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Did you know that we spend about 2500 hours every year in bed? About a third of our lives lying horizontal inhaling the sweet nothings from our fluffy pillows. Yet most of us don’t think twice about picking up a cheap plastic or down-filled pillow made using not only nasty toxicants but feathers plucked from live animals. That simple, rash purchasing decision is most likely detrimental not just to your body and the environment but animal welfare too. If you truly wanted to make a simple upgrade in the bedroom that will change all that then keep reading to find the best natural pillow for your bedroom.
What are pillows made from?
Most of us don’t give much thought to how our pillows are produced, let alone the materials that they are made from. Whilst we may give some consideration to the outer pillow casing (Egyptian cotton 400 thread or pure silk to reduce those wrinkles) we rarely think much about the pillow filling itself. I’ve listed the most common below:
- Polyester (synthetic polyfill or fibrefill)
- Down (duck, chicken, goose)
- Wool (sheep)
- Latex (pure natural rubber or synthetic latex)
- Cotton (conventional or organic)
- Combination of above
Safe to say many of these can lead to health as well as environmental issues including:
-allergic reactions – house dust mites are possibly the most common year-round allergen
-asthma – about 11% of Australians have asthma and almost half of hospitalisations are children under the age of 14.
-exposure to chemicals including the known carcinogen formaldehyde and other nasties that can accumulate in our body adversely affecting our general health and overall wellbeing.
How do you know what to look for in a natural pillow?
Firstly, let’s take a look at what NOT to buy:
Pillows are generally made from low cost toxic synthetic materials that also turn out to be quite costly to the environment. Petroleum derived polyester and polyurethane based memory foams dominate the field which can outgas Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs). These can cause a range of long term health concerns if continually inhaled or absorbed through the skin.
If you spend a third of your time breathing into your pillow at night, do you really want to be breathing in such harmful substances every night?
The hidden poisons in polyester:
Polyester is essentially plastic made from a non-renewable resource: petroleum. In words if you care about reducing single use plastics, reducing your reliance on petrol and are an advocate for reusable energy well you should also care about what your pillows and bedding is made from.
The polyester that filling and fabric is made from is usually PET (that is, polyethylene the same plastic used in disposable plastic water bottles). The chemical reactions used in the manufacturing process can include horrifying sounding compounds such as terephthalic acid, dimethyl terephthalate, monoethylene glycol and the toxic heavy metal antimony. Suffice to say, you don’t need to be a rocket scientist to grasp that these chemicals belong in the lab not in your bed. Of course, the presence of a chemical does not necessarily mean the product is harmful. Let’s have a closer look at antimony.
Antimony is a toxic metal and a known carcinogen. It can adversely affect the heart, lungs, liver, and skin. But there is some debate as to whether or not on a hot sweaty night the antimony can migrate out of your pillow stuffing (or polyester clothing) into your body via your skin or respiratory tract. It’s been said that the amount of antimony that can leach from polyester is minute and the health risks are therefore minimal. But are they?
There are quite a few studies now showing that clothes can contain high levels of antimony. The source may be dyes, ink, metals, or the processing of the yarn itself. The exact source is not known but it is definitely there. Whether or not this transfers to pillows is not certain but why take the risk especially with young children with underdeveloped detoxification systems?
Always the check the label if you do buy a polyester pillow. Avoid those that contain any sort of flame retardant and or anti-microbial/anti-bacterial and allergen protectors. Again these are nasty toxicants which neither you nor your children want to breathe in at night.
A big problem with using synthetics materials is that just like petrol or gas they can go up in smoke pretty easily. So out of the frying pan and into the fire we go dousing what’s likely already a toxic material with fire or flame retardants. Polyester products often use antimony trioxide in combination with other chemicals to attempt to quell the flames.
Perfluorochemicals (PFCs) can also be added to reduce staining and moisture. Think Scotchgard or slippery non-stick cookware – same family of chemicals. These PFCs persist in the environment and have been found in the blood of many mammals, including humans, worldwide. Unfortunately these chemicals have dire health consequences as they build up in the body over time.
