The most healthy items in your house should include sheets and bedding, which are in direct contact with you from 6–9 hours daily. These should promote both good sleep and good health.
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Most every aspect of bedding is covered in the following article.
Allergies, Bedding, and Bedrooms
For most of the people with conventional allergies related to bedding, the reactions are often not to the fabrics and stuffings, but to dust mites, dust-mite feces, and/or to scents from laundry products that cling to the fibers. Therefore, some very good advice is to buy linens, sheets, pillows, mattress covers, and pads which you can remove and wash frequently in an unscented or gently scented cleaning product. This means washing sheets, blankets, and pads weekly, and barrier-cloth-protected pillows, comforters, and quilts every three months. The barrier-cloth protectors themselves should be cleaned every few weeks. In addition, you’ll want to replace your pillows yearly.
For dust-mite control, it’s often suggested that bedding be sprayed every six months with tannic acid neutralizing solutions. However, there is the possibility that it may leave visible stains on certain bedding fabrics. A bigger concern, according to some experts, is that tannic acid solutions are ineffective for mattresses, which are far too thick for the sprays to penetrate.
Another approach that has been recommended is to vacuum both mattress sides thoroughly (at least two minutes per side) twice a month. This can work to help reduce dust-mite populations, but it’s obviously time consuming and sometimes difficult to do.
It’s commonly believed that the best approach for bedding-related allergy control is to use a variety of synthetic items, such as vinyl mattress and pillow protectors to seal dust mites out of new bedding and to seal dust mites into old bedding. Yet, it seems that untreated 100%-cotton barrier cloth will work just as effectively. (Note: Barrier cloth uses relatively thick yarns which are very tightly woven together. It was originally developed for use in surgery and medicine.) By opting for this natural-fiber alternative, there will be no outgassing (emitting) of potentially bothersome chemicals, such as vinyl chloride—chemicals which could actually compromise the immune system.
Yet, there are still individuals who want synthetic “allergy bedding,” and it must be admitted that such items can often handle frequent washings.
Also, it’s important to have a room decorated in such a manner as not to promote dust-mite populations. This means smooth, hard-surfaced floors, furniture, metal blinds or washable curtains, and washable rugs—and you should clean all of them regularly. If you vacuum, use a vacuum that won’t blow the debris it has just picked up back into the room.
You should also keep the relative humidity in your bedroom below 35-45%. At lower humidity, dust mites and other microbial life will not reproduce and thrive as well as in more humid conditions.
Common Bedding TreatmentsMost bedding that is made and sold in the U.S. has had several chemical treatments applied. Usually crops such as cotton and flax have had numerous chemicals applied to them in the fields. Sheep, too, usually have had chemicals applied to them to reduce vermin in their wool.
Then there are treatments applied in milling and manufacturing. The most common one is bleaching. In this procedure, yarns or fabrics are subjected to a blanching solution (such as chlorine) to remove the innate off-white color of cotton and other natural fibers. Very little of the chlorine compounds should remain by the time the items reach consumers. However, for those who are acutely sensitive to chlorine, it may still be enough to pose a problem. Then, too, for those concerned with the environment, chlorine bleaching can produce dioxins (extremely toxic, chlorinated teratogens) as by-products. To avoid chlorine bleaches in the items you buy, choose only those that state “bleached with hydrogen peroxide” or some other oxygen bleach, or buy those that are unbleached.
Another common treatment is dyeing. Dyes and the mordents (fixatives) that are used may, or may not, have bothersome chemicals in them, but this information is almost never provided to consumers. If you’re concerned, items with labels that state “low-impact dyes were used” may be a better choice. Even better, use undyed items or those with naturally-hued fibers.
Commonly a sizing agent has been applied. This is a temporary glazing solution to give the item a “crisp” look when new. In the past, these glazes were not particularly a problem. However, some sizings are now chemical compounds that are designed to wash out after three or four launderings. Obviously, this can be bothersome to sensitive people, and for them it will likely take more than just a few launderings. However, even for them, this type of sizing should be able to be removed eventually.
