A bedroom should be a clean, comfortable haven from a stressful world, but many of the comfort items with which we surround ourselves can unintentionally cause us more harm than good. To make sure your sleeping quarters are as “green” as possible, just follow these easy strategies.
First, when it’s time to repaint, be sure to use no-VOC or low-VOC paints — you’ll get the benefits of both a new look and a healthier environment. VOC stands for volatile organic compounds — a class of chemicals you don’t want for a sleeping partner.
Now for your furniture. Choose solid-wood new or used furniture. Both are healthy alternatives to furniture made of particleboard, which can release toxic formaldehyde into the air.
Strip down to a bare floor, too, if you can. Instead of wall-to-wall carpeting, opt for colorful area rugs. For great bedroom floor accents, consider washable organic cotton throws, sheepskins or wool rugs with natural rubber or jute backing.
Next, check out natural fiber mattresses, linens and curtains; there’s a world of cozy comfort on the market in organic cotton bedding and window dressings. And mattresses made of organic cotton or wool are out there, too.
The same reasons you should opt for no-VOC paints and solid-wood furniture also extend to going “green” with your bedroom’s fiber products. According to Maureen Marchetta, program director at the Children’s Health Environmental Coalition, Americans now face pollution risks from indoor exposure to more than 80,000 synthetic chemicals.
“Most have not been assessed for their potential to cause harm to human health, but a growing body of scientific evidence indicates that indoor air can be more polluted than outdoor air, even in industrialized cities,” she says.
Indeed, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) found indoor levels of “a dozen common pollutants to be two to five times” higher than outside air. Homes that are sealed tightly to improve energy efficiency may trap VOCs that slowly release from particleboard, vinyl wallcoverings, carpeting, paint, fabrics and cleaning products. The EPA says many VOCs are respiratory irritants and can inflame the nose, throat and lungs. Some even have been linked to brain damage, birth defects and cancer.
Marchetta says many chronic health problems such as asthma and multiple chemical sensitivity, which are tied in part to indoor air pollution, may be preventable. “Indoor air pollution increases risks both for developing disease and for setting off asthma attacks,” she says, “and since we spend a significant portion of our lives sleeping, the environmental health of our bedroom should be a high priority.”
She recommends being “an informed consumer” and pursuing green options whenever you can. Here are some specific reasons why:
Furniture. A major source of household VOC pollution comes from formaldehyde, a chemical found in furniture and fabrics, as well as adhesives, paints and plastics. Particleboard products, fabricated from chips of shaved wood held together by a chemical resin, all release small amounts of formaldehyde, a suspected carcinogen and known respiratory irritant that causes asthma attacks, headaches, and irritation to the eyes, nose, throat and skin, according to the EPA.
Emissions decrease with time, so older furniture usually will have offgassed sufficiently.
Carpet and flooring. Synthetic carpeting and padding can be one of the biggest sources of air pollution in your bedroom. A study by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission identified more than 31 different chemicals in carpeting that outgas over time. Besides its chemical content, carpet attracts and holds other household toxins, dirt and dust.
Bedding. Opt for organic cotton sheets or “green” cotton sheets. “Green” cotton is processed without bleaches, dyes and other chemicals, although the cotton may have been grown with pesticides. Organic cotton sheets are more expensive, but, unlike sheets marked “permanent press,” they are not coated with formaldehyde resins to keep them wrinkle-free.
Organic cotton also is a good choice for mattresses, as is wool, which is inherently flame-resistant. Most mattresses are treated with stain-resistant finishes and flame retardants, such as polybrominated diphenylethers, which are toxins known to accumulate in the body.
Marchetta says the chemicals in conventional mattresses dissipate over time. To avoid the increase of biological contaminants such as dust mold and mites, “don’t allow your mattress to get damp,” Marchetta says. “Wash your bedding in hot water at least once a week and keep household humidity low to discourage mold and mildew.”
Cleaners and clutter. You don’t need harsh chemicals to keep your bedroom clean. To bust dust, use real wool dusting cloths or cotton rags. Wipe floors and window sills at least once a week with a damp mop or cloth.
Many commercial furniture waxes and polishes contain toxic petroleum solvents. For nontoxic polish, make your own blend of 10 drops lemon oil, 2 tablespoons lemon juice and a few drops of jojoba oil.
To perfume your room safely, try dried herbs and leaves such as lavender or eucalyptus, or pure essential oils. For a quick, fragrant pick-me-up, mix several drops of a pure essential oil with some grain alcohol in a spray bottle.
And last but certainly not least, keep your bedroom as free of clutter as you can. By eliminating places for dust to collect, you also reduce the stress clutter can cause.
Atmosphere. After you’ve redone your bedroom in “green,” open those windows whenever you can to let some fresh air in, and use a window fan to keep it circulating. If you live where the outside air is less than stellar, consider using an air filter. The EPA says room-sized High Efficiency Particle Air filters, or HEPA filters for short, can remove up to 99 percent of dust particles, including asbestos, although air cleaners generally are not designed to remove VOCs and other gaseous pollutants.
Slumber Sweetly, Safely Organic
Abundant Earth. Sheets and mattresses
EcoChoices. Organic cotton, hemp and wool mattresses
Obasan. Organic cotton and wool sleep systems (innerspring, rubber mattresses, natural futons)
Shepherd’s Dream. Wool bedding and mattresses
Tomorrow’s World. Organic clothing and bedding
Visit OrganicConsumers.org for a listing by state of shops that offer organic cotton products.
Natural Rugs and Carpeting
Abundant Earth. Hemp area rugs
Earth Weave. Hemp wall-to-wall carpeting and wool-based carpet padding
Seventh Generation. Also at natural food and grocery stores nationwide.
Claire Anderson earned her master’s degree in sustainable systems, specializing in ecological design, from Slippery Rock University of Pennsylvania.