Who Are You Sleeping With? Our inside look at bedding.
Researchers estimate that we will spend at least one third of our lives in bed. It's no surprise then that one of the most common questions we get is, "What type of bedding should I get?"
There are lots of things to consider when choosing what brands you're sleeping with. From materials to certifications, we're here to take you through the details.
So, what’s the concern with conventional cotton sheets?
Conventional cotton sheets can come packaged with a number of concerns, from the materials they are made of to the chemicals used on them, and, as a consumer, you may find one or more things about conventional sheets that don’t make you sleep easy at night.
For starters, conventional farming practices used for your basic cotton sheets creates 60% more output of carbon dioxide and greenhouse gases than organic cotton farming. The pesticides used to grow conventional cotton also place a burden on our environment and health, through chemicals passing into our soil, water ways, and air before indirectly ending up in our bodies. Organic cotton farming avoids this and uses less water too.
Over half of conventional cotton farming is in India and China and comes with a number of human rights issues. These include significant chemical exposure, poor wages for famers, and run off affecting children and families in farming communities, even if they are not directly involved in farming.
While pesticides are unlikely to be present in your end product sheet, conventional sheets may be dyed with colorants that could contain heavy metals. Now, no one likes to iron sheets, but “wrinkle resistant” sheets are commonly treated with chemicals that release formaldehyde, a known carcinogen. With all the chemicals used in conventional sheets, if you are a household with sensitive skin, looking for cleaner sheets may definitely be a higher priority.
The kicker to it all is that even some of the products we’re marketed as “better” may have a few gaps on sustainability and safety. Here is our 4-1-1 on materials:
As mentioned above, organic cotton farming is more environmentally friendly with less water use and lower carbon emissions. It is also safer for our health and the environment. Best part, it is becoming increasingly more affordable creating an opportunity for more access. There are certifications we’ll mention further down to help you navigate the other concerns around working conditions and other safety of these fabrics.
Wool has some incredible properties as it is a natural insulator, so it keeps you warmer and cools our bodies naturally and is also naturally flame retardant and antimicrobial. It also leaves no trace of microplastic concerns, is completely biodegradable, and is estimated to be the most recycled fabric.
Roughly half of the emissions from wool products come from the sheep themselves which is a stark contrast to other fiber manufacturing, and sheep can graze in more arid environments making it more environmentally friendly in theory. Unfortunately, with a demand for wool there has been an increase in the number of sheep in India causing overgrazing and PETA has voiced concerns over the poor treatment of sheep.
Wool can still come with harmful dyes and chemical treatments. Looking for certifications and transparent labeling for dyes and treatments remains key!
New Vegan wool fibers made of coconut derivatives and hemp are continuing to be developed. While we don’t yet know the long-term impacts or potential consequences, these fabrics are currently an exciting opportunity for better products!
Bamboo has become the poster child for sustainable "eco-products", but is it really better for you and the environment?
We have all heard about how easy it is to grow Bamboo. It also requires little water to grow which makes it pre-production an excellent eco-option.
Turning bamboo into fabric fiber is a whole other thing though. A procedure called the viscose process is used to make bamboo into fabric. This process can use more than 13 toxic chemicals and requires a significant amount of water and energy. The waste from the viscose process is only partially captured for reuse, and as much as 50% of the solvents used to make bamboo fabric will return to the soil and water causing environmental harm.
You won’t be surprised by now that chemical treatment and dyes are still a thing when it comes to bamboo fabric. In fact, we can go ahead and assume all fabrics may be dyed using potentially harmful chemicals and extra processing for a sleek, soft and convenient feel.
Like bamboo, eucalyptus pre-production is much more sustainable than cotton, as it grows easily and requires less water. Lyocell process uses water and solvents to break down the Eucalyptus wood. Compared to conventional cotton, the lyocell production process used fifty percent less water! Even more exciting, lyocell production uses a closed-loop process which means that nearly 100% of the water and solvents used are recovered and reused again. It also does not shed microplastics, is recyclable, and even compostable in certain situations.
Unfortunately, native forests are being cleared to grow eucalyptus harming natural eco-systems. Look for FSC and PEFC labels to ensure your eucalyptus is from a more sustainably managed forest.
When it comes to dyes--- you know the drill. Let’s look at certifications to help you navigate dyes and added chemicals!
What do I do about all this info and all these chemicals?!?!
There are several certifications that can make choosing bedding a bit easier. Here is a run down on our top 3 to look for:
The gold standard for having it all, GOTS certified linens have been rigorously
screened for organic material, chemical safety, environmental and social responsibility. When you purchase a GOTS certified product you can be certain that the quality of the garment has been 3rd party tested and that the product manufacturing life cycle has been audited and reviewed regularly for their environmental practices and labor conditions.
OEKO TEK 100
OEKO TEK has many perks when it comes to being safer. OEKO TEK products are easier to find and often come at a more reasonable price point. It does, after
all only examine the chemical elements of a product. “If a textile article carries the STANDARD 100 label, you can be certain that every component of this article, i.e. every thread, button and other accessories has been tested for harmful substances that can be found in the OEKO TEK Catalogue of chemicals tested.”
A great combo would be OEKO TEK + Green America or BCorp.
Green Guard/Green America
I lumped these two together because to be Green America certified a product must have passed GreenGuard certification for product VOC emissions.
GreenGuard certification requires third party testing for chemical emissions and
human safety. It’s a leading certification for VOC and reducing indoor air pollution (one of my favorite topics). GreenGuard will be revisited when we take on mattresses and pillows next!
In addition to passing GreenGuard certification requirements, products with the Green America stamp of approval have also completed and passed their business environmental impact and social justice survey.
If you made it through this whole piece, it’s no wonder we have many questions on what bedding to buy! The Conscious Merchant takes no endorsements or affiliate kickbacks so that we can remain fluid in our review and recommendations of products that we may not carry. Here are a few of our favorite brands for you to check out so you can sleep easier at night.
$$$$ Coyuchi- All around a more sustainable bedding brand. GOTS certified and with several recycling initiatives and partnerships- you pay for what you get.
$$$ Boll & Branch- Committed to transparency, they are GOTS certified and taking sustainability and social responsibility to another level.
$$ Sheets & Giggles- OEKO TEK 100 certified and have sustainability initiatives and credentials. Denver based and they also have my kind of sense of humor!
$ PillowFort & Threshold @ Target- OEKO TEK 100 certified, these are a great price point for those on a budget but wanting to do better.