In the Bedroom: Eco and ethical bedding essentials

Flame retardants and formaldehyde aren't the only monsters lurking in your bed.

Credit: iStock / plasticsteak1

Flame retardants and formaldehyde aren’t the only monsters lurking in your bed

There are plenty of dangers lurking in the bedroom, but they’re not the predictable monsters hiding under the bed. You might be surprised to find out that the strict standards put in place to keep us “safe” are actually creating a type of toxic smog we sleep in each night.

“Toluene diiocyanate (TDI) is what makes synthetic foams flexible,” says M’s Carmen Spagnola, who notes that TDI is a known neurotoxin that becomes even more dangerous when it degrades, producing carbon monoxide, cyanide and nitrous oxide, which leaches into the skin and lungs and accumulates in the body.

Shopping guide

Where to buy eco-bedding supplies in Vancouver

She rattles off an alarming list of other chemicals commonly used in the flame retardants—antimony, boric acid, asbestos, PBDEs and PCBs—which many manufacturers employ to ensure their products pass government flame-safety rates.

These chemicals and toxins in our mattresses can off gas for many months after installation, causing burning of the mouth and nose, watery eyes, respiratory trouble and likely hidden cumulative health effects. Adults, children and pets can all be affected.

Spagnola says safe options include natural mattresses that aren’t made from synthetic materials or coated in formaldehyde (a known asthmagen and allergen), which is found on nylon quilting and ticking.

If you choose a mattress with inner springs, make sure to find one that’s wrapped in layers of chemical-free organic cotton and pure wool, which is naturally flame resistant.

A mattress made from pure latex is another good option. Pure latex is “a renewable source, it’s 100 percent biodegradable,” says Jem Terra of In Bed Organics. “You can throw it in the compost at the end of its very long life.”  

Whether you bedeck your bed in layers of blankets or choose a Spartan selection of sheets, there are myriad eco-friendly, cruelty-free and vegan options on the market.

While feathers and down might seem like natural options, keep in mind that some companies—reportedly in China, Poland and France—still use the practice of “live plucking” to gather feathers from ducks and geese.

Eco-friendly, ethical bedding options

Look for products made with these materials, instead:


This quick-growing grass has natural antibacterial properties, and it’s grown and processed with few or no pesticides and chemicals. Look for sheets made from bamboo and pillows and duvets filled with spun bamboo fibre.


100 percent organic buckwheat hulls are lauded as a non-allergenic alternative for pillow fill. Choose pillows with buckwheat hulls grown in Canada or the U.S. since these haven’t been fumigated like those imported from overseas.


Hemp and ramie are often combined to make durable linens that are said to be “heirloom quality,” which means they can last for decades, and they’ll simply get softer with age. Both fibres are naturally mold resistant and mildew resistant, too.


The fluffy fibre that comes from the seedpods of kapok trees is said to be naturally flame-resistant, plus it’s free of pesticides. It’s used as a fill for pillows.

Organic cotton

100 percent organic cotton (hand-picked is best) is produced without the use of toxic chemicals and pesticides that have become synonymous with this industry.


Wool is a natural fire retardant, and it’s also naturally mold and mildew resistant, making it a great choice for blankets and mattress toppers. Look for organic products produced without bleach, formaldehyde or dyes. 


EPIC workshops on safer sleep

Check out these two workshops being delivered during the EPIC 2009 sustainable living show:

Greening Your Dreams: Your Guide to Eco-Friendly Mattresses and Sleep Products (presented by Linda Tang of Dream Designs) Saturday, May 9, 1:15 p.m.
Uncovering the Truth About Mattresses (presented by Carmen Spagnola of M) Sunday, May 10, 2:15 p.m.