Sustainable Bedding Options for Your Home
Many of us are making an effort to live our lives with a critical eye on our environmental impact. Building homes following sustainable practices is incredibly important, but don’t forget to also give that attention to the materials and products you put inside it. This primer on sustainable bedding options can get you started.
September 12, 2019
A guide to your green bedding needs.
Climate change is real. Wait, I thought I was reading an architecture & design blog. Don’t worry, you are. One of the missions at Board & Vellum is to do our part in reducing the damage done to our environment. The architecture and construction industries, in general, are notorious for waste. Construction waste alone is predicted to double to 2.2 billion tons by the year 2025! That amount is so large, it's hard to visualize. But, as a part of the industry, we feel responsible for trying to change these numbers to better impact our environment.
A big part of interior design is selecting the stuff that fills your space. It’s all those products and tiny details that come together to create the overall design. There is quite a bit of conscious consumerism that happens around sustainable products, and that's a good thing. But, from furniture to tabletop accessories, décor, fabrics… thinking about the amount of stuff that’s in our spaces, it can be hard to know where to begin. So, we put together this nifty blog post about one of the prime items in everyone’s home: the bed. We spend a third of our lives in it, so let’s make that time a green dream.
Bedding Inserts: Comforters & Pillows
Should you spring for down pillows and comforters? What about synthetics? Here’s what you need to know to select pillows and comforters with your eye on sustainability.
Down Pillows & Comforters
Using plumage of ducks and geese, down is one of the best insulators. Since down comes from a natural source, it tends to be biodegradable. However, unless it specifically states ‘100% Down’ most down products contain a mixture of synthetic and natural down, making the product less sustainable than we may be led to believe. Aside from that, there are some ethical issues with down, as these birds are typically killed for their down. Even worse, some down is ‘live-plucked,’ meaning that the animals are still breathing while their feathers are being harvested. The best sustainable and ethical down comes from companies that do ‘nest-harvesting’ — meaning suppliers collect down from geese and ducks by hand during molting seasons. Due to the hand approach, this type of down is the most expensive, but you can rest easy knowing it's cruelty-free.
Synthetic Pillows & Comforters
Since synthetic pillows and comforters are made from man-made materials, they aren’t biodegradable and tend to use chemicals during the manufacturing process. The benefits of this option are that they are hypo-allergenic, machine washable, and are less expensive than natural down.
Alternative Options for Pillows & Comforters
Due to the concern about sustainable and ethical issues with down and synthetic inserts, there are alternative natural options available on the market, such as organic wool, cotton, or hemp. Wool comforters have been gaining popularity due to their insulation benefits, hypoallergenic properties, and the fact that they are ethically and sustainably harvested.
Bedding Materials / Fabrics
How about the fabrics bedding is made from? Here are a few details about the sustainability credentials of common bedding materials.
Linen is made from flax. The flax plant has the ability to grow on rough terrain, making its cultivation versatile. Linen can withstand high temperatures and absorbs moisture without holding bacteria. It’s cultivated and processed without chemicals, making it fully biodegradable. Its natural colors include ivory, ecru, tan, and grey, making it a great neutral for any color palette!
Hemp is a great alternative to cotton. Its fibers soften with age while being resistant to mildew. It’s stronger than cotton, uses 50% less water to grow than cotton and requires no use of pesticides.
While cotton does come from a natural source, there is much debate about this fiber being sustainable. Mainly, the issues come down to the use of chemicals and pesticides, and the water consumption it takes to produce it. In the U.S. alone, about half the pesticides used today are sprayed on cotton plants, and 25% of the world’s pesticides are used on this crop. Regarding water consumption, cotton doesn’t actually need that much water, as it is a very drought and heat-tolerant plant. However, farmers tend to heavily irrigate their fields to keep the soil healthy, making water consumption for this crop higher than it needs to be. The benefits of cotton are that it is durable, breathable, and biodegradable. Opt for organic cotton, as it is free of harmful chemicals.
These man-made fabrics are derived from cellulose (softwood trees such as bamboo). In terms of sustainability, this type of material is questionable. It requires chemicals to turn the plants into fabric (such as carbon disulfide, which can cause serious health problems for workers, including Parkinson’s disease, heart attacks, and stroke), but is a rapidly renewable resource. Another downfall, however, is that old-growth forests are being destroyed to make room for bamboo, so that is another factor to consider with this material. Plus, due to most bamboo being harvested in China, the shipping emissions negatively impact the product's reputation as a sustainable material.
By far, polyester is the least sustainable fabric. Made from crude oil, with every wash, this fabric releases plastic microfibers into our waterways, getting into lakes and oceans and where it is ingested by animals and humans.
Similar to bamboo, eucalyptus is a fast-growing plant that has been recently used in textile manufacturing. Unlike bamboo and other Viscose fabrics, eucalyptus (Lyocell) uses fewer chemicals during the manufacturing process. The only chemical used is a non-toxic solvent known as Amine Oxide. Some other benefits of eucalyptus are that the fabric can be recycled during the manufacturing process, and the process uses less water and energy than other textiles.
Did you know that your typical mattress is extremely unsustainable? Mattresses release harmful VOCs, and due to their flame-retardant properties, this often means than a dump truck's worth of chemicals is added in order to make this possible. Plus, the recent trend of memory-foam mattresses adds another unhealthy and unsustainable layer to mattresses. Despite companies marketing ‘plant-based foams,’ foam is petroleum-based and using only 5% of plant oils allows companies to market it as a sustainable option. Don’t be fooled! Thankfully, there have been great options in coming to market in recent years for actual sustainable, non-toxic mattresses.
Making sustainably-responsible choices can help you sleep at night.
Luckily, there are more and more sustainable bedding options on the market, so it's not as hard as it used to be to find something you not only like, but that also helps you sleep at night! We encourage you to do your homework before you make a purchase, and our interiors team is always happy to help, as well.