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by Christine Chamberlin
Article published on Organic.org January 2006
You've chosen an organic lifestyle. You eat organic foods. You exercise. Now it's time to make your bedroom, the room where you spend one-third of your life, as healthy as it can be.
To create an organic bedroom, the focus should be on removing airborne allergens like dust mites, pollen, mold, mildew, bacteria, viruses, and Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) that disrupt sleep and can pose long-term health problems. The American Lung Association and the EPA recommend three strategies for reducing indoor air pollution:
While this may seem easy enough in theory, putting it into practice may be a little harder. With this in mind, we have broken these strategies into these easy to implement 10 steps to an organic bedroom. With these simple 10 steps to an organic bedroom, you can create a safer environment for this all-important area of your home.
Get rid of your old mattress, no matter how new it is or costly you think it might be to replace. It is likely that flame-retardant and stain-resistant chemicals were sprayed on the mattress at the factory. Foam cushioning could contain PBDEs or petrochemicals that give off gas (chemical off-gassing). Since you spend nearly one-third of your life on your mattress, this important item should be replaced as quickly as possible.
If you are chemically sensitive, particularly to latex odors, choose a natural cotton mattress or organic cotton mattress. While cotton mattresses tend to be very firm, you can add a wool topper to soften the top and relieve pressure points. A topper will also reduce body indentations that occur over time.
The rest of us should choose a natural latex mattress because it is anti-microbial, anti-bacterial, dust-mite proof, and relieves pressure points. Be sure the latex is at least 97% natural and not a 60/40 blend of natural and petrochemical-based materials.
A natural latex mattress provides your neck, shoulders, hips, and knees with superior support because you sleep in the mattress rather than on top of it. You'll toss and turn less frequently and sleep more peacefully, allowing your body's immune system to rejuvenate for the next day's activities.
Can't afford a new organic mattress right now? Add a pure wool or natural rubber mattress topper. The topper won't stop your old mattress materials from off-gassing, but you could rest more peacefully knowing that you have put some distance between your body and the toxins.
Also, encase your mattress and pillows in organic cotton barrier cloths or zippered encasings to protect your lungs from dust mite allergens. Studies have shown mattress and pillow encasings can relieve eczema suffering.
Replace treated bedding with items made with all-natural or organic fibers. Replace any fabrics that have been treated with a chemical flame retardant or stain protector with all natural bedding or organic bedding.
Choose pillows made with untreated cotton, organic cotton (better), buckwheat hulls (great neck support), wool (best at moisture wicking), or natural rubber (97% natural latex).
Select sheets, blankets, and duvet covers made with untreated or organic cotton or wool. Organic cotton now comes in many brilliant colors.
Select a wool comforter for warmth and superior moisture-wicking properties. It's also very lightweight. A study conducted at Polytechnic Institute of Wales showed using wool as a fill fiber resulted in calmer heart rates. If you do prefer the feel of down, opt for a hypodown alternative which uses a ratio of 80/20 goose down and milkweed fibers. The milkweed fibers will help to reduce the effects of the allergens found in down.
An air purifier is one of the easiest and most efficient ways to make the air you breathe cleaner and safer. Be sure your unit uses HEPA filtration. HEPA stands for High-Efficiency Particulate Air, and a good HEPA filter will eliminate 99.97% of all particles the size of 3 microns or larger. While these units can come in many affordable ranges to accommodate your budget, don't overlook yearly costs for filter replacement. Some units require on-going filter replacement and prove very expensive in the long run, so you want to take this factor into consideration. Have a mold or mildew problem? Remove it yourself with bleach or have professionals take on this serious task.
If your budget allows it and you are looking for air quality that is even more impressive than air filters, installing a whole-house air cleaning system is a great way to breathe easier. Another option is to install special furnace filters designed to remove 90% or more of allergens and particles 2-10 microns in size.
When evaluating how to create an organic bedroom, you might overlook the matter of flooring. However, it is essential to remove old carpeting because it is a breeding ground for dust mites. Replace this type of flooring with hypoallergenic cork, ceramic tile, wood flooring that is not treated with a toxic finish, or recycled linoleum called Marmoleum. Warm your toes with scatter rugs that can be easily washed if you require a carpet-like option.
This seemingly small area of the home can carry chemicals, bacteria, and dust mites which makes them not worth the chance. Get rid of treated draperies or shades. Invest in untreated wood blinds, fabric shades or window treatments made with organic fibers.
Do not use VOC paints, stains, or sealants. These products contain harsh ingredients and harmful chemicals. Even worse, most them continue to emit gasses and byproducts into the air once dry so you are breathing them in every day. Luckily, there are several safe alternatives to choose from. AFM SafeCoat products are used in hospitals, and are recommended by environmental medicine physicians. The Old-fashioned Milk Paint Company in Groton, Massachusetts sells no-odor authentic milk paint in 16 colors. American Clay offers 32 colors of natural clay plasters and a variety of finishes. Or, try hemp wall upholstery that can be stapled into place without using adhesives.
You want to regularly air out bedrooms and bedding. Doctors, the EPA, and National Lung Association all recommend opening windows to recycle the air regularly. For those with seasonal allergies, a window guard stops pollen, dust, and dirt particles from entering your room. In Europe they throw their comforters onto the windowsill every morning. While this may not be common practice here in the U.S., don't be so quick to make your bed, and let your bedding air out for a while.
Even if you go through all the other suggestions here, failing to routinely clean and sanitize your bedroom can lead to an overabundance of bacteria, dust mites, and unhealthy breathing particles. Maintain a clean sleeping environment by getting into a schedule and following it every week. According to the Mayo Clinic, you should wash bedding often, at a minimum of once a week, in hot water at least 130 degrees Fahrenheit to kill dust mites. Cold water washing can be done with detergents specifically designed to kill dust mites. The key is to keep the area clean to make it healthy and safe for your sleep in every night.
For more information about indoor air pollution and creating a healthy home visit:
Allergy & Asthma Foundation of America
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) "The Inside Story: A Guide to Indoor Air Quality"
California Air Resources Board
U.S. Department of Labor Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) "Indoor Air Quality"
Yourlunghealth.org "Coping with Indoor Air Pollution"
Allergy&Asthma Foundation of America
American Respiratory Care Foundation
American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology
National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases - National Institutes of Health