Modern memory foam is a minefield:
Memory foam can be comprised of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), formaldehyde, benzene, methylene chloride, toluene, trichloroethane, naphthalene, perfluorocarbons, and polyols. This is an awful lot of chemicals to be resting your head on at night.
To explain it more simply, the most commonly known polyol is polyurethane which is the primary ingredient in making memory foam. Polyurethane is a petroleum-based substance that emits VOCs, causing respiratory issues and can irritate the skin. This foam is also mixed with other noxious compounds such as formaldehyde, polyvinyl chloride, boric acid and antimony trioxide.
How about feathers or down then, isn’t that natural?
Down pillows sound natural however the process by which we can mass produce these products is sadly cruel. Unethical practices which involve plucking feathers from live or recently slaughtered birds is a very real scenario that is both cruel and unnecessary.
Unfortunately, there are no standards on the ethical issue regarding the use of feather down in pillows or other fabric. Some brands follow voluntary regulations that attempt to reduce the continuation of live plucking. However, PETA officials who have seen the procedure first hand in areas where the bulk of down is produced for the global market are aware that the process is still something that is openly done.
Thankfully, IKEA does not use down from live birds and use by-products of the poultry industry instead. Hopefully others will get the message and follow suite.
And if that doesn’t already turn your stomach, feathers can also be soaked in a concoction of toxic chemicals such as the known carcinogen formaldehyde and bleach. Certain concentrations of formaldehyde are indeed legal in textiles amongst other products in Australia.
A NICNAS (Australian regulatory body) assessment found that “the most likely health effects arising from release of formaldehyde from domestic products such as blankets and clothing textiles are irritation of the eyes and nose, and allergic reactions on skin in contact with the clothes.
Breathing formaldehyde vapour can result in irritation of nerves in the eyes and nose, which may cause burning, stinging or itching sensations, a sore throat, teary eyes, blocked sinuses, runny nose, and sneezing.
Skin contact with formaldehyde can cause skin rashes and allergic skin reactions.”
So if you find yourself with an unwanted case of itching in the middle of the night best it might be the down or the chemicals it is doused in. Bottom line: if you are an allergy or asthma sufferer, sensitive to chemicals or just want to avoid contact with carcinogens such as formaldehyde skip the down.
Let’s have a look at some of the best natural pillows out there
The next time you are due a pillow change, consider certified organic cotton or wool, or even a natural rubber/latex instead. Why? With these options you can avoid all the toxic chemicals listed above and instead breathe in the natural clean air around you.
My preferred organic cotton and wool pillow is the KillaPilla pillow. This will make an incredible difference to your health for many reasons. It’s made from certified organic GOTS cotton and minimally processed pure Australian natural wool. As a bonus it has also been designed by chiropractors to help your posture whilst sleeping.
The KillaPilla pillow was developed by a Queensland based Chiropractor and his wife. They joined forces to create a pillow that combined the latest in design technology features whilst consisting of only the purest and most natural materials.
Chiropractors also tell me the KillaPilla is the ideal pillow if you have had spinal surgery too. It comes with a couple of different inserts to make both side sleeping and back sleeping super comfortable.
Not only can you buy an adult pillow for yourself and your loved ones, but also a Tween pillow, recommended for those aged between 8-12 or who are under 40cm across the shoulders.
What is the KillaPilla made from?
The KillaPilla pillow is made from the highest grade GOTS certified organic cotton fabric which even receives an exemption from the Australian Government from the mandatory fumigation that all imported goods are to receive before entering the country.
The GOTS (Global Organic Textile Standard) certification limits the use of bleaches, dyes and other chemicals during the production phase of textiles. For a product to be GOTS certified, you can be assured that every stage of the process from farming to manufacturing is verified as this is the most difficult of internationally recognised standards to obtain.
Australian wool fills the KillaPilla pillow, which is sustainable, biodegradable, Oeko-Tex Standard 100 certified non-toxic and baby safe and is a natural fire retardant. This wool is grown in South Australia and processed in Adelaide so no unnecessary exportation is required.
