Oh, the busy routine of green living: we worry about secondhand smoke, buy low VOC-paint to reduce exposure to offgassing, support clean air legislation and do what we can to reduce the toxins in our food and water.
Then we retire for the night to a nest of powerful chemicals and allergens.
You'll spend about a third of your life in bed. For most of us, however, the bedroom is one of our least healthy living spaces. The main problem is this: mattresses and bedding materials are frequently treated with a family of flame-retardant chemicals known as PBDE (polybrominated diphenyl ether). Health groups have been concerned about the cumulative effects of PBDEs on the human body for almost a decade, and certain varieties are already banned in places like the European Union.
A healthier mattress
If you're chemically sensitive — or if the idea of chronic exposure to PBDE is causing you to lose sleep — replacing your mattress might be a good place to start.
Quality bedding represents a significant financial investment, but given how much time we spend in bed and our close proximity to its contents, options such as natural latex or organic cotton mattresses make sense. Latex offers the dual benefit of being resistant to dust mites, which are second only to pollen in causing allergic reactions.
Not in a position to replace your existing mattress? A latex or natural wool mattress topper will put some distance between you and PBDE. And while it won't stop offgassing, zippered mattress covers can dramatically reduce your exposure to dust mites.
The rest of your bedding
Speaking of wool: consider replacing treated blankets and quilts with more natural equivalents. Wool wicks moisture, is inherently flame-retardant, and provides year-round sleeping comfort.
Pillows are another hiding place for mites and chemicals. Fortunately, there is now a wide variety of options these days featuring buckwheat hulls, natural latex, wool and organic cotton. Just like mattresses, pillows can be protected with washable covers.
Organic cotton is the material of choice for sheets. Line drying or an hour's exposure to direct sunlight will kill any mites which survive the wash.
Other bedroom improvements
Like bedding, draperies are often chemically treated. The same materials which make good blankets work well for window coverings. You might also consider blinds made from untreated wood products.
Most carpets are synthetic. Replacing them with washable throw rugs is a great way to reduce allergens and chemical offgassing. Once again, wool proves its versatility as a safe and durable household fiber.
For those particularly sensitive to airborne allergens, a hepa room air filter can produce immediate health benefits.