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Is Your Pillow Toxic?



White pillow on a grey background.When you hear the word pollution, what do you think of? My guess is that images of factories full of smoke come to mind, or rivers and oceans filled with debris, oil and sludge. No one ever associates pollution with their comfy pillow, mattresses and bed sheets. I’m here to tell you that it may be time to reassess your idea of pollution and where it could come from.

Is Your Pillow Toxic?

The Dangers That Lie in Your Pillows and Bedding


Researchers in England reported that the average pillow contains millions of fungal spores. At the university of Manchester, various samples from feather and synthetic pillows were studied. Each pillow had been used about 18 months, and some for as long as 20 years. Scientists found the same type of fungus that can contribute to problems such as leukemia. These types of fungi may also be responsible for increasing the symptoms of asthma or allergies.


If you look at the cushion of a sofa or a bed mattress made with foam, you’ll find a small white tag which states: “This article meets all flammability requirements of California Bureau of Home Furnishings technical bulletin 117.” The law, TB 117, was passed specifically for California in 1975. It states that the foam found in furniture must be able to resist a flame from normal household items like a cigarette lighter or a candle. Big furniture makers applied this standard to their furniture in all 50 states, rather than making different furniture for California.

Researchers and scientists are now debating whether this policy is safe or if it’s actually causing more harm than good.

There’s really only one way to produce flame retardant foam: with chemicals. And lot’s of chemicals, as each foam cushion requires up to 2 pounds of flame-retardant chemicals.

Scientists have linked these dangerous chemicals to neurological damage, endocrine disruption and even cancer. Some of these chemicals are may also be found in pillows, bed sheets and blankets.

The American Home Furnishings Alliance states that more than 80 percent of furniture sold in the U.S. contains foam treated with flame retardant chemicals.

Since the law was passed in 1975 most of the highly dangerous chemicals have been phased out, but they’re still present in older furniture. Donald Lucas, a flammability scientist at Lawrence Berkley National Laboratory, states that:

“Once the fire gets to the foam, the sofa’s going to burn. It’ll burn just as well with the fire retardant as without it.”

So why include these chemicals? The short answer is to simply follow the money. A recent bill had support from big furniture makers, firefighter groups and even doctors. All groups wanted to remove the chemicals from furniture, but the bill died. Every lawmaker who voted against it had received campaign contributions from the chemical industry.

One specific flame-retardant to be aware of is polyurethane, it’s found in the foam and emits Polybrominated-Biphenyl-Ethers (PBDE). PBDE’s are known for being hormone disruptors which can accumulate in the placenta and even contaminate a mother’s breast milk. Another danger connected to these compounds is the fact that they aren’t biodegradable. They accumulate in the air in your house, contributing to pollution in the home.


In view of its widespread use, toxicity and volatility, exposure to formaldehyde is a significant consideration for health. Formaldehyde is known to cause tiredness, insomnia, headaches, coughing and skin irritation. In June 10, 2011, the US National Toxicology Program described formaldehyde as “known to be a human carcinogen”.

Household Items Containing Formaldehyde:
Formaldehyde-based resins are used as adhesives and resins in the manufacture of particle-board, plywood, furniture and other wood products. It’s also used for the production of materials like appliances, electric controls, telephones, wiring services. They’re also used in the textile, leather, rubber and cement industries. Other uses are as binders for foundry sand, stonewool and glasswool mats in insulating materials, abrasive paper and brake linings.

Should You Invest in an Organic Mattress, Bedding and Pillows?

Toxic chemicals are everywhere around us today. I try to minimize my exposure to these harmful chemicals as best I can. Changing your bedding, pillow, sheets and linens is one great way, that many people are unaware of, to reduce exposure to toxins.

Here’s a few specific changes you can make:
Pillows: Get rid of any pillows and mattresses that are at least 2 years old. Replace any hypoallergenic pillow stuffed with synthetic fiber and get pillows that are made out of feathers or wool. If allergies are a concern, you can opt for a pillow made out of latex foam.

Mattress: Consider organic mattresses that are either made up of naturally fire retardant wool, organic cotton and coils that are completely untreated. Avoid mattresses containing PBDE. These can now be easily found in many online stores. Also, check your local retailer.

Bed sheets and linens: Choose sheets made out of organic and unbleached hemp, cotton or linen. These will cost more but rest assured they’re safer and will last longer too, especially compared to chlorine treated pillowcase and bed sheets, which is what a majority of people have. Your duvets should also be made of natural materials. Opt for those with silk, hemp, feathers or down.

On a Budget: Looking for a more budget friendly option? IKEA may be able to help. The company has been known to sell PBDE free mattresses, pillows and bedroom furniture since 2002. Serta is another brand that makes safe mattress.

Detox Your Bedroom: Make it a habit to clean and vacuum your bedroom regularly. Change your bed linens every week and a half. Another way to detox your bedroom is to simply air your mattress. The simple act of opening your windows wide open to allow fresh air inside can do wonders for your health. Every once in a while, especially when the weather is warm and sunny, take your mattress outside and leave it under the sun.


As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts!

What kind of pillow do you use? Where did you get it?


Sources: Formaldehyde Research, Natural News, KCBD.com, NPR.com

Josh Axe

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