Many times, one of the nastiest treatments is for wrinkle-resistance. In this case, a resinous solution, often a formaldehyde-containing one, is used. This is designed to keep the fibers somewhat stiff, so that a smooth surface is achieved without ironing. Unlike sizing, this treatment is meant to last the life of the items to which it’s applied. So, it can be much more difficult, if not impossible, to remove entirely.
Another treatment is the addition of fire or flame retardants. These are compounds that will reduce the innate flammability of fibers and stuffings. Federal law in the U.S. requires that these compounds be applied to mattresses and to certain other children’s bedding items. The specific chemical is usually not stated. It could be a boron compound, or something entirely different. To avoid any type of fire-retarding chemical, choose alternative mattresses manufactured from inherently flame-resistant materials, such as wool. It is also possible to have a cotton mattress made without flame retardants. However, you will need to provide the manufacturer with a physician’s note or prescription stating that you cannot tolerate these chemical treatments.
Still, another treatment you may come across is for stain resistance. This is commonly a synthetic glaze that make fibers less penetrable. Stain-resisting treatments are a feature of some conventional mattresses, and they may be applied to other items as well. To avoid them, buy an alternative mattress using green or organic materials.
In the end, the best advice on avoiding bedding treatments is to buy organic items whenever possible. That way, all chemical treatments, from the field through packaging, will have been avoided. The next best option is to buy green items. By the way, this doesn’t mean the color, but rather that no chemicals were added after milling. (Some chemicals could have been used earlier during cultivation.) Finally, the third best choice are items that have had no permanent wrinkle-resisting treatments, although other treatments have been used. Sometimes, items that have no formaldehyde-based wrinkle-resistant treatment are described or labeled as “untreated.” This term is usually used for sheets and other fabric items, such as mattress protectors. However, the word “untreated” can have other meanings in different contexts, such as referring to a mattress without fire-retardants. To add further confusion, some manufacturers and dealers use “untreated” to mean the same as green when referring to cotton. Obviously, buyer beware. If uncertain, make sure you inquire before purchasing.
Specific Bedding SuggestionsFortunately, natural-fiber mattresses, sheets, pillow cases, blankets, quilts, comforters, and bedspreads are becoming more readily available. Some are made of untreated, or even organic, materials. In the following sections most of the product suggestions have been used successfully by sensitive and allergic individuals.
By the way, when “untreated” is used in conjunction with cotton fabric (not stuffing), it means that, at the very least, no formaldehyde-resin treatments for wrinkle resistance were used. Because this term does not have a specific, legal definition, it may be that other common treatments such as bleaching, dying, sizing, etc., were also omitted.
Important note: Unless otherwise stated, it is best to never assume what treatments might have been used. After all, bedding items may or may not have been made with commercial-grade cotton ticking that has been treated with formaldehyde resins against wrinkling. Wool stuffings may or may not have been treated for moth prevention, and feathers and down may or may not have had chemical treatments against mildew or pests. Cotton stuffings may, or may not, have had chemical treatments, including fire resistance (this is only Federally required on mattresses and a few other items). If you’re concerned, ask a company representative before ordering for the information you desire.
MattressesAt one time, mattresses were little more than large cloth sacks filled with straw, wool, cotton, or rags. The forerunners of modern box springs were simply wood frames strung with a grid of ropes. By comparison, many of today’s mattresses and box springs are engineering marvels.
Conventional Mattress and Waterbed ConcernsMost manufacturers of mattresses commonly use specialized coils and patented support systems, combined with a variety of synthetic foams, battings, and covering materials. Fire-retardants are added to meet Federal regulations for flammability, and stain-resistant chemicals are routinely applied to tickings. All these have the potential to outgas (emit) a range of chemicals into the air; air that will be inhaled by those laying on them and hoping for a good and healthy night’s rest.
