The bedroom is an important room in our homes and with good reason – it is the one room where we spend most of our time – in fact, about a third of our lifetime. It’s the place where we start and end each day, where we relax and recuperate.
However, a good night’s sleep doesn’t seem so peaceful when you consider that the bedroom can harbour up to 100 times more pollutants than there are outdoors, mostly due to ‘off-gassing’ from bedding, pillows, mattresses, flooring and bed frames.
Off-gassing is the slow process of noxious gases, such as volatile organic compounds (VOCs), entering the air from toxic materials, making it easy for us to breathe them in. VOCs such as formaldehyde and benzene are known carcinogens, while tolulene and xylene can cause brain damage. Fortunately, there are ways to keep your bedroom free of toxins and allergens. Now I feel like I am scaremongering!
Now before everyone jumps out of bed in horror at the potential damage they are causing themselves – it isn’t all bad news – there are things you can do to mitigate.
I have probably made those of you already out of bed feel much better now for not being such a clearly dangerous place.
And before I go on – this is not an excuse to throw everything out and start again – just think about your purchases in the future. So what can we do?
BEDDING: Bed linen made from synthetic materials such as polyester are much less hygienic than all-natural linen because synthetics trap moisture and allow microbes and dust mites to flourish. Cotton is better and preferably organic because it will have less chemical residues.
When it comes to pillows and quilts, try eucalyptus, buckwheat, tea tree or corn-fibre. There’s also an increasingly popular fibre called kapok, which is light, water-resistant (so it naturally repels mites and bacteria) and usually grown 100 per cent organically.
MATTRESS: Most mattresses sold on the Australian market are made from petroleum-based polyurethane, and are treated with potentially lethal flame retardants. The good news is that wool naturally repels fire, and if you opt for something like an organic wool futon.
Even a 10-year-old toxic mattress can still off-gas. If you can’t afford a new mattress, cover your current one with a non-toxic mattress protector or comforter of 2.5 cm thickness to keep you from breathing in VOCs. Be sure to recycle any old mattresses, check out what to do with them in your area through your local council – just be aware that there is a cost to dispose of old mattresses.
PAINT: Interior decorators will tell you that the first step to refreshing a room is a new layer of paint. But slopping a standard paint or varnish (particularly oil-based) onto walls and trims dramatically increases VOCs in the room. Luckily, low- or zero-VOC, water-based paints are available and look great.
FURNITURE & FLOORS: That ‘new’ smell of recently bought furniture, carpet, cupboards and particleboard is actually the toxic off-gassing of VOCs, but dangerous vapours won’t always have an odour. You can prevent VOC build-up by choosing natural carpeting and furniture that is made without the nasty synthetic chemicals found in pressed wood, carpet glue or plastic fibres. Of approximately 400 VOCs that can be found in the home, more than 200 can be found in carpeting. Good flooring materials include timber, cork, bamboo, and linoleum, while for furniture, most upcycled, reclaimed or secondhand timber items are generally much better than new.
WELL-KEPT: Sometimes our cleaning regimes can focus on the kitchen, bathroom and living areas, while the bedroom rarely gets more than a quick dusting and sheet change. As through the rest of the house, stick with natural cleaners, such as hot water, bicarb and vinegar, for cleaning everything including mirrors, floors, carpets and rugs. When changing sheets, leave them off for the day to air your mattress. Use eco-friendly washing detergents as they’re also kinder to your skin. On wooden furniture and floors, use natural oil- or beeswax-based polishes.