Is My Pillow Toxic and What Chemicals Does it Contain?

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Are you getting a good night’s sleep? If you’re like most people, the answer is probably no.

It’s no secret that our sleeping habits significantly impact our overall health. But what you may not know is that your pillow could be making you sick.

Wait! What? Is my pillow toxic?

Potentially, yes! Some studies have shown that many pillows contain high levels of toxic chemicals, which can cause various health problems.

In this article, I’ll discuss the dangers of toxic pillows and how you can find safe alternatives.

Hidden Nasties That Can Make Your Pillow Toxic

bed pillows contain chemicals

There are many potentially toxic chemicals and other nasties hiding in traditional pillows.

Flame Retardants

One of the most dangerous toxins in pillows is polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), one of the most commonly used flame retardant chemicals.

PBDEs have been linked to various health problems, including cancer, hormonal disruption, and fertility problems.

PBDEs are extremely difficult to break down and can accumulate in the body over time.

Pesticides

Pesticides are used to kill pests when growing crops for traditional fabrics such as cotton.

Pesticide residue can still be present in the finished product, which can be harmful to humans.

Formaldehyde

Formaldehyde is classified as a human carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC).

Perfumes And Deodorants

Many pillows are treated with perfumes and deodorants to mask the chemical smell of off-gassing toxins.

However, these treatments can lead to symptoms such as headaches and sore throats in those sensitive to fragrances.

Polyester

Polyester is an artificial fabric that is often used in pillow filling.

It’s a type of plastic made from petroleum and emits harmful chemicals when it breaks down.

Dust Mites

Dust mites are tiny creatures that thrive in warm, humid environments.

They feed on dead skin cells, and their excrement can trigger allergies and asthma attacks in sensitive people.

Mold And Mildew

Mold and mildew can also be found in pillows, especially if they are not properly cleaned or stored.

Mold exposure can cause various health problems, such as respiratory infections, headaches, and fatigue.

Fungi

Fungi are another type of microorganism found in pillows. The most common household fungi are Aspergillus fumigatus.

Like mold and mildew, fungi can cause various health problems if inhaled.

Bacteria

Bacteria can be present in dirty pillows and can cause infections, stomach flu, and other illnesses.

Ticks, Fleas, And Bedbugs

Ticks, fleas, and bed bugs can also be found in pillows, especially if they’re second-hand or have been stored in an unclean environment.

These pests can cause numerous health problems, including Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever.

Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs)

Many of the toxins in your pillow are classified as volatile organic compounds (VOCs).

These VOCs off-gas into the air, and you breathe them in while sleeping.

You can read more about VOCs and how to speed up the off-gassing process in this article.

Toxic Pillow Chemicals And Your Health

So, what does all this mean for your health?

Exposure to these VOCs, flame retardants, and other chemicals, has been linked to a variety of health problems including:

  • Headaches
  • Liver damage
  • Brain fog (lack of concentration)
  • Asthma
  • Eye irritation
  • Throat irritation
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Cancer
  • Dizziness
  • Central nervous system Damage
  • Kidney damage
  • Nose irritation

In other words, if your pillow is full of toxic chemicals, it could make you sick!

So, what can you do to protect yourself?

Choose Non-Toxic Materials

Switch to a pillow made from non-toxic materials.

There are many safe and healthy alternatives available, such as:

  • Buckwheat: Buckwheat pillows are filled with buckwheat hulls, which are the hard outer shell of the buckwheat grain. They’re naturally hypoallergenic and dust-mite resistant.
  • Organic Cotton: Organic cotton is a sustainably sourced fabric grown without the use of harmful pesticides or chemicals. It’s a safe and healthy alternative to traditional cotton.
  • Wool: Wool is a natural fiber that’s both flame-resistant and breathable. It’s also an excellent insulator, so it will keep you warm in winter and cool in summer.
  • Organic Kapok:  Kapok is a tree fiber often used as an alternative to down. An organic kapok pillow is non-toxic, light, and fluffy.
  • Natural Latex: Latex is a natural rubber that’s derived from the sap of the rubber tree. It’s durable, supportive, and has a springy feel.

Avoid Chemical Treatments

hidden chemical treatments in your home

Many conventional fabrics are treated with harmful chemicals, such as:

  • Flame retardants
  • ’No iron’ easy care coatings
  • Stain resistant coatings
  • Toxic dyes

Try to avoid these at all costs.

Potentially Toxic Pillows To Avoid

Memory Foam Pillows

Memory foam pillows can be an excellent solution for people who suffer from neck pain.

However, you need to be very careful. A memory foam pillow, especially a cheap imported one from less regulated countries (China, for example), can contain harmful chemicals.

Down/Feathers Pillows

Down and feather pillows can be an excellent option for people who want a natural pillow.

However, you need to make sure that the down is ethically sourced. Unfortunately, many companies cut corners and use down from birds that have been live-plucked or force-fed. This is inhumane.

Also, as reported by this study, down and feather pillows often contain high levels of glue (used to bind the filling and create weight or support).

Synthetic Latex Pillows

Synthetic latex pillows usually contain fewer toxins than memory foam pillows.

However, you should still think twice about buying them as they will still have significantly more toxins than certified organic latex pillows.

Certifications

Respected and well-known third-party certifications help give you peace of mind that your pillow has been made by an ethical company using eco-friendly and sustainable materials and manufacturing processes.

Some of the leading ones to look out for include:

  • 1% For The Planet
  • Certified B Corporation (B Corp)
  • Climate Neutral Certified
  • Global Organic Latex Standard (GOLS)
  • Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS)
  • GREENGUARD
  • MADE SAFE
  • OEKO-TEX
  • Responsible Down Standard
  • Responsible Wool Standard

These certifications also validate that any eco claims the manufacturer makes about their product are true, and they’re not trying to trick you with underhanded greenwashing tactics.