Because of their own interest and concern about the materials and treatments commonly used in mattress manufacturing, Anderson Laboratories, Inc. (an independent research laboratory) decided to test five crib mattresses. They found that they all released toxic compounds into the air. “These chemical mixtures caused toxic effects on the eyes, nose, throat, and lungs and caused asthma-like decreases in airflow velocity” into and out of the lungs of their test subjects (mice). (Booklets and copies of their published research covering the toxic mattress findings can be purchased from Anderson Laboratories, Inc.) It’s not surprising that many humans, especially sensitive ones, simply can’t tolerate conventional mattresses.
Of course, one of the more recent mattress innovations is the water bed. However, these are only occasionally better tolerated. A water bed is basically a large vinyl bag, usually supported by a particleboard or plywood frame. The vinyl, the formaldehyde-based glue, and the natural pine aroma (composed of terpenes, which are naturally occurring pine-tree compounds related to turpentine) in the frames can outgas low-levels of bothersome odors that can be offensive. If the waterbed has a built-in electric heater to comfortably warm the bed, it can actually increase the outgassing rates.
Alternative Mattress ConsiderationsFortunately, an increasing variety of all-natural bedding alternatives exist, some of which are available without fire-retarding or stain-resisting chemicals. As you might expect, these alternative mattresses can be relatively expensive. This is due to higher material costs, low production, and factory-to-home freight charges. Therefore, if you purchase a special mattress, it’s wise to protect your investment. If at all possible, use washable natural-fiber mattress covers or protectors. Protectors made of cotton barrier cloth (barrier cloth is a special, extremely tight woven fabric made with relatively thick yarns) are especially good. They’re the best natural-fiber choice to keep out odors, dust, and dust mites.
By the way, you can lengthen your mattress’s life considerably by flipping it over and rotating it occasionally. To help you, there are nylon webbing “mattress-turner straps” that can make this job easier. A good schedule is to flip the mattress over on the first of January, May, and September; and rotate it head to foot on the first of March, July, and November. Thumb tacking a small card with this schedule in your linen closet is a good way to be reminded to do this.
Cotton MattressesSome of the most popular alternative mattresses are constructed with metal innersprings and stuffed with cotton. You should be aware, however, that most new cotton mattresses, especially organic cotton mattresses, have an innate odor that can be fairly strong. This is primarily caused by the natural grainy smell of the cotton itself. Apparently, a few cotton seeds become crushed during processing. As a result, their oils and resins become absorbed into the surrounding fibers. Generally, this smell will dissipate after a few weeks or a few months and finally become almost unnoticeable to even very sensitive individuals.
However, for those who find the “raw” cotton odor bothersome, consider using an all-cotton barrier-cloth mattress protector to help seal it in. Note: All mattresses are required to have fire-retarding treatments to meet U.S. federal regulations. If you feel that these would be bothersome to you, some suppliers can omit them from the bedding they make for you— if your physician provides a prescription stating they can’t be used for health reasons.
Wool and Wool & Cotton Mattresses
Interestingly, no physician’s prescription is usually necessary if you purchase a wool or wool-blend mattress. The reason is because wool is inherently fire-resistant. The mattresses below, generally use inner springs.
Mattresses of Other MaterialsThere are also natural-rubber latex mattresses with organic-cotton, quilted ticking. The quilted ticking often uses pure, untreated (no moth-proofing) wool as a stuffing. You can also special order hemp mattresses in several sizes.
System mattresses are relatively new entries into the bedding market in the United States. As the name implies, instead of buying a simple mattress (and perhaps a box spring) and placing it on a separate metal or wooden bed frame, these mattress systems are usually made up of several separate, but integral, layers, including a special bed frame.
