There is no doubt that getting a good night’s sleep is an essential element of good health and wellbeing. So if your bed and bedding are not comfortable (and comforting for that matter), this factor is likely to impact on the way you feel and are able to operate in everyday life. With this in mind, we have compiled a basic guide to eco-friendly bedding to help you get the sleep that you deserve.
Types of Bedding
When we talk about bedding we mean the sheets and the covers that we use to make and cover our beds. These include sheets and pillowcases, blankets and under-blankets, duvets, comforters, quilts and bedspreads.
Mattress covers, sheets and pillowcases are frequently categorized as “bed linen”, and in the context of “green” bedding, may be made from various materials including:
- Organic cotton,
- Organic linen,
“Green” blankets are made from organically produced wool, mohair and also from pure organically grown cotton.
What duvets, quilts and comforters have in common is that they are essentially fabric “casings” that are stuffed with something soft that will keep us warm. Organic stuffing might be in the form of cotton, natural kapok (a plant fiber that is often combined with organic cotton) or wool.
Feathers and down, while natural, are not generally considered to be “organic”, although they are argued by many to be eco-friendly. It has more to do with the method of “harvesting” the down and feathers which is controversial!
Two other less usual organic duvet fillings are made from camel hair – collected when the animals shed their coats before the hot summer months in the desert – and wood pulp – from natural cellulose fibers.
Organic batting (used for quilts and comforters) may be made from bamboo and an organic cotton blend, or something similar.
To be sure that the bedding you buy really is “green”, look for proof of some sort of reliable organic certification on the packaging.
The United States Department of Agriculture has a broad National Organic Program (NOP) that regulates standards for all farming and harvesting of products that are “organically produced”. They have 93 accredited certifying agents, 52 of which are based in the US. There are foreign agents all over the world including Australia, Canada, Egypt and in various parts of Europe. Amongst other things, it runs a Country of Origin Labeling Program (COOL), so you know exactly where products come from.
In Europe there is relatively new legislation for organic production of materials, dating from January 2009. The leading European inspection body for organic products is SKAL, a private non-profit foundation based in the Netherlands.
There is also a Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) fiber program that is dedicated specifically to textiles. Many countries, including Canada and Korea, base their standards on these.
All materials grown to make organic fabrics are grown from seeds that have not been treated. Furthermore, organic farmers don’t use synthetic fertilizers or killer insecticides and pesticides. No toxic chemicals are used when the crop – be it cotton, flax, hemp or bamboo – is harvested or processed. There is no formaldehyde added to the material and all products are made without
Eco-friendly cotton is processed in various ways, to achieve different results. For instance percale is a very fine grade of cotton, while flannel or flannelette is a warm, brushed material, perfect for those cold winter nights. Both are popular for making sheeting.
“Egyptian cotton” typically tops the list of eco-friendly cotton-bedding materials. And generally, Egyptian cotton has gained a reputation for luxury, largely because the fiber is extra-long. But this doesn’t necessarily mean the cotton is in fact eco-friendly. If you really do want “green” cotton products, do the checks before you buy your bedding.
It is a little ironic that we call sheets and other bedding “bed linen”, when most of it isn’t made of linen at all. Manufactured from the fibers of a cultivated flax plant, linen is one of the oldest textiles – and probably the first to have been made from plant fibers. It was made in Ancient Egypt, and the Ancient Romans established linen factories in Britain and Gaul. It was commonplace in the Middle Ages.
Perhaps the best known linen industry is that established in Ireland centuries ago. Both Irish linen and French linen are today regarded as top quality types, although most linen bedding is regarded as high end, and is generally more expensive than cotton. However, today there is organic “French linen” that is half the price of high-end, conventional and non-organic French and Irish linen! For example, the US and Canada-based Rawganique (http://www.rawganique.com/hemp-flax-linens-sheets-organic.htm) has been selling organic, European-made “French linen” sheets online since 2000, and by cutting out the middle man, and minimizing profits, they are able to significantly cut prices.
A beautifully “breathable” fabric, modern organic linen is still made from flax. While it feels quite hard when you first buy it, after a few washes, you will find that the linen softens.
Another type of bed linen you might come across is modal. This is a cellulose fiber that is reconstituted from beech trees and is often mixed with other fibers, including that from the flax plant.
Hemp is considered to be the most sustainable plant on earth, and it has more uses than any other material. It grows incredibly quickly, enriching the soil, and doesn’t need fertilizers or very much water to keep it going. The deep roots of the plant prevent soil erosion and the plant itself needs less land than other fibrous plants (including flax and cotton) to yield the same quantity of fabric.
It is the fiber from the outer stalk of the plant that is used for making textiles, which if produced correctly – in an eco-friendly manner – will be four times stronger than cotton and considerably more durable. Hemp sheets look and feel a lot like linen, and will soften after a few washes.
While hemp is a highly sustainable product, if it is washed in chemicals and acids to soften the fibers – which does happen in some of the factories in China – the fibers become weaker and the product is no longer eco-friendly. So once again do your checks before you buy your bedding.
With a texture similar to silk, fabric made from bamboo is naturally antibacterial and hypoallergenic. Bamboo also has many of the same benefits as organically grown hemp because it is grown without the use of harsh chemicals or pesticides, and its extensive root system helps prevent soil erosion.
Although not as durable as hemp or cotton for that matter, bamboo bed “linen” is more absorbent and also cheaper.
If cellulose is combined with bamboo fiber, it will not have the antibacterial or fungus resistance pure, organic bamboo fibers have.
Wool is certified organic when the livestock are humanely treated and the fleece is free of chemical contaminant residues, such as pesticides or topical medications. Organic wool is also cleaned and disinfected by natural means, without the use of harsh detergents or petroleum-based chemicals.
Since all textiles are made from some sort of fiber – and all eco-friendly textiles are made from organic or natural fiber – it shouldn’t come as a surprise that manufacturers came up with the idea of using the fibers from the eucalyptus tree to make bedding. Some combine eucalyptus with cotton.
Eucalyptus sheets are said to be incredibly smooth and to have outstanding absorbency – and therefore moisture control. Some say that eucalyptus fibers also deter bed bugs! The “Tencel” in them is the fresh wood pulp from the trees.
Providing the eucalyptus comes from sustainable forests, what more could you want?
Ultimately if you want a guide to eco-friendly bedding, make sure that you consider textiles that are organic, or at very least made from natural products.