Research, Research, Research

Do your research (or read my articles and let me do it for you! 😉) until you’re 100% certain that the product and manufacturer meet your strict eco-friendly and ethical standards.

Not 100% sure? Contact the company directly and grill them.

Or, contact us with your questions, and TheRoundup team will try and find the answers for you.

Your Non-Toxic Pillow Buyers Guide

eco friendly bedding and pillows

Now you know what to avoid, let’s finish with a buyer’s guide to help point you in the right direction the next time you’re in the market for a new pillow.

Shell Vs. Fill

There are two main parts to a pillow, and both need to be as natural as possible to ensure your bedroom remains free from toxic chemicals:

  • Shell: The shell of a pillow is the outer casing that contains the fill material
  • Fill: The fill is the material stuffed inside the shell

Go Organic

Look for a pillow made from organic materials.

As we’ve seen, many conventional pillows are full of chemicals that can off-gas into your bedroom and cause all sorts of health problems.

So, switch to an organic natural pillow and cut out the chemicals.

Choose The Right Fill

The type of fill you choose will depend on your personal preferences. Do you like a soft pillow or a firm one? Do you want it to be light and airy or heavy and supportive?

Buckwheat hulls are naturally firm and supportive, making them an excellent choice for people who suffer from neck pain.

Want something more cloud-like? Kapok or shredded natural latex might be perfect for you!

Use A Pillowcase

Pillowcases are an essential barrier between you and your pillow. They help to keep dust mites, dead skin cells, and other nasties out of your pillow (and away from your face!).

They also extend the life of your pillow by protecting it from spills, sweat, and other stains.

Choose A Shape That Suits You

Pillows come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. The right one for you will depend on your sleep position, body type, and personal preferences.

Some popular pillow shapes include:

  • Rectangular: Rectangular pillows are the most common type of pillow. They’re suitable for most sleep positions and body types.
  • Contour: Contour pillows have a raised edge that supports your head and neck. They’re great for people who suffer from neck pain or headaches.
  • Cylinder: Cylinder pillows (also called bolster pillows) are long and thin. You can use them to prop up your head, neck, or knees.

Look For A Good Warranty Or Sleep Trial

A good warranty, or sleep trial, indicates that the manufacturer is confident in their product and stands behind it. It also gives you peace of mind that you can return or exchange the pillow if it’s not right for you.

Most pillow companies offer a 30-day money-back guarantee, but some offer longer warranties of up to five years.

Check The Labels

As with any product, it’s essential to check the labels before you buy to ensure it doesn’t contain anything that will cause you to react adversely.

You should also check the care instructions to ensure you can wash and care for the pillow according to your needs.

Go Hypoallergenic

If you suffer from allergies, it’s crucial to choose a pillow that won’t trigger your symptoms.

Look for a hypoallergenic pillow made from natural materials resistant to dust mites and other allergens.

Frequently Asked Questions

Are Organic Pillows More Expensive?

Yes. Most organic and sustainable products are more expensive than their mainstream counterparts. However, if your budget can stretch that far, it’s worth it for the added peace of mind.

If you can’t quite afford organic pillows right now, maybe wait for holiday sales, or even ask friends and family for gift vouchers for your favorite organic bedding store for your birthday or Christmas.

How Should I Wash My Pillow?

Not all pillows are machine washable, so always check the care label.

If it’s not machine washable, you can still help keep it sanitary by vacuuming regularly and placing it in direct sunlight for a few hours every few months.

Regardless, always use a pillowcase and wash weekly in eco-friendly laundry detergent along with the rest of your eco-friendly bedding.

What’s The Best Way To Store Organic Pillows?

When pillows are not used for a while, it’s best to store them in a cool, dry place. Using protective storage containers can also extend the storage life.

Do I Need To Replace My Pillow Every Few Years?

It’s generally recommended that you replace your pillow every two to three years, but this will vary depending on the type of pillow and how often you use it.

Once you notice the level of support waning, it’s time to replace it before you experience neck or back pain.

What If I’m Allergic To My Memory Foam Pillow?

If you think you may be allergic to your pillow, the first step is to consult with an allergist. They’ll likely recommend a series of tests to determine what you’re allergic to.

Once that’s determined, they can help you find a hypoallergenic pillow or recommend other solutions.

Is The MyPillow Filled With Memory Foam?

According to their Amazon listing, the fill material is polyester.

Are MyPillows Made In China?

No, they’re made in Chanhassen, Minnesota.

Is MyPillow An Organic Pillow Brand?

No.

The Final Word

If your pillow does contain toxins, the best thing you can do is dispose of it responsibly and find a safe alternative.

There are many safe and non-toxic pillows on the market. These pillows are free of dangerous chemicals and are much better for your health.

So, if you’re looking for a safe and healthy pillow, choose one made with natural materials (organic kapok is my current favorite)...your body will thank you!

Get In Touch

Synthetic pillows or natural pillows; what do you rest your head on? Are you worried you might have a toxic pillow? Do you wake up with a bad headache or experience breathing difficulties?

What’s your favorite non-toxic pillow brand? Do you swear by organic pillows, or are you happy with memory foam? Drop me a line and let me know.

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James is a senior editor at The Roundup and has been in journalism for over 10 years. He was born in the UK but raised in Florida, where he currently lives with his wife and two daughters. James is passionate about sustainable living and environmental issues which are reflected by his work as an editor of TheRoundup.org.
James Miller
James is a senior editor at The Roundup and has been in journalism for over 10 years. He was born in the UK but raised in Florida, where he currently lives with his wife and two daughters. James is passionate about sustainable living and environmental issues which are reflected by his work as an editor of TheRoundup.org.

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