Creating a healthy bedroom is an important environmental measure—and it might be less expensive than you think.
Photo By Povy Kendal Atchison
We spend at least a third of our lives in the bedroom, so making this space a healthy haven is among the most important things you can do for yourself.
Air quality is a key to healthy, eco-friendly bedroom. Choosing an organic or natural mattress, frame, bedding and floor covering with few or no toxic chemicals can improve your indoor air quality. If you suffer from allergies, your goal should be to keep your room as free of dust-collecting surfaces as possible and to wash all bedding and rugs frequently to remove mold, mildew and dust mites.
You can affordably design an eco-friendly bedroom if you know how to prioritize your purchases. Our comprehensive chart of budget bedroom furnishings—from mattresses to sheets to throw rugs—in the article "Boudoir Budgeting" shows you prices for common items so you can pick and choose according to your personal needs.
Stop sleeping with toxic chemicals
The most critical component of a healthy bedroom is the bed. Conventional mattresses and bedding are manufactured with toxic dyes, fire retardant-treated polyurethane foam, formaldehyde (for permanent press), and stain- and water- resistant chemicals. All of these chemicals outgas over time and can cause allergic reactions and other health problems.
The chemicals commonly used to make mattresses fire retardant—PBDEs, or polybrominated diphenyl ethers—are linked to damaging effects on thyroid function and fetal brain development. They’re also suspected carcinogens. PBDEs are chemically similar to polychlorinated biphenyls (PBDs), neurotoxins that the government banned decades ago because of their health and environmental effects. American women have the world’s highest level of PBDEs in their breast milk—40 to 60 percent higher than those of women in Sweden, where these chemicals are banned.
Mattresses and mattress pads treated with water- and stain-repellent chemicals, such as Teflon, are another health hazard. Teflon’s chemical building block, perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), is now widespread in the environment and in humans. A few studies show that PFOA causes developmental toxicity in lab animals, and there’s concern about possible health effects to Teflon-factory workers.
The major advantage of buying a mattress that’s made of natural latex, wool or organic cotton—and that’s free of PBDEs and stain repellants—is the assurance that you’re not sleeping on materials treated with hazardous chemicals.Unfortunately, organic-fiber mattresses are expensive, ranging from $2,000 to $9,000 or more.
There are some affordable, healthy mattress options, especially if you’re willing to consider a futon. Northern Naturals futons are made from cotton and a small amount of poly-fiber foam; they use natural boric acid as a fire retardant. An 8-inch-thick futon costs from $145 to $195, depending on size. IKEA, a company that uses no PBDEs, sells mattresses for $129 and up.
Frames, including platform beds, range from $200 to $400 on the low end and are commonly made from maple, ash and southern yellow pine. When shopping for a wood frame, make sure it’s solid wood to avoid the negative effects of toxic glues. Forest Stewardship Council–certified wood frames are the most environmentally sustainable new products, but they’re often more expensive. Locally sourced, salvaged wood furniture is an even greener option.
Accessorize your sleep space safely
If you already own a decent mattress and bedframe, consider purchasing a mattress topper, which provides a barrier between you and chemicals in the mattress. A topper can be cleaned more often than a mattress; regular washing will deter dust mites.
The other core components for an organic sleeping experience are sheets, blankets and pillows. The best materials are free of synthetic dyes, bleaches and wrinkle- and stain- proofing treatments. Organic cotton and wool are great choices, and you can find organic-cotton sheet sets online and at numerous retail outlets for $150 or less (see “Good Night, Sleep Right” on page 61 for a full guide to healthy bedding).
Organic, eco-friendly pillows, including those filled with buckwheat, natural latex or cotton, are another good investment. Look for pillow covers in organic flannel or sateen. Serenity Pillows sells organic buckwheat- or millet-filled pillows; NaturaWorld makes the Dream Mate hypoallergenic, natural-latex/wool pillow with an unbleached-cotton cover.
To stay snuggly in your healthy bed, consider an organic-cotton quilt or blanket. And, if you want to slide between the sheets in organic-cotton pajamas, check the selection at Esperanza Threads or Rawganique.
Revamp the rest of the room
No one wants to walk on a cold, hard floor in the morning, but most carpet traps mold, dust mites and toxins that are tracked in from outdoors. In addition, conventional carpet contains toxic glues and chemical stain protectors. If you have hardwood flooring, create warmth with area rugs made from eco-friendly materials. These are healthier and easier to clean, especially if they’re machine-washable. Jute and hemp hold up well, as do cotton rag rugs.
Rawganique sells organic hemp throw rugs in a variety of colors. Earthweave’s Bio-Floor wool area rugs contain no dyes or stain-resisting treatments; the adhesives are natural rubber with jute backing. If you want to splurge, you’ll find exquisite, handmade, fair trade-certified rugs at the Ten Thousand Villages website.
Nothing transforms a bedroom more quickly than a fresh coat of paint. To preserve the quality of your indoor air, choose wall finishes that contain low levels of toxic VOCs (volatile organic compounds that outgas).
Remember the finishing touches
Make your bedroom a sanctuary by incorporating low-lighting options using energy-efficient light bulbs. If you’re still within budget and want a unique lamp for your bedside table, check out Ecobre’s fair trade, hand-hammered, recycled-copper lamps.
To block bright morning sun and save energy lost through the windows, replace your curtains with Gaiam’s insulated tab-top curtain panels, available in a variety of colors.
For a touch of aromatherapy, consider organic lavender, which is a sleep aid and room deodorizer. Check out Jardin du Soleil for sachets and candles.