Nobody likes the thought of wearing a hairshirt, but that's just what your wool blanket may be feeling like now that spring is here. Now is the time to store those thick covers and flannel sheets and dress your spring bed in light organic cotton damasks and percales. Not only do they feel divine, but, having invested in a product that's healthier for people and the planet, you'll bask in the sweet sleep of the virtuous.
Finding organic cotton does not require detective work: Many mainstream as well as green outlets now carry the material. Prices are easing, too. Still, you'll probably pay a bit more for bedding made of USDA-certified organic cotton. But it's so worth it. To qualify as organic, cotton must be grown without synthetic pesticides or fertilizers. Contrast this with conventional cotton, every acre of which receives about 12 pounds of these chemicals, or about one-third pound of synthetic inputs for every pound of cotton produced, according to the Sustainable Cotton Project. Seven of the most common pesticides applied to cotton are classified as human carcinogens by the EPA. All of these chemicals run off into waterways and groundwater, and some have been found in drinking water nationwide. Synthetic nitrogen fertilizers cause algal blooms and "dead" zones offshore.
Despite these divergent back stories, when it comes to the end product you won’t see any difference: Organic cotton comes in all palettes. But if you choose untreated organic bedding, you'll feel the difference. If you have sensitive skin or allergies, you may prefer cotton that is plant-dyed, undyed, or color-grown -- meaning it naturally comes in soft terra cottas and greens. Harsh heavy metals in conventional dyes can give that rough feeling that irritates skin. So can permanent-press, stain-proofing, and other fabric treatments; these can also emit toxic formaldehyde and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) -- not something you want your nose and mouth pressed against, especially if you have asthma or sleep apnea. While you're at it, look for non-chlorine-bleached because chlorine produces carcinogenic compounds downstream as it decays.
Enough said! You get the idea. Now for the fun part: shopping.
You can choose from organic cotton sheets that are color-grown, undyed, or use low-impact dyes, and are free of chlorine bleaching and chemical finishes. Westelm.com has the most affordable organic cotton percale sheet set we found, $89 queen size, 16" deep. Certified organic cotton sheets are also sold at Potterybarn.com (spacey Moroccan tile prints in delectable pineapple, blue, Clementine or black, $99.99 queen), Target.com (most affordable at $49.99 queen), and bedbathandbeyond.com ($59.99 queen). Also check Nativeorganic.com, Coyuchi.com, Heartofvermont.com, and Underthecanopy.com.
You can find a variety of organic cotton blankets at Thecompanystore.com (now on sale for $74.99, a $15 reduction) and Kushtush.com, brushed Egyptian cotton blankets ($156 queen). For a little extra warmth (at an extra price), check out the lightweight organic cotton and wool comforters ($279 queen) at Gaiam.com.
For more info on PFOA, visit Environmental Working Group.
This article originally appeared in Plenty in April 2008. The story was added to MNN.com.
Copyright Environ Press 2008