As demand for green products increases, bedding is getting a makeover. Organically farmed cotton is more common. Manufacturers are obtaining wool from sustainably raised, grass-fed sheep. Bedding companies are experimenting with new fibers such as beech-tree cloth for sheets and milkweed down for pillow stuffing. Mattress makers have reintroduced all-natural, rubber-tree latex foam as an alternative to petroleum-based foam and synthetic latex blends.
Natural fibers offer respite for those with sensitivities to chemicals and dyes, and most natural fibers are hypoallergenic and softer than their synthetic counterparts.
Picking cotton and other fibers
Cotton sheets are cool, absorbent and durable. They hold up to hot-water washings, making them ideal for babies and hospitals. Unfortunately, conventional cotton farming is responsible for much of the world’s pesticide use—25 percent of the total in the United States and more than 10 percent worldwide, according to the Sustainable Cotton Project (www.SustainableCotton.org). While the risk of pesticide contamination through cotton fibers in bedding is negligible, the effect on soil and water is enormous.
Fortunately, you have your choice of several better bedding options. Organic cotton is farmed with natural controls and no hazardous chemicals. Alternative fibers such as bamboo, hemp and wood pulp (also sold under the trade names Lyocell, Tencel and Legna) can be grown sustainably, without chemical pesticides and herbicides.
Some alternative fibers are equal or superior to cotton in texture, luster or warmth, though some are less durable when subjected to dryers, irons, hot water or conventional detergents. Ask about fabric care before you purchase.
People have slept on wool and silk since ancient times, but modern production methods are friendlier to the animals that produce these fibers. In conventional silk production, the larva is killed when the cocoon is harvested, but for “wild” or “organic” silk, the cocoon is collected after the moth has left it. Wool is sheared from living sheep. Concerned farmers raise free-range sheep that graze on pesticide-free land and use the most humane shearing techniques possible. Wool fabric this way is also frequently called “organic.”
It can be difficult to determine just how organic a fabric really is. Look for products that are certified organic by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). Other “organic” labels or seals may or may not be meaningful. Numerous organizations certify fiber farming or production, but they don’t all share the same standards.
Buying local or domestic products is always best, but if you’re purchasing imported fibers, look for fair trade certification, ensuring that workers in developing countries receive fair wages.
Choose healthy hues
Conventional bedding manufacturers use a variety of finishes and chemical treatments to produce a sheen or prevent wrinkles and stains. For example, most permanent-press fabrics are treated with formaldehyde resins. Environmentally responsible companies are unlikely to use such chemical treatments.
Once limited to muted tones and pastels, organic bedding is now available in brilliant hues derived from vegetable and mineral dyes. If white sheets are your style, look for those treated with peroxide-based bleaches rather than with chlorine, which pollutes water supplies. Undyed, unbleached bedding offers simplicity and purity—often preferred for baby cribs.
Why use harsh ingredients to clean your all-natural bedding? Look for biodegradable detergents and choose from unscented varieties or those scented with natural enzymes such as citrus oils. Wash in cold water and hang dry. Your pillowcases and sheets will last longer and feel better against your skin. Here are a few good options:
■ Solay Simple Laundry Soap
■ Maggie’s Soap Nuts
■ Seventh Generation detergents
■ Dropps low-sudsing detergent