One important aspect of beauty is good beauty sleep. It doesn’t matter what you put on your skin, how much water you drink, what your diet is, if you’re not getting good rest your skin and your body will show it.
Recently, my husband and I upgraded our bedding in preparation for the birth of our second child. We wanted to make sure that every item we purchased was made with 100% natural materials, not only because they’re long-lasting but because we wanted to rest easy knowing we weren’t spending hours each night surrounded by toxins.
What's Wrong with “Regular” Bedding?
When our first child was a newborn she slept in our bed and we noticed some mornings she’d wake up with a slight rash on the side of her face that was against the bed.
We’d been gifted a brand new mattress when we got married, the kind full of gel, memory foam and all other kinds of chemicals that give it that really great “squish”. After doing some research, we guessed that the chemical foams, flame retardants, etc. from the mattress were more than likely the cause of her morning rash.
We traded out our fancy new mattress for the one in my parent’s guest room that was over a decade old and bought an allergy cover for it. Even though mattresses made before 2007 don't contain all the modern flame retardants that are now required, they still were prone to off gassing other chemicals as they age. So, we needed a better solution.
The next issue with modern bedding can be summarized in two words: polyester and polyurethane. Polyurethane foam is known to have chemical emissions that can be toxic to infants (and everyone). The scary thing is most crib mattresses are made of it! It’s a known irritant and can cause several negative health effects affecting your lungs, skin and eyes - and that’s before the flame retardants are added!
Polyester, while it seems to be in just about everything around us, is something that should NOT be in your bedding (or anything else if you can help it). Aside from the fact that synthetic materials aren’t breathable and will likely trap moisture and keep you sweating the night away, polyester outgases chemicals when heated.
So, when you’re wearing polyester, drying your sheets or sleeping, you’re absorbing plastics into your skin and gassing up your house with them, which builds up as toxins in your body. Not to mention they’re itchy, can irritate your skin and can cause allergic reactions. Here's a blog post if you want to read more.
The Hunt For Natural Materials
We didn’t do much shopping around for a non-toxic mattress. I already had an idea of how much organic mattresses cost, so as soon as I discovered a mattress that literally was just wool wrapped with organic cotton, and happened to be 70% off, I was sold. We only spent about $1000, shipping included.
Our next purchase was a bit of an indulgence, but one I’ll never regret: linen sheets. We were already using organic cotton sheets, and they were great but began to feel a bit musty. I wanted sheets that would keep me a little cooler (again, I’m pregnant). We found a pretty good deal on Etsy from a U.S. shop. Linen is not only non-toxic, but has some added benefits:
- It absorbs moisture well and stays very dry.
- It gets softer with each wash and, if you buy stone washed linen sheets they’re already soft when they arrive instead of crisp like new linen.
- It’s temperature regulating.
- It’s hyper-allergenic, for those sensitive to allergens.
- It’s super durable and will last for years to come.
- It’s bacteria, fungus and dust mite resistant.
We found a thin, wool-stuffed cotton duvet insert off overstock.com. It requires quite a bit of digging to find out what materials are used in products, especially if you’re a budget shopper.
We paid a little more to get a “100% cotton” bedskirt off Amazon only to discover it was a cotton/polyester blend once it arrived. I returned it and ended up getting one on clearance from Pottery Barn, which actually has quite a few 100% cotton options (make sure it specifies that the decking is cotton, it’s frequently polyester even if the drop is cotton).
My husband made us a wooden bed frame and headboard that was essentially a platform for the mattress that we could use without a box spring.
We planned on getting a waterproof mattress cover, but organic options are pricey and even they include polyurethane lamination (which they assure us doesn’t off-gas or leach chemicals). Our ideal option would have been a 100% wool puddle pad, but they were out of our price range. I shopped around for a vintage 100% wool blanket to use as a type of puddle pad that I planned on lanolizing like a wool diaper cover, but shopping online made it too hard to tell if the thickness and weave of the blanket would’ve actually been leak-resistant and wool blankets are a bit of an investment too.
We opted for a 100% organic cotton mattress protector filled with cotton stuffing. It wasn’t going to be waterproof but would absorb some spills before they reached the mattress. Since wool is self-cleaning, we were ok with the idea that some liquid may leak through.
Pillows were one thing we didn’t initially think about, but after going the extra mile to have everything else on our bed be natural, it didn’t make sense for us to be laying our head on synthetic fibers either. We started out by buying true down pillows (again, thanks to overstock.com’s bargain deals) and my husband liked them ok but they flattened out a little too much for me. I was used to a memory foam pillow, so I ordered a natural latex pillow to test out. Natural latex is made from rubber trees and, if it’s truly natural, there are no foaming agents or other materials added to it, just pure, natural latex straight from the tree sap (pictured above).
For throw pillows, we purchased some cotton, silk and linen covers on sale from Pottery Barn and West Elm and got some down pillow inserts (make sure the shell is 100% cotton, most are polyester) to put inside. I found it pretty hard to find pre-filled pillows that weren't stuffed with polyester and that had a cotton shell.
Do Natural Materials Really Make for Better Sleep?
So, now we’re resting easy about not exposing ourselves or our little ones to off gassing and leaching chemicals while we sleep. But what about the quality of our sleep? Can natural options really compare to what we’ve gotten accustomed to with modern bedding options?
I will say that an all wool mattress is definitely an adjustment. If you can afford the investment, there are lots of other organic options with other materials that will feel more like the modern spring or foam mattresses you may be used to. However, we were braced for the change and are perfectly happy with a wool mattress.
The first thing I noticed was that the hip pain I was experiencing from side sleeping (third trimester problems) was virtually gone overnight! We found the wool to have plenty of give, even though it does compress a bit over time. My dad sat on it and said “that’s hard!”, but that’s because when you plop down on a bed you expect it to bounce, which isn’t going to happen if you’re not using a spring mattress. It also requires you to flip it over every week or so when you first get it to help the wool compress evenly. It’s low maintenance in the sense that wool is self-cleaning, antimicrobial and naturally water resistant. It should last you for at least a decade without requiring any sort of cleaning and without getting musty. But again, don’t expect the bounciness of a normal mattress, it’s more similar to sleeping on a big stack of cozy blankets.
However, we love it and both have less joint pain after our switch. Also, our toddler loves it and studies show that babies (and parents) sleep better on wool because of its temperature regulation and allergen reduction. I’ve definitely noticed that I sleep much deeper.
Here's a list of "allowed" materials we used for our personal bedding choices to help guide you:
- Organic cotton
- Linen (doesn't need to be organic because growing linen requires fewer pesticides)
- Wool or alpaca fiber (again, doesn't need to be organic but more natural wool is better, since it is processed with fewer chemicals, try to avoid "washable" wool - here's why)
- Natural Latex (make sure there's no foaming agents or anything else added)
- Coconut coir (frequently added to natural mattresses and pillows for extra spring)
- Down Feathers (not down alternative)
Our favorite purchase has definitely been the linen sheets. They are so comfortable and cool and soft. I can’t rave about them enough.
Overall, we love everything about our bed. It's now a completely restful place for us and we feel good about our little ones sleeping on it too. In fact, it's even inspired us to make our own sectional out of natural materials (stay tuned for the results)!
After a herbal bath with our bath salts and a spritz of lavender hydrosol, sleep has never been so dreamy.