Smart ways to create a healthy non-toxic bedroom, reduce exposure to pollutants, and improve the quality of your sleep!
This post is part of the “Healthy Home” series on Abra’s Kitchen and is brought to you in partnership with Avocado Green Mattress.
The healthy home series is dedicated to expanding wellness beyond the kitchen. Focusing on my favorite sustainable, environmentally friendly, green living, and organic resources. I found it fitting to publish the first edition on Earth Day 🙂
Last November I sat in a room with 500 other functional nutrition practitioners listening to the top scientists in the field of environmental medicine present their research on toxicant exposure and its impact on our health.
I left the conference feeling slightly overwhelmed but mostly invigorated to expand my own understanding of how the environment is impacting my life, my space, and, most importantly, my health. There was a very clear through-line message in the conference, the most effective intervention we have is to reduce exposure.
With that in mind, this is the first post in a series exploring exactly what changes we can make in our lives and our homes to reduce exposure to dangerous toxicants.
Starting with the bedroom.
SLEEP, MY ONE TRUE LOVE
Without quality sleep, we can not have good health. Sleep is a foundational pillar of wellness.
In my private nutrition practice, I have seen the impact of poor sleep on the overall health of my clients.
In my own personal journey to wellness, I have made a real effort to honor and prioritize sleep by creating a space, a bedroom, that is conducive to good sleep. My hope is that you will walk away from this post with a few actionable do-able, tips, and tools to create your own bedroom sanctuary for a healthy night's sleep.
WHY DOES A NON-TOXIC BEDROOM MATTER?
I was dismayed to learn how polluted the air in our homes can be. In fact, according to the US Environmental Protection Agency “Indoor air can be 5x more polluted than outdoor air.”
I live in New York City, it is abundantly clear when walking on a congested street that the air quality is poor, to think that it can be 5x worse inside my apartment is terrifying.
Of all the rooms in your house, the bedroom is the space you ultimately spend the most time in. Eight hours a night (ideally) night after night. Your bedroom is also the room that can have high levels of chemicals that could be harming your health.
Chemicals that have off-gassed from your mattress, carpet, furniture, and paint. Chemicals that are sprayed in the air from cleaning products, and chemicals that are present in the dust that has accumulated in that hard to reach corner.
WHAT CHEMICALS SPECIFICALLY ARE WE EXPOSED TO IN THE BEDROOM?
Chemically treated materials that are commonly used in our manufacturing and building processes release toxic chemicals that contaminate our air, food, water, and environment via the process of volatilization, or “off-gassing.”
Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) are gases that are emitted from certain solids and liquids and include a variety of chemicals. A wide array of products emit VOCs including paints, cleaning supplies, building materials, and furnishings.
For example, polyurethane foam is a standard product used in most conventional mattresses, it contains chemicals like toluene, benzene, and formaldehyde, all of which are categorized as carcinogens.
Mattress and other upholstered furnishings (until recently) were required by law to contain flame retardant chemicals. Polybrominated Diphenyl Ethers (PBDEs) are recognized globally as highly persistent toxic contaminants. Indoor dust is the highest source of exposure to PBDEs.
ARE THESE CHEMICALS HARMFUL?
In a word, yes. PBDE exposure specifically is correlated to a multitude of adverse health effects including thyroid hormone disruption, learning and memory impairment, behavioral changes, hearing deficits, and possibly cancer (studies linked below).
Research has shown that even short term exposure to PBDE can alter thyroid hormone levels.
PBDEs were banned in the US in 2005 but replaced with other chemical fire retardants including halogenated flame retardants which have been associated with endocrine disruption and immunotoxicity.
WHAT CAN WE DO TO REDUCE TOXIN EXPOSURE?
If you are feeling anything like I felt in that conference room in San Diego last November you are overwhelmed and a little annoyed that we even have to think about this!
Here is the thing, there are small steps we can take to significantly reduce exposure to these harmful chemicals and create a serene healthy bedroom environment.
You don’t have to do all the things all at once, but little by little you can chip away at some of the highest sources of exposure.
SIX WAYS TO DETOX YOUR BEDROOM
1.Upgrade your mattress to a Green Non-Toxic Mattress
Most conventional mattresses are laden with damaging chemicals for your health and the environment including:
- Polyurethane foam – emits VOCs that are easily absorbed and irritating to our lungs and skin.
