical flame retardants
- Carcinogenic colorants (namely azo dyes)
- Allergenic dyes
- Chlorinated phenols.
Building on Standard 100, Made in Green by OEKO-Tex is for bed sheets that are “manufactured using environmentally friendly processes and under socially responsible working conditions”. Companies must make qualifying sheets in facilities certified as sustainable by STeP by OEKO-TEX®. This scheme includes the whole textile production chain and outlines ecological and social standards.
As I noted earlier, Made in Green isn’t an organic certification but it does share some similarities with GOTS. In general, this is a good certification to look for if you’re buying sheets that aren’t certified organic but where you still want to know the company cares about safety and sustainability.
Unlike GOTS, Made in Green by OEKO-Tex seems to be much more robust in terms of tracking and transparency, using printed QR codes on product labels, so you can easily scan your sheets to find out how and where it was made.
bluesign® and Greenguard Gold
You’re most likely to see a bluesign® or Greenguard Gold logo on bed sheets made with recycled or semi-synthetic materials.
bluesign is a Swiss certification program that focuses on the use of toxic chemicals across the supply chain. It also covers overall environmental impact, water use, and worker safety. To qualify, bed sheets must undergo testing at bluesign labs.
Greenguard Gold is a certification standard that also puts sheets through a battery of tests, this time for VOC off-gassing and a variety of toxic chemicals. Greenguard Gold has stricter limits on chemicals than Greenguard, so check labels carefully (and check the certification ID is valid).
It’s unlikely you’ll see either of these logos on sheets made with natural materials, so if you do spot them, treat this as a sign that the product is safe but synthetic. Neither scheme has robust social or ethical components beyond toxicity.
Fair Trade USA
Some bedding companies make sheets in factories with Fair Trade certification. This offers an independent guarantee that disadvantaged producers in the developing world are getting a better deal.
Companies that carry the Fair Trade logo must undergo inspection by Fair Trade USA. Any crops, such as cotton, linen, or hemp, that go into bed sheets 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.
A handful of companies carry Nest certified bedding products, but it’s very hard to track these down. This is because while Nest is similar to Fair Trade certification, it focuses on home-based, independent artisans (who are all too often exploited by big business) making one of a kind or very limited edition goods.
Like Fair Trade, the Nest certification program sets standards for labor conditions. Most of the providers certified through Nest are women, who form a majority of the 300 million or so ‘homeworkers’ estimated to be active globally.
There’s no central product catalog for Nest bedding products. Instead, you may see this seal pop up on special collections from bedding companies from time to time.
Certified B Corporation
Certified B Corporations (B Corps) are companies that use the power of business to solve social and environmental problems. Several bed sheet manufacturers are now B Corps with excellent B Scores and many years of improvement in social impact.
B Corp Certification demonstrates that a company adheres to rigorous standards of social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency. This includes how a company’s practices and products impact employees, community, the environment, and customers.
Final thoughts on certifications for bed sheets
There are thousands of choices for bed sheets out there, but only a handful of companies have taken the extra step of getting certified by the organizations above. The most important certifications for bed sheets will depend on the kinds of sheets you choose.
For cotton sheets, definitely look for an organic certification. Ideally this will be GOTS or USDA Organic.
For hemp or linen sheets, don’t waste your time looking for GOTS or USDA Organic. Instead, focus on finding sheets made by a Climate Neutral Certified Benefit Corporation (B Corp) or company with longstanding Fair Trade status.
Many bedding companies are now B Corps which aim to make products and do business in a way that has a positive impact on local and global communities.
If you’re looking for sheets made with bamboo or eucalyptus fibers, you won’t find any with GOTS certification. Instead, look for bluesign, Made in Green by OEKO-Tex, or OEKO-Tex Standard 100, or eco-INSTITUT or MadeSafe certification. These offers a degree of assurance that the sheets aren’t made with the most egregious toxic chemicals.
Finally, if you’re looking for sheets made with recycled materials, check to see if a product has GRS certification. This stands for Global Recycled Standard and is one way to be sure the product isn’t just being greenwashed when it’s actually made with virgin fibers.