By using local machinists in a family owned manufacturer in Gympie, Qld, Dr. Todd and Carolina are able to work closely with the professionals who hand craft every one of these pillows. They are able to say NO to plastics and rather support even more local businesses by using a family owned box company to package all of their stock.
Some thoughts to consider…
Experts say you should change any pillow every 6 months to 3 years. Being made from only natural materials, you don’t need to worry about your KillaPilla pillow sitting in landfill for future generations to face.
Some people can be allergic to wool but provided you aren’t, then these are a great option. Wool will ALSO KEEP YOU COOL AT NIGHT, repelling moisture. It is one of those fantastical materials that can regulate our body temperatures. Wool is a natural flame retardant, so no nasty flame retardants.
The only complaint I sometimes hear is that pure wool can smell, well, of sheep, due to the lanolin present in the wool. KillaPilla use natural methods to scour away the lanolin, you can be sure that Killapilla doesn’t smell at all (I know I sleep on one).
Pure wool is also house dust mite and mould resistant, meaning that you can enjoy a healthier space to rest your head.
What is the deal with latex pillows?
Assuming you are not allergic to latex itself, this clean and pure option is great if you have allergies or asthma, or simply if you react to wool or other natural fibers. If you are unsure whether you are allergic to latex or not, get an Applied Kinesiologist Practitioner (many chiropractors can do this) to test you, preferably with a sample of the pillow material that you are considering using.
Latex can be processed via Dunlop or Talalay methods. Both are fine, although
It’s the purity of latex that is the key factor to determine when you are choosing an appropriate pillow.
What’s the difference between synthetic and natural latex or rubber?
To understand the difference between synthetic and natural latex, we need to understand where they are sourced from. Natural rubber latex is sourced from rubber trees. After the latex is tapped from trees, it is manufactured with either the Dunlop or Talalay process. Synthetic latex can have fillers, such as polyurethane and other chemicals added during the pouring process that takes place in either the Dunlop or Talalay process, in order to cut costs.
Synthetic latex is less durable and more carcinogenic because of this addition and it is best to avoid.
Be aware of clever marketing tricks, as most natural latex mattresses on the market also contain fillers. Companies are able to call latex, ‘Natural Latex’ whenever they have a certain amount of natural latex within their synthetic blend. Often this is 50%. So if you are seeking a 100% natural latex quality mattress, look for brands that advertise this. They may be more expensive, but the price is worth the additional durability, the health factors and the elimination of synthetic products that can have devastating impacts on the environment.
What kind of latex pillow should I choose?
Latex with a GOLS (Global Organic Latex Standard) certification is the purest you will find. To find a product that is GOLS certified, it must consist of 95% certified organic raw materials. There is also a limit on polymer (chemical compounds) and filler percentages and a traceable supply chain must be produced from plantation to final retailer to ensure authenticity.
Fern Earth https://www.fernearth.com.au/una-phelan is my go-to for latex pillows. This non-toxic, all natural and affordable brand offers pillows and mattresses of the highest quality with ethical considerations forefront in mind.
The pillow is chemical free, healthy and allergen free, brilliant for those people who have reactions to wool and are sensitive to VOCs. It is made with natural Dunlop latex rubber that has been sustainably sourced, eco-INSTITUT certified and is 100% natural. Providing great support for your neck whilst being airy and light, you can rest easy knowing that you are breathing in no harmful chemicals but rather cradled to sleep in nature’s loving arms.
The cover is GOTS certified organic cotton, again ensuring purity, breathability and comfort. If you are looking for a comfortable, supportive pillow that adheres to strict sustainability and chemical free guidelines, whilst being allergen free, then Fern Earth’s pillow is the choice for you.
A good night’s rest for your whole body is critical should you want to truly rest and recharge. Taking steps to reducing your toxicant load and being proactive about choosing ethical, sustainable brands is a great way to support your own health and that of the environment. It is so easy you can even do it in your sleep.
To buy Fern Earth natural latex pillow click here https://www.fernearth.com.au/products/fern-pillow
To buy KillaPilla pure wool and certified organic cotton pillows click here (link is not workng right now asked owner about it)