Encasing Your MattressMattress covers and protectors will help protect your mattresses from soiling. Today, most covers are made of synthetic fibers such as polyester. Fortunately though, washable, 100%-cotton, untreated mattress covers and protectors are available from a few sources. Protectors are generally made of a denser, more impervious material than covers.
Mattress PadsMattress pads are now made in a variety of styles and fabrics. Here are some all-natural fiber and stuffing options.
Cotton PadsUntreated (no formaldehyde resin treatment), 100%-cotton quilted mattress pads (fitted and flat) in a range of sizes (including crib), are available.
Tip: Two or three all-cotton flannel blankets can be substituted for a mattress pad.
Wool and Wool & Cotton Pads
Besides cotton, wool/cotton fill, all-wool, and shearling-fleece mattress pads are available. They, too, can be healthy choices, especially if they haven’t been treated with mothproofing chemicals. You’ll need to check the manufacturers’ tags carefully for this information—and for proper cleaning procedures.
Down PadsMattress pads made of goose down that’s been quilted with a 100%-cotton cover fabric are available in a full range of sizes.
Moisture-Controlling PadsWaterproof pads can be helpful where simple incontinence, illness, or age (the young or the old) means that mattresses need extra protection. Pads often come in a number of sizes made of natural gum rubber, covered in layers of heavy cotton flannel.
If you prefer not to use rubber, try wool moisture-controlling pads. Wool pads are very absorbent and will not feel clammy to the skin when wet. They’re often actually described as being “waterproof.” Unless the manufacturer’s tag says otherwise, to clean them, you simply rinse them in warm water and allow them to air dry.
Featherbeds and Mattress Toppers
Featherbeds are similar to comforters in construction. They are usually baffle-quilted (quilted in sections to hold fillings in place) and packed with a stuffing material. The difference is, featherbeds are designed to go under the sleeper; comforters go over the sleeper. Mattress toppers are several-inch-thick versions of mattress pads. Both featherbeds and mattress toppers can make any mattress much more cushiony and plusher feeling. Featherbeds with all-feather filling and cotton ticking are fairly difficult to find.
Several-inch-thick synthetic-latex/natural-latex mattress toppers are another option. These can be purchased in twin through king sizes. Of course, these are not for those with latex allergies.
For an increasing number of people, especially college students living off-campus, futons can make good sense. After all, they’re far more portable and affordable than conventional mattresses. And, on the right frame, they can be used for seating by day.
Futon ConsiderationsFutons (also known as shikibutons) are thin, cotton-covered mattresses stuffed with cotton batting. They’re the traditional bedding in Japan where relatively thin futons are unrolled directly onto the floor for sleeping. In the West, futons are generally placed on wooden frames. Some of these frames are specially designed to convert into sofas.
It should be pointed out that futons can be somewhat cumbersome. The thin, traditional Japanese futons are lightweight and easily rolled up, but the 4"-to-8"-thick Western models are fairly weighty. Most are simply too bulky to wash at home. Therefore, it’s important for you to air your futon frequently outdoors in uncontaminated air. It’s also highly suggested that you use removable 100%-cotton futon covers or protectors, which can be taken off and laundered regularly.
Cotton FutonsNote: all-cotton futons that are not treated with fire-retardant chemicals will require a doctor’s prescription before purchase. Wool, which is naturally fire retarding, will not.
Wool and Wool & Cotton Futons
Untreated-wool (wool from free ranging sheep that have had no chemical treatments) futons with organic-cotton covers come in 3", 4", 6", and 8" thicknesses, in crib through king sizes.
Encasing Your FutonCovers and protectors for your futons are a great idea. Generally, the companies that sell futons also handle covers that fit them. In most cases, futon covers and protectors, no matter where you get them, are 100% cotton. Protectors are typically made of a denser fabric than covers, so they tend to make a better barrier to odors and dust mites.
PillowsBecause your head is in direct contact with your pillow for 6-9 hours, it’s really wise to choose a pillow that’s naturally low in toxicity to help you get healthful, restful sleep. Natural stuffings and tickings are often the best choices.