- Formaldehyde, used as an adhesive to hold synthetic mattresses together. Formaldehyde is a known carcinogen and can cause a burning sensation in the eyes, nose, and throat.
- Chemical flame retardants including PBDEs – harmful flame retardants that have been indicated in hormonal dysfunction and certain cancers.
Upgrading to an organic non-toxic mattress will dramatically reduce exposure to these dangerous chemicals. Materials typically used in an organic mattress are:
- Organic cotton – conventional cotton crops account for 24% of insecticide sales worldwide. Organic cotton is grown without the use of insecticides, and synthetic fertilizers
- Wool – Wool is often used as a natural flame retardant. It is also naturally resistant to dust mites and hypoallergenic.
- Natural latex – rather than polyurethane foam many organic mattress companies will use an organic or natural latex
HOW DO YOU KNOW YOUR MATTRESS IS ORGANIC?
In addition to looking for organic materials in your mattress, you can also check for third-party certification programs that help identify which brands meet rigorous and uniform standards. Below is a list of a few certifications, for the full list see this post from Bedtimes Magazine.
- Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS): GOTS is an international standard for organic consumer goods.
- Greenguard Gold Certified – helps to identify interior products and materials that have low chemical and particle emissions
- Made Safe – Non-toxic certified by a rigorous screening process for toxicity.
- OEKO-TEX – Requires annual lab testing to ensure no harmful substances are present.
MY EXPERIENCE WITH AVOCADO MATTRESS
In the midst of my sleep dilemma, I began researching new mattresses. Our mattress was over 10 years old and I knew it was time for an upgrade.
As I discovered how toxic conventional mattresses were (our old mattress was as conventional as it gets) I knew I wanted to upgrade to a natural green mattress.
In my search for the best quality natural green mattress, my top choice was Avocado Green Mattress.
They graciously sent me a Queen Avocado Green Mattress with a Pillowtop as research for this article.
WHAT I LOVE ABOUT AVOCADO MATTRESS:
Avocado mattresses are handmade in the USA and
- Certified organic
- GOTS certified
- Greenguard Gold Certified (few mattresses and pillows qualify for this gold standard)
- Non-toxic certified with zero flame retardants (Avocado uses 100% GOTS organic certified wool with is naturally flame resistant)
- Made Safe certified
- Tufted, not glued, no solvent-based chemical adhesives are used
- Organic certified cotton on the top, sides, and gussets
- OEKO-TEK certified – tested to be harmless
In addition to holding several more certifications for sustainability and reduced carbon footprint.
YEAH, BUT IS IT COMFORTABLE?
Listen, at the end of the day the thing that matters most to this sleep lover, is comfort.
Yes, I am committed to reduced toxin exposure but if all of that comes at the price of an uncomfortable mattress, I’m not in.
First of all, the fabric of the Avocado Mattress is incredibly soft. So soft, it was tempting to never put bedding on it.
The sleep is firm yet luxurious and plush.
I waited a full 60 days to write this post so I could have ample time to sleep.
After the full 60 days, I can report that the Avocado Mattress is by far the most comfortable mattress I’ve slept in. I’ve had restful sleep, I wake up without back and neck pain (nothing short of a miracle) and my persnickety partner Jordan has given Avocado Mattress a solid A+. This is unheard of.
Avocado Green Mattress offers a 1-Year Sleep Trial with free shipping and free return pickups.
2. Switch to Natural Fiber Bedding
One of the most common bedding fabrics is cotton. Cotton, albeit soft and natural and luxurious feeling in bedding, is also one of the highest sprayed crops in the world.
24% of the world's global insecticide sales go to cotton farming. Eight of the top 10 pesticides used in conventionally grown US cotton are classified as moderately to highly hazardous by the World Health Organization.
Sheets and bedding are also frequently treated with chemicals to make them stain and wrinkle resistant.
Pillows, like mattresses, are laden with plastics and chemical flame retardants
BETTER BEDDING OPTIONS:
- Organic cotton sheets – there are many brands, and inexpensive options to choose from. Just look for the organic seal.
- Bamboo fiber sheets – bamboo is naturally temperature regulating, rarely sprayed with chemicals and is a renewable resource.
