A Healthy Bed: Your Most Important Furniture Choice

Reader Contribution by Paula Baker-Laporte and Faia
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In my previous post I talked about the 6 Steps to Creating a Bedroom Sanctuary

The center piece of any bedroom sanctuary is, of course, the bed. Of all of the furnishings in your home the bed is the one you will spend the most time in and which will have the most impact on your health and well-being…so choose wisely.

A healthy bed will have many of the same attributes as a healthy home. It should be:


• able to take on moisture and then dry-out without supporting dust or mold

• easy to clean and sanitize

• electrically non-conductive (free of metal)

• ergonomic, supporting a healthy sleep posture

• highly insulating supporting warm in the winter and coolth in the summer.:


Although there are no labeling requirements on conventional mattresses and pillows, by-law, if they contain flammable materials like foam or cotton they must be treated with flame-retardants. These flame-retardants are, in themselves, a health hazard…one that is measurable as fine particulate known as SVOC’s or semi volatile organic compounds. These chemical molecules cling to house dust and accumulate in our bodies as we inhale them. As the foams break-down over time the SVOC’s continue to release at higher rates. These chemicals are also absorbed through skin by direct contact when lying on a treated mattress.

According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission “the average adult will absorb a daily dose of .802 mg of Antimony (Arsenic), .081 mg Boric Acid and .073 mg DBDPO (Decabromodiphenyl Oxide) from flame proof mattresses, every night.  According to the organization People for Clean Beds five year old children will absorb .5 mg of Antimony every night, and this is 63 times more poison than the EPA says is safe.

The mattress and pillow materials are not the only common sources of toxins in beds.

 Bed-frames are often made of particle board, glued with toxic glues and finished with toxic sealers that offgass toxic VOC’s further contributing to chemical exposure in bed.

Synthetic bedding will outgass low levels of toxics from fabric finish, synthetic dyes and various fabric treatments. Permanent press bedding is treated with formaldehyde that remains in the fabric after washing. Cotton and wool, unless organic, will have been heavily treated with pesticides and traces of this will remain in the bedding. 

Moisture control

The average body gives off about 8oz of moisture each night in bed. If this moisture is trapped in the bed along with all the dead skin cells that we also shed, it creates a dust mite banquet hall that provides the food and moisture they need to thrive. So guess what…Mom was wrong when she made you make it!

When the bed is made in the morning, and especially if it is topped by a synthetic bed spread, the moisture remains trapped. 

It’s far healthier to unmake the bed every morning.  Strip the bed, let in fresh air and sunshine and sanitize the room as often as you can. Make it again when you are about to sleep in it or…when Mom is coming for a visit!

Ideally the whole sleeping surface would be easily hung out in the sun and fresh air for regular sanitation. Most mattresses are too heavy to facilitate this and they are placed over solid box springs which do not allow for any airflow from underneath.

Synthetic fabrics from the mattress and bedding not only trap moisture in the bed, they do a poor job of wicking moisture away from the body. They also attract static electricity. Once you become accustomed to natural, organic fabrics the synthetic ones will feel clammy and uncomfortable by comparison. 


The Building Biology ideal is to sleep in the undistorted magnetic field of the earth known as the Schumann resonance. Metals in and surrounding the bed can distort these natural fields if they are magnetized.

Are you sleeping in a distorted field? It’s easy enough to find out. Attach a string to a fluid filled compass and drag it slowly across your bed. If the needle distorts from magnetic north as it crosses the bed then you know that the field is distorted. Most often, in a conventional bed this will be the case

Healthy Alternatives

Fortunately there are now many healthy alternatives to conventional beds and bedding. Following is a summary of what to look for.

Bed Frame:  

The ideal bed frame would be made out of solid wood and finished with a natural and non-toxic wood oil or beeswax or would remain unfinished. There are a number of natural oil and wax wood finishing products designed for food cutting boards and butcher blocks that will work well on a bed frame. One of my favorites is Block Brothers Wood Finish Oil. ( I use it on everything from cutting boards to window frames.)

The frame should be designed to hold wooden slats. This arrangement, common in Europe, eliminates the need for a box spring and allows for air circulation under the mattress which facilitates evaporation of moisture. 

Mattress and pillow options:

The healthiest mattresses and pillows will be made of organic wool, organic cotton, natural latex or a combination of these materials.

Organic wool provides a firm but comfortable cushion for joints. It wicks moisture, is dust resistant and because it is a good insulator, it will help keep us cool in the summer and warm in the winter. It is naturally fire retardant and does not require the addition of any chemical flame retardants.

Natural latex is a healthy alternative to synthetic and chemical laden “memory foam” beds. Latex provide excellent ergonomic comfort, maintaining its “memory” for many years. Organic, chemical-free latex is naturally  hypo-allergenic and anti-microbial and so will not create a friendly environment for dust mites. Although many companies advertise mattress products as “pure” latex, they are often misleading and it is important to verify that they are truly free of synthetic rubbers and chemicals. Because latex is not naturally flame-retardant some manufactures wrap their mattresses with a covering containing organic wool to meet flame resistance standards.

Organic cotton is used as a component in many of the mattress configurations listed below. Cotton is not naturally flame-retardant and manufacturer’s have met the flame retardant standards by wrapping the cotton with a wool outer cover. A doctor’s prescription may be helpful in order to purchase an untreated cotton mattress.

Organic cotton futons are traditionally designed to be moved in to place at night and stored during the day. One advantage of these Japanese style beds is that a lightweight layer can be easily transported outside for  a regular sanitizing treatment of fresh air and sunshine.


Ideally the fabric that is next to our skin all night would be chemical-free, and adsorbent. Organic cotton, wool and silk, sheets, blankets and pillow cases are good options. Choose bedding products that are undyed or that use natural dyes because synthetic dyes contain undesirable chemicals and have a high environmental impact. 

Sources for Healthy Beds, Mattresses and Bedding


Heart of Vermont Organic futons an futon covers, pillows and bedding

Heartfelt Bed Collective After years in research and development Eliana Jantz a pioneer in the natural bedding world, has developed a layered all wool felt bed. Thickness can be adjusted for personal preference and the layers can be easily disassembled, sanitized and even washed in a machine.

Lifekind Organic mattresses, platform beds, bedding.

Sachi Organics Natural Latex mattresses, organic pillows filled with cotton, Kapok Latex or Latex/wool, organic wool and cotton bedding. 

SaminaThe SAMINA bed is made up of three layers; the flexible slat frame forms the basis of the system providing support for the whole body, the natural rubber mattress for cushioning and comfort, and the pure sheep’s wool pad for a perfectly dry and warm bed climate.

Shepherd’s Dream This company produces pure wool mattresses, wool pillows, slatted solid wood bedframes and natural latex padded slats. They also have a wool topper. This lightweight layer can easily be carried outside and hung in the sun to sanitize.

Sleeptek Custom made organic beds using wool, latex, cotton and sustainably harvested woods. 

Paula Baker-Laporte FAIA  is an architect, healthy building consultant, instructor for the International Institute of Building Biology and Ecology and author. She is the principle of EcoNest Architecture. She is primary author of “Prescriptions for a Healthy House” and co-author with husband Robert Laporte of “Econest-Creating Sustainable Sanctuaries of Clay, Straw and Timber”.  www.econesthomes.com