Avoid mattresses filled with polyurethane foam. Polyurethane is a synthetic material made from petroleum products. That means it is produced from limited fossil fuel resources (often creating toxic waste in the process) and it is not biodegradable. Polyurethane off-gasses toxic volatile organic compounds (VOCs) which decreases indoor air quality. Plus, mattresses made with synthetic foams are treated with polybrominated diphenyl ether (PBDE) fire retardants. In 2010, after years of study, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) determined that PBDEs are bioaccumulative and toxic to both humans and the environment and began working on a voluntary phase out of the chemicals by the end of 2013.
To protect yourself from such toxins opt for a mattress filled with cotton (preferably organic cotton), wool (naturally flame retardant), or natural latex. The greenest option, latex, is anti-microbial, anti-bacterial, and dust-mite proof. Just be sure the latex is at least 97% natural. If opting for another natural filler, use a hypoallergenic mattress protector to prevent dust mites.
Bedding and Other Fabrics
It's a little known fact that bedsheets are often treated with chemicals to make them soft. And thanks to its excessive use of insecticides and pesticides, conventional cotton is considered the world's dirtiest crop. Hence, sheets made from organic cotton or bamboo are better for your health and the environment. Avoid sheets with labels like moisture-repellent, stain-resistant, or fire-repellent – clear indications they've been treated with chemicals. With more and more stores like Wal-Mart, Target, and Pottery Barn offering organic bedding, the selection and availability of eco-friendly linens is greater than ever.
When selecting pillows look for hypoallergenic and organic pillows filled with wool, organic cotton, buckwheat or millet hulls, or natural (at least 97%) latex. Pillows made from recycled polyester fill are another eco-friendly option.
For blankets, wool is a greener options than polyester. Down comforters attract dust mites and, because they draw in moisture and don't dry quickly, can produce mold. Wool is lightweight, warm and quick-drying.
Wash bedding weekly to cut down on dust mites and other allergens.
Before purchasing any new furniture take stock of what you already own. Sometimes you just need to move pieces around to give your room a fresh new look. Also consider any other items you may have stored away that you could re-purpose or re-finish to use in your bedroom.
Then, if you really do need a new piece of furniture for your bedroom, consider purchasing vintage or used. By purchasing pre-owned you keep items out of landfills and avoid buying new pieces you'd eventually have to dispose of. Check out antique shops, thrift shops, Freecycle, Craigslist, and eBay. And remember: you can always change hardware, reupholster, paint, or stain a piece to make it your own.
If you do decide to purchase new, take careful consideration of what furniture is made of. Steer clear of pieces made from manufactured wood products (i.e., particleboard, fiberboard, plywood) because they typically contain formaldehyde glues. Products made from metal and glass are safer options because they are inert materials which don’t offgas.
When purchasing solid wood furniture look for wood that is certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), an international, non-profit organization that requires companies to meet strict economic, social, and environmental standards to become certified. Look for the FSC logo on furniture, ask your retailer, or use the FSC's online database to find certified vendors. Other healthier, more eco-friendly options include furniture made from reclaimed wood or a renewable resource like bamboo.
Look for furniture finished with no- or low- VOC paints and stains. Alternatively, purchasing unfinished furniture you can finish yourself is a great way to get quality, customizable pieces at a reduced cost.
Carpets made of wool (a renewable and biodegradable resource) and other natural materials (such as plant fibers, jute, and seagrass) are greener options than traditional carpet which is made of synthetic materials and backed by SB latex, a petroleum product that contains the toxin styrene and is a suspected carcinogen. Also, more and more companies are introducing eco-friendly carpeting options made from recycled products like recycled plastics and organic materials like corn.
Carpet, however, can be hard to clean and can harbor dirt, dust and mold. Greener, more allergy-friendly flooring options include bamboo, cork and natural linoleum (a long lasting material made from natural ingredients such as linseed oil, wood resins, cork, limestone, and jute). Then, you can always add some natural fiber area rugs that can be thrown in the washer to clean.
Indoor Air Quality
Paint is a great, inexpensive way to give a room a whole new look, but traditional paints contain harmful contaminants that are damaging to human health and the environment. According to the EPA, paints, stains, and other architectural coatings are the second-largest source of VOC emissions after automobiles. When looking for low-VOC paints seek out products certified by a third party such as Green Seal and make sure that the VOC levels are measured after the tints are added.
Never use mothballs. Naphthalene, the substance mothballs are made of, can cause respiratory problems, damage to the liver, and neurological damage. Plus, the EPA has classified naphthalene as a possible human carcinogen. Products made from cedarwood are safe and just as effective at protecting clothes and linens from moths.
Despite how nice they may look or smell, traditional paraffin candles and the smoke and soot they produce can contain harmful toxins. The American Lung Association and the EPA have warned consumers that using paraffin candles can decrease indoor air quality. Paraffin is the last petroleum byproduct removed in the refining process (right after asphalt). The fumes released by paraffin candles are comparable to those produced by burning diesel. For a healthier, greener alternative look for candles made from soy or beeswax, scented with essential oil, with non-lead wicks.
Adding an air-cleaning plant or two to your bedroom can help improve indoor air quality. A NASA study showed philodendron, English ivy, spider plant, dracaena, weeping fig, golden pothos, peace lily, Chinese evergreen, bamboo or reed palm, and snake plant to be the most effective at removing common pollutants from the air.
Finally, try to open your windows and air out your bedroom for at least 15 minutes every day. The EPA and the National Lung Association both recommend opening windows to ventilate air and lower indoor air pollutants.