For sweeter dreams

You’d be surprised how many toxins you sleep with. Here’s how to you’re your bedroom a true haven

Photo By Tom Angel

It is our sanctuary from the day’s events, our private space; the place where we dream and rest our bodies. We spend one third of our lives in bed and, by default, in our bedroom, so it is not surprising that we take great care in its appearance: We invest in luxurious bedding, experiment with color on its walls and accent the space with furniture, carpeting, and window coverings to make it a true retreat.

But the very things that we do to make it more habitable may also create an environment that is toxic to our bodies. Many of the materials used in today’s home products contain chemicals that release toxins into the air: formaldehyde, boric acid, volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Even your mattress and pillows, which are often pressed right up to your nose for hours on end, can “outgas,” or release such substances, during our long day’s journey into night.

Reading about all of the negative long-term effects of indoor air pollution is enough to make anyone grab a sleeping bag and head outdoors. Thankfully, there are many ways to reduce or even eliminate the sources of such toxins. I’ve asked local expert Valerie Reddemann, of Chico’s eco-friendly home store Greenfeet, to take us step-by-step through a typical bedroom and help us reduce or eliminate sources of pollution altogether.

Let’s start with the bed. Mattresses are often made with foam, a petroleum-based product. They may also contain boric acid, which is a fire retardant and pesticide. To eliminate the presence of these chemicals (and naturally discourage dust mites), consider a mattress made of 100 percent natural latex, or one that contains a combination of wool and organic cotton. If a new bed isn’t an option, practice safer sleeping by purchasing a wool or natural-latex topper to serve as a barrier between you and the mattress.

Your brand-new sheets probably contain sizing (a starch) that makes them nice and crisp. Unfortunately, this is also an allergen. To remove, soak sheets in white vinegar and water for a couple of hours, then wash a few times. And again, try to find materials made from organic cotton, cotton that isn’t grown or processed with pesticides.

Finally, please throw out those three-year-old pillows that your cat loves to sleep on when you’re at work. Your respiratory system is overworked as it is—replace those misshapen dander-filled foam pillows with, again, natural latex or organic cotton. Buckwheat and 100 percent recycled polyfill (derived from recycled soda bottles) are another interesting, toxin-free alternative.

One thing’s for sure—try to avoid products made from plastics, like vinyl. All plastics (and foams) are made from petroleum and (as you might guess) release some pretty nasty fumes.

Let’s hop off the bed and examine the floor. According to Reddemann, one of the worst things you can have below your feet is a carpet. Not only is it a major source of toxic fumes when new, but it can also create its own form of synthetic house dust and is very difficult to clean adequately. There are natural-fiber carpets, which are actually easier to clean. A better choice is to use hardwood or tile. And while laminates look nice, they contain formaldehyde. Opt for the real deal.

One of our favorite ways to quickly change the tone of a room is to paint the walls a new color. Unfortunately, fresh new paint almost always contains VOCs. According to the EPA, symptoms associated with exposure to such compounds include “headache, allergic skin reaction, nausea and fatigue,” not to mention aggravating your kid’s asthma. While a little harder to find, low- or no-VOC paint can be found locally, produced by such name brands as Benjamin Moore and Behr.

For furniture, nothing beats good old-fashioned wood—nix the particleboard and presswood, which contain formaldehyde. Local stores such as All Wood Furniture on Mangrove and Esplanade Furniture carry a nice assortment of real-wood furniture. (My personal favorite source of beautiful, affordable, refinished antique furniture is Sandy Gulch Furniture Company on Oleander. But let’s keep that our little secret.)

We’ve all heard the horror stories about lead-based paint and its harmful effects on the developing nervous system of babies and children, but did you know that some imported candles have been found with this heavy metal? Avoid this altogether by picking candles with paper, not metal wicks. While you’re at it, choose those with natural components (soy wax, beeswax or those with a vegetable base). Fragrances should also be derived from pure essential oils, like lavender.

Finally, keep you bedroom as clutter-free as possible. "It provides a calmer sense of mind," says Reddemann. "Think of how much better you feel when things are in their own place." And think how much better you’ll feel as you settle into your bed at night knowing that you’ve made steps toward a cleaner, fresher, healthier bedroom.