Most of us probably think that we are at our sustainable best when we are tucked up in bed at night. 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. That’s right even our bedroom can be sustainability and health nightmare.
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. Fortunately, there are ways to keep your bedroom free of toxins and allergens. 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.
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, bamboo, 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 flame retardants – which release VOCs. Rather than buying 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.
When you do purchase a new one 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. It is illegal to dump old mattresses on the side of the road.
Furniture and flooring: 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 synthetic chemicals found in pressed wood, carpet glue or plastic fibres.
Paint: While a new paint job always refreshes your bedroom, 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.