Tip: To freshen your natural pillows, hang them outdoors in uncontaminated air or place them in your clothes dryer (not buckwheat hulls) for at least 15 minutes. To keep the ticking on your pillows cleaner, use removable, washable pillow covers and protectors.
Cotton PillowsYou should be aware that organic-cotton pillows generally have a strong, grainy smell when first purchased. This smell is from oils and resins originating from crushed cotton seeds. Despite having a natural botanical origin, it can be bothersome to some sensitive people.
Hanging your new cotton pillows outside to air in dry, uncontaminated surroundings (no car exhaust, wood smoke, high pollen counts, etc.) for several days will greatly help to dissipate the natural odor. Another approach is to place the pillows (no more than two at a time) in your clothes dryer on high heat for about thirty minutes. You can keep repeating the drying cycle until the pillows become tolerable. Yet another option is to use pillow protectors made of barrier cloth (a special tightly woven cotton made with relatively thick yarns) over your pillows to help seal in odors.
Wool and Wool & Cotton Pillows
Although not as common as cotton-filled pillows, there are also pillows stuffed with wool, and they can be a healthy choices, too.
Feathers, Feathers & Down, and Down Pillows
For many people natural feather or down-filled pillows can make good pillow choices. However, sometimes these materials are chemically treated to prevent mold or insect damage. These treatments could be intolerable for some sensitive persons, so you’ll want to check the manufacturer’s labels carefully before purchasing them.
It’s a good idea for individuals with dust-mite or bird-dander allergies, who want down and feather pillows, to get those described as “deep washed,” or those using other similar terms. This means that a special added cleaning process has been done to remove most surface debris, making them less allergenic. Hypodown, which is apparently innately hypoallergenic, is another option to consider. Also, make sure to use pillow protectors—especially ones of untreated-, green-, or organic-cotton barrier cloth. This type of tightly woven fabric, made with relatively thick yarns, will help to seal out dust and dust mites from contaminating new pillows. They can also be easily removed, laundered regularly, and replaced.
Syriaca Clusters and Hypodown PillowsSyriaca clusters are a fancy name for milkweed floss. Because of their innate hollow structure, they apparently have the ability to trap many types of allergens found in goose down. One company makes Hypodown (mix of syriaca clusters and goose down) pillows with “regular” cotton ticking or unbleached cotton.
Buckwheat Hull PillowsOdd-shaped (by American standards), traditional Japanese pillows stuffed with buckwheat hulls are now being seen more frequently. Buckwheat-hull pillows with organic-cotton ticking in standard and neck styles are sold by several companies.
Natural-Rubber Latex Pillows
Latex pillows are sometimes suggested particularly for those with dust mite allergies. Apparently, dust mites can’t thrive as well in this type of material. However, it has been said that latex foam can become moldy in humid conditions. Another potential problem is that latex odors can be bothersome to some chemically sensitive people. Then, too, those with latex allergies should choose another type of pillow.
Encasing Your PillowsIn addition to pillow cases, it’s also a good idea to purchase pillow protectors. While the pillow ticking itself is usually permanently sewn shut around the stuffing, pillow protectors are commonly zippered. In actual use, they’re placed around the pillow with the pillow case going over them. Pillow protectors should be removed and washed regularly, but that doesn’t have to be done nearly as often as for the pillow cases, which should be washed weekly.
If you are not overly sensitive or allergic, a lower-cost zippered cover between the pillow’s ticking and the slipcase can be an acceptable alternative to a higher-priced protectors. However, protectors are designed to be more impervious to odors and dust mites. So, for very sensitive people, zippered protectors are recommended for pillows because you will be breathing very close to them all night long.
Sheets and PillowcasesThere are more sheet options than ever before. To say the least, it can get somewhat confusing. Here are some descriptions and buying suggestions.
