Is Your Pillow Toxic? What to Look for When Buying Toxic-Free Pillows

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Concerns about toxins in things like food, toiletries, furniture, and cleaning products are commonplace, but what about when it comes to your pillow? Depending on your sleeping position, many of us breathe in through our pillows all night long. Perhaps it’s time to consider what lies within your case and how it could affect your health.

Bearing that in mind, we then have to ask ourselves: is my pillow toxic? While it might feel nerve-wracking to think of your pillow as a potential war zone of chemicals, this guide will arm you with the information on what to look for and how to find the best toxic-free pillow for you moving forward.

Are There Hidden Toxic Chemicals in Pillows?

Hidden toxic chemicals can be found in pillows. Some safety measures may even introduce toxins that normally wouldn’t be there.

Illustration of a Man Lying Down on a Few Pillows Looking Worried about Somehing

Flame Retardants

Flame retardants are found in a variety of household items, including pillows. Their formal name is Polybrominated Diphenyl Ethers – or PBDEs.

While the intended purpose of flame retardant chemicals is to stave off or slow down fires, PBDEs may be doing more harm than good. That's because the chemicals in the flame retardants can lead to serious health risks including cancer, reproductive and neurological issues, and more.

VOCs and Off-Gassing Emissions

So, how exactly can these chemicals get into our system and become so dangerous? It's through a process called off-gassing, which is when chemicals called VOCs are released into the air. The term stands for volatile organic compounds.

According to the EPA, they can be emitted as gasses from liquids or solids and are found in thousands of products. The health effects of VOCs can be both short-term and long-term, and their concentration can be up to ten times higher indoors.

Perfumes and Deodorizers

Sometimes a company will use perfumes or deodorizers as a way to hide the smell of any retardants or VOCs. These perfumes and deodorizers aren't inherently toxic themselves, but you still may not want to inhale them every night, especially if you have asthma or other types of breathing issues. Not all VOCs give off an odor, so remember that just because some chemicals don't smell, it does not mean their toxin levels are any less dangerous.

What Kind of Pillows Are Most Toxic?

As consumers, we should know what pillows are made of and which ones are going to be the most toxic for our bodies.

Memory Foam

memory foam pillow illustration

A memory foam is a great choice for many people with neck pain, but there may be some trade-offs where toxins are concerned. To make sure your memory foam pillow is safe, look for a CertiPUR-US certification on the product. This means the pillow is not made with harmful chemicals and materials and has low VOC emissions.

Buckwheat pillow is a great natural alternative to a memory foam since it can also adjust to your body in the same fashion. The second alternative is bamboo pillows since they’re both organic and hypoallergenic.

Down and Feather

While less toxic than memory foam, down and feather pillows can pose a threat. A study reported some manufacturers use a combination of sticky chemicals called ‘glue’ to bind the down and create weight, along with antibacterial and antifungal chemicals to protect the product for long-term use. They also cite a previous finding of silicon in the glue compound and the possibility of more unknown chemicals in it.

If you prefer down and feathers but want something more natural, a helpful alternative is kapok pillows.

Latex

latex pillow illustration

Latex pillows are also a better option than memory foam. That's because Latex is made from the sap of a rubber tree, creating a more natural product. Latex pillows can be made either blended – synthetic and natural – or all-natural.

As you're probably already catching on, the safest option will be avoiding synthetics altogether and getting an all-natural latex pillow. Thankfully, there are plenty of great organic Latex alternatives out there for you. And if you want to branch out even further, try a natural wool instead.

What to Consider When Looking for a Non-Toxic Pillow

When making the switch to a non-toxic pillow, you should know what to look for, and gone will be the days of asking, “is my pillow safe?”.

It Must Be Hypoallergenic

If you're an allergy sufferer, you'll want to make sure your toxic-free pillow says that it's hypoallergenic. It's easy to assume that one made solely from natural materials would already be hypoallergenic, but that's not always the case, for example, some people are allergic to latex even though it’s a natural product.

It Should be Organic

Organic Pillows Made from Cotton and Bamboo and Latex Illustration

Organic is the top buzzword you're going to use when searching for natural pillows. That means it is guaranteed to be free of any chemicals, making it the safest sleep option for you and your family. In the United States, a fully organic pillow will have a USDA seal on it. A bonus: organic pillows are also more environmentally friendly.

Check Out Our Guide: Top Rated Organic Pillows

Look for Allergy Covers

person changing duvet cover

Allergic reactions can be a bigger headache for some more than others,  and if you're especially sensitive, you should invest in a good allergy pillow protector. As with the pillow fill, you also want to make sure your pillowcases have certifications for being both organic and hypoallergenic.

Check the Pillow Shell Material

The pillow shell – or cover –  does not refer to the pillowcases but rather the outer shell of the pillow itself. These can be made with a variety of materials that include linen, cotton, polyester, rayon, and more. Be sure to check that your shell is also certified organic and completely free of chemicals.

Frequently Asked Questions

How to mitigate allergens in your pillows

There are several options to mitigate allergens. As mentioned above, start by purchasing a hypoallergenic pillow and allergy pillow cover. These will help keep the dust mites at bay, which are a common allergy source.

Secondly, wash your bedding once a week in hot water. This includes your sheets, pillowcases, blankets, and bed covers.

You should also keep the humidity in your home at 50-percent or below. If you live in a humid climate, run the AC or use a dehumidifier to bring the levels down.

Removing carpeting and clutter can also keep dust mites and dirt away, but if removing carpet isn't an option, vacuum regularly.

Illustration of a Man Having Allergy Reaction and Rash

Are organic pillows more expensive?

It might be easy to write off organic pillows thinking they'll be too expensive, but there are plenty of organic options under $100 – many in the $50-$70 range. Even if that's more than you're used to paying for pillows, it's important to consider the long-term health investment.

We know that non-organic pillows have chemicals that can affect our well-being in the long run, so while we may cringe at the idea of paying more upfront, it could spare you some peace of mind and potentially some far more expensive medical bills down the road.

Conclusion

It appears the war against toxins and chemicals is everywhere, including our bedding, but thankfully there is a variety of options to help mitigate the risks.

Buying organic products should help cut down on the chemicals you are exposed to and choosing natural or hypoallergenic products may also help allergy sufferers.

If you prefer memory foam pillows, consider looking for a product that boasts low VOCs or a GreenGuard certification, a seal that verifies safe levels of potentially toxic chemicals.

As much as we need our bedding to provide us with adequate rest every night, we also need to be sure it's not harming us in the process. You deserve your home and sleep space to be a healthy one.

Content Writer | + posts

Jill Zwarensteyn is a content writer for Sleep Advisor and is enthusiastic about providing helpful and engaging information on all things sleep and wellness.

Based in Los Angeles, she is an experienced writer and journalist who enjoys spending her free time at the beach, hiking, reading, or exploring new places around town.

She’s also an avid traveler who has a personal goal of being able to successfully sleep on an airplane someday.

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