- Non-toxic pillows – I LOVE our Avocado Green Pillows. They are made from organic certified latex, cotton and have a kapok fill. They are a bit firmer, so I have switched from a 3 pillow girl (with constant neck aches) to a 1 pillow girl with zero neck aches.
3. Improve air quality with plants
In 1989 NASA conducted a “Clean Air Study” hoping to determine which house plants were most effective for filtering harmful toxins and pollutants from the air. The snake plant and peace lily both scored among the highest for filtering out multiple harmful pollutants.
This study has come under some scrutiny in recent years due to the conditions in which house plants were studied, a hermetically sealed environment, which a bedroom or home is not. In order for plants to have a dramatic impact on improving air quality, you would need to have many. Like many, many, many, as in 1 per square inch of space. So… if you are into the idea of creating an Amazonian like environment in your bedroom, go for it! Otherwise, I still intentionally have plants in my bedroom. If the benefit is small, it is still a benefit. Especially living in an urban environment, I will take every small bit of help I can. Also, plants are awesome, so there is that!
4. Consider antique furnishings
New furniture, especially cheaply made mass-market furniture, is laden with chemicals that can off-gas in your home for months! The culprit is typically formaldehyde used to cure particleboard, pressed-wood, and plywood. Although there is a multitude of chemicals used in furniture manufacturing that will also off-gas. If you are in the market for new furniture consider purchasing antique, used, recycled, or even floor models from your favorite stores. This can either completely eliminate the off-gassing or dramatically reduce it (depending on the age of the furniture).
Upholstered furniture and carpets are typically made with toxic flame retardant chemicals and potentially stain or water repellents. Look for upholstered furniture made from natural latex and a label that reads “The upholstery materials in this product contain NO added flame retardant chemicals”. For carpets opt for wool carpet and a Greenguard or Green Label Plus certified carpet with low-VOC adhesives.
5. Use low or no VOC paint
The carbon-containing VOCs that easily become vapors or gases are also present in paint.
VOCs are typically found in the coating solvents and assist in quality application and drying. However, as we have learned, the off-gassing of VOCs can be damaging to your health.
VOCs from paint not only off-gas during paint application and drying but continues to off-gas over time.
Paints labeled “low-VOC” contain less than 50 grams per liter of volatile compounds. Paints labeled “zero-VOC” may contain fewer than 5 grams per liter of VOCs, therefore, not exactly zero VOCs but your lowest option.
Milk paint or chalk paint are natural paint options that contain zero VOCs.
Yes, you will trade durability when opting for lower VOC paints, but you will benefit from reduced toxin exposure.
6. Clean more frequently using natural cleaners
Now that we know dust can be a virtual magnet for persistent pollutants it is important to clean your bedroom more frequently.
I recommend choosing natural cleaning products that will not add to the chemical burden.
Here are some safer cleaning products for your bedroom:
- Make your own DIY cleaning solutions,
- Try a natural cleaning product like Branch Basics or Eco-Kindness
- Wash bedding with natural laundry detergent, and skip the dryer sheets! (dryer sheets are full of harmful chemicals and leave a residue on fabric)
- Use a vacuum with a HEPA filter
I hope this post was a helpful tool to encourage you to begin the process of detoxing your bedroom. If you have any questions feel free to drop them below, I’m happy to have a continued conversation around this topic.
Fowles, J.R.; Fairbrother, A.; Baecher-Steppan, L.; Kerkvliet, N.I. 1994. Immunologic and endocrine effects of the flame-retardant pentabromodiphenyl ether (DE-71) in C57BL/6J mice. Toxicology. 86(1-2):49-61.
Darnerud, P.O. and Sinjari, T. 1996. Effects of polybrominated diphenyls (PBDEs) and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) on thyroxine and TSH blood levels in rats and mice. Organohalogen Compounds. (29):316-319.
I was gifted products from Avocado Green Mattress for this post. As always, all thoughts, opinions, and musings are my own. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Abra’s Kitchen.
Photographs by Diana Davis Creative
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Dana Suss says
I love everything about this article! Super helpful! Finding non-toxic alternatives has been a work in progress for me for quite some time. I think it’s really important for everyone to be informed so that we can make the best decisions for ourselves and our families. Thank you for this Abra!!