Types of SheetingThe descriptions below are for a variety of natural-fiber sheeting fabrics that you may come across in stores and catalogs.
Cotton Jersey Knit SheetsThe newest sheeting material is jersey knit. This is a fabric that is soft with a inherent elasticity (give). It’s basically no more than a type of T-shirt material. Jersey knit sheets are often affordable. They’re big drawback is that they can snag much easier than woven fabrics.
Cotton Flannel SheetsFlannel sheeting is loosely woven fabric made with thicker, fluffier threads than other sheeting materials. The result is a fairly lightweight fabric that has good insulating properties. Flannel sheets are often fairly inexpensive, but are usually only available in cooler months.
Cotton Muslin SheetsEven less costly are muslin sheets. Muslin is woven of still thicker, coarser, cotton yarns, with at least 128 threads per square inch. Although not as soft and smooth as percale, muslin is extremely durable and much more affordable.
Cotton Percale SheetsCombed-percale refers to the better cotton sheeting fabric available. The finest-quality combed-percale sheets have a thread count of at least 200 per square inch and the threads used are the best available—thin and strong. This kind of thread, and the very tight weaving, results in lightweight sheets with a smooth, soft texture. With at least 180 threads per square inch, muslin is slightly coarser, so it’s less expensive and not quite as luxurious.
Luxury Cotton SheetsRecently there has been a trend toward prestige cotton sheets. These often use high grade cottons, such as Egyptian cotton, which has longer fibers. This allows for a finer textured thread to be woven. In particular, Egyptian cotton comes in several grades, with Giza 75 as the very best.
Besides the type of cotton, prestige level sheeting usually has a very high thread count, often 250 threads per square inch and up. Sometimes, the type of weaving used is also of premiere quality. For example, cotton damask sheeting is now seen in a number of stores and catalogs. This is a durable, and reversible, but extravagant, sheeting material, that has a figure-pattern woven into the design. It’s sometimes termed Jacquard weaving. Often, you’ll find that luxury cotton sheets have been imported from Europe. They have not been treated for wrinkle resistance, although other treatments are common—such as bleaching, dying, sizing, etc.
Linen SheetsLinen sheets are very rare and very expensive. It has a beautiful natural sheen and is slightly coarse. It makes excellent sheets because it’s stronger and cooler than cotton. Because of this, if you do find linen sheets, it’s usually during warmer seasons.
Silk SheetsAnother luxury sheeting fabric is washable silk. Silk fabric is exceptionally durable and has the ability to feel cool in summer and warm in winter. It also can absorb body moisture without feeling clammy itself.
BlanketsIdeally, your blankets should be comfortable, but also tolerable and easy to care for. Individuals with dust-mite allergies, in particular, will definitely want blankets to be washable and dryable at home.
Because many blankets can be expensive, choose them carefully and store them properly when not in use. Cedar chests may be an option.
Acrylic and Electric-Blanket ConcernsAcrylic blankets are soft, machine-washable, and machine-dryable. They’re also inexpensive and clothing moths won’t damage them. It’s not surprising then that they’ve almost replaced natural-fiber blankets. However, blankets made of acrylic do have serious drawbacks—they can often lose their attractive initial appearance after only a few launderings, and worse, they have the potential to emit minor synthetic chemical odors from the acrylic fibers themselves. Of course, these blankets are also made from nonrenewable resources, and they are not biodegradable.
Electric blankets, which tend to be made of acrylic, are popular in very cold climates. However, they have an additional problem related to their embedded wiring. In older electric blankets, this wiring can produce unacceptably strong electromagnetic fields (EMFs) that can have negative health effects. Fortunately, newer electric blankets are wired in special patterns designed to counter most—but not all—of these electromagnetic fields.
However, even with reduced EMFs, warming up an acrylic blanket has the potential to increase the outgassing rate of odors originating from the acrylic fibers. Also, many electric blankets require special handling to clean them, so cleaning may not be done regularly. (Note: Dry cleaning may damage wiring in some blankets.) Because of the negative health issues associated with acrylic and electric blankets, consider natural-fiber alternatives.
Cotton BlanketsSeveral types of 100%-cotton blankets are available today. Below are several categories.
Cotton Flannel BlanketsThick, 100%-cotton flannel blankets are bedding options you might consider. Hospitals often use such blankets for their patients because they’re relatively inexpensive, lightweight, comfortable, and they’re machine-washable and dryable. It should be mentioned, as a note of caution, that fire-retardant chemicals may have been applied to certain flannel blankets to meet hospital requirements. These treatments could be bothersome to sensitive people
Fortunately, however, because flannel blankets have become more popular lately, ones manufactured strictly for home use are much more likely to be the ones you’ll come across in the marketplace these days. Therefore, fire-retarding treatments are probably less likely to have been applied to them. Yet, it’s still a good idea, when buying flannel blankets, to read the manufacturer’s tags and literature carefully.
Thermal, Woven, and Chenille Cotton Blankets
Natural-fiber thermal, woven, and chenille blankets can also be good choices, with thermals being among the most common. Thermal all-cotton blankets are woven in a specially designed open-weave pattern that is designed to trap air. Trapped air in these blankets functions as an effective insulation. Most thermal-cotton blankets are machine-washable, and many are machine-dryable, though some suggest line-drying only. One unfortunate characteristic of thermal blankets is their tendency to stretch out of shape.
Wool and Wool-Blend BlanketsAll-wool blankets have always been popular. This isn’t surprising; wool blankets are warm, comfortable, attractive, and long-lasting.
Wool Blanket Considerations
Today, wool blankets are still relatively easy to find, but they’ve become quite expensive. Popular styles now available include trader stripes (blankets like these were originally exchanged for furs at frontier trading posts), plaids, and solid colors. However, there are two major drawbacks to wool blankets. First of all, they need to be protected from moth damage and, second, they are often tagged “dry-clean only.”
Some manufacturers attempt to prevent moth damage by chemically treating their blankets with moth-repellent chemicals. Unfortunately, this “helpful” treatment may prove intolerable to sensitive individuals, so you’ll want to check the manufacturers’ tag or catalog description, or ask a company representative, before purchasing any new wool blanket to determine if mothproofing treatments have been applied. Then make an informed decision.
Tip: For effective, non-toxic, moth-damage prevention, the key is proper storage. Items must be clean and stored in well-sealed containers or bags.
If your wool blanket’s care label says, “dry clean only,” ask your professional cleaner if they offer a specialty wet-cleaning alternative procedure that won’t use solvents. Also, take care to request that he or she not add mothproofing chemicals. (Some dry cleaners routinely mothproof wool items as a service to their customers.) If you have no choice but to have your blankets dry-cleaned with solvents, as soon as you bring them home, air them outdoors in uncontaminated surroundings to eliminate as much of the residual solvent odor as possible.
Comforter ConsiderationsComforters made of natural fibers and natural stuffing make for good, healthy alternatives to blankets for most people. Comforters are lightweight, attractive, and warm. They are available in different grades, weights, and baffle styles (quilt patterns) Although nearly all bedding departments and shops will have synthetic-fabric, polyester-filled versions, natural-fiber comforters are again becoming more popular. So, you may be able to find them as well, particularly feather and down comforters.
By the way, sometimes you’ll see comforters called duvets. This can be confusing because various companies use “duvet” to mean either a standard comforter, a special light-weight comforter, or a comforter cover. Still others refer to duvets as a set that includes a comforter cover, shams, and a bed skirt. So, be careful when ordering.
To properly clean your natural-fiber-and-stuffing comforters, be sure to follow the care or instruction tags that came with them. If possible, when buying them, choose comforters that are washable, so you won’t have to be exposed to dry-cleaning-solvent odors whenever they need to be cleaned. To help minimize the frequency for cleaning, consider using washable untreated-cotton comforter covers or protectors. To freshen your comforters between cleanings, hang them outdoors in uncontaminated air. If, in time, you need your down comforter reconditioned or repaired, you may be able to find a company locally to do this for you.
Feather & Down Comforters
Of all the choices available, comforters filled with pure down are generally considered some of the warmest. They’re also usually the most expensive. However, it is possible that feathers and down may have been treated with chemicals to discourage insect or microbial infestations This can become a problem for some sensitive individuals.
Those with dust-mite allergies or allergies to dander, will want to get down and feather products that have been described as “deep washed,” or similar terms, which is an intensive cleaning process which removes dust. Another suggestion is to use a comforter protector, especially if you can get one of untreated cotton barrier cloth. This tightly woven, thick-yarned fabric will guard against dust-mite infiltration, and it can be easily removed, laundered, and replaced. By the way, Hypodown, which is apparently innately hypoallergenic, is another option to consider.
Syriaca Cluster and Hypodown ComfortersSyriaca clusters are milkweed floss. These apparently have the ability to trap many allergens found in goose down.
QuiltsFew bedding items are more appealing than a beautiful quilt. However, there are some things you need to keep in mind.
Quilt ConsiderationsThe quilts produced in recent decades are often made with polyester/cotton coverings, although a few are still made with all-cotton coverings. Many of these new quilt coverings have been chemically treated for wrinkle-resistance and/or stain-resistance. Many of the quilts on the market, no matter what the coverings are made of, are filled with polyester, rather than cotton, batting. This is because polyester batting is apparently better at resisting balling, bunching, and flattening, and it’s usually less expensive than cotton batting.
Therefore, unless you commission someone to make a quilt for you, or you make it yourself, it can be difficult to find a new quilt made of untreated 100% cotton—both inside and out.
Another approach to acquiring an all-cotton quilt is to buy an older (pre-1960) quilt. Unfortunately, older quilts may be contaminated with perfume, tobacco, mildew, or scents from air fresheners and detergents. They also may retain odors from previous owners’ soaps and shampoos. If you are a sensitive person, any or all of these odors can be very bothersome. However, if a quilt isn’t heavily saturated, airing it outdoors in the shade can often help. Of course, be sure the air is fresh and clean. Note: it’s important not to expose valuable antique quilts to the sun; exposure to ultraviolet light could damage dyes or fibers.
Tip: If you’re allergic to dust mites, you may want to encase your quilts.
Of course, bedspreads are old standbys for bed toppings. But, don’t buy one just for its good looks—it should be healthy for you, too.
Bedspread ConsiderationsBedspreads these days seem to becoming more and more elaborate. As with most modern bedding, they are often made almost exclusively of chemically treated synthetic materials. Some are washable, but others require dry cleaning. Unfortunately, dry cleaning is often intolerable to sensitive individuals. Although they are relatively few and far between, 100%-natural-fiber bedspreads are still possible to find.
From a health standpoint, washable, untreated, all-cotton construction is an ideal choice for bedspreads. Corduroy, cording, woven plaid, print, and tufted chenille are a just a few of the 100%-cotton bedspread styles currently available. Of these, corduroy and cording spreads are particularly tough and durable. Prints and woven spreads, which come in so many colors and styles, can be pleasing to a wide range of personal preferences. Depending on the pattern, tufted-chenille spreads can appeal to traditional, colonial, or contemporary tastes.
To find washable, 100%-cotton bedspreads, especially in tufted chenille, you should check your local department stores. If you’d like woven, hand-printed, or batik styles at a reasonable cost, these can sometimes be found in import shops.
Tip: Between washings you can occasionally tumble your bedspreads in a warm or hot dryer for about fifteen minutes. This will help to remove light surface dust.
(This article is from the archives of the original Healthy House Institute, and the information was believed accurate at the time of writing.)
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