Now that Daylight Savings Time has arrived for most of the United States, here are some additional ways to “spring forward” inside your home. In Part One, we looked at the hazards of indoor air pollution caused by the breakdown of synthetic chemicals, and simple ways to brighten, lighten, and clean your home’s air. This part will explore two of the most important investments you can make for a healthy home – floors and beds – while helping the environment and sustaining the green economy.
Every Step You Take
Floors are your home’s largest area, and can also be one of the largest sources of indoor toxicity. Care.com offers a comprehensive overview of the long-lasting hazards of formaldehyde, polyurethane, polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and other materials commonly used in building our homes and home furnishings. These materials are dangerous to manufacture and dangerous to live with.
Wall-to-wall carpeting is often made from petroleum-derived plastic fibers and solvent-based adhesives. Even if you buy natural wool carpeting, it may be chemically treated and the foam padding typically installed between it and the wood floor is probably petroleum-based. These materials release gasses as long as five years after installation, contributing to the high levels of indoor air pollutants documented by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and related health issues, we covered in Part One.
“Old” is the New “New”
If you are fortunate enough to have hardwood flooring underneath that carpeting, one beautiful solution is removing the carpet and sealing the old floors with non-toxic oil or natural wax-based coatings. If your flooring is simple plywood or particle board, it can be covered and sealed naturally using tile – terracotta, ceramic, or granite – bamboo, or recycled wood planks.
“My Chemical-Free House” is a wonderful blog for clearing the air. It explores the pros and cons of flooring choices, including glues, finishes, and under-flooring. Another great resource is GreenHomeGuide.com, which publishes a handy buyer’s chart.
You’ll find that these resource guides offer no perfect solutions. Inert natural materials, such as slate, granite, or marble, don’t release volatile compounds into your indoor air, but simply transporting these heavy materials creates a significant carbon footprint. For that reason, we recommend locally sourced materials, when they are available. Glass, ceramic, clay, and terra cotta tiles also work well. Use these guides to find a durable natural glue for these materials.
A floor of recycled, seasoned lumber has the advantage of being thoroughly dry – it won’t warp – and requires minimal care. Linseed oil is an excellent natural floor polish for wood, linoleum, or sustainable bamboo. Combination wax/oil finishes are now commercially available from producers of natural paints and finishes (see Part One). Real beeswax and oil finishes, while more difficult to obtain, as beehives continue to collapse, are lustrous and durable.
Wrapped in Toxins for One-Third of Your Life
The next most significant investment you can make for your sustainable home is in your bedroom. Even though most Americans are technically sleep-deprived (did you know more traffic accidents are caused by sleep deprivation than by driving under the influence?), we still rest, hang out, text, watch movies, and maybe even sleep(!) on our beds. Most of us spend eight hours, or even more, in close contact with our mattress and bed linens. Traditional mattresses contain off-gassing polyurethane polyesters, synthetic vinyl, and/or polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), used in chemical fire retardants. PBDEs are now found everywhere from Greenland seal blubber to the breast milk of American women.
Trend-setter Oprah Winfrey went on a hunt for a more comfortable and eco-friendly mattress. During her search for non-synthetic foams and chemically untreated cotton or wool stuffing, she discovered handcrafted mattresses by Walt Bader, whose chemical sensitivities led him to launch Lifekind and Organic Mattresses, Inc. Bader uses only certified organic cotton, cruelty-free wool, and 100% natural rubber latex. Employees don’t smoke, wear fragrances, or use fabric softeners on their clothing while working in his facilities.
As recommended in Part One, OEKO-TEX® Standard 100 certification is an important assurance of chemical-free textiles, as is the Global Organic Textile Standard. Oprah, preferring memory foam, decided on a $1600 Italian Magniflex mattress which uses foam comprising 30% plant oils, water instead of solvents for expansion, and a sea sand-derived flame retardant.
The Zenhaven mattress is 100% natural: it is made from natural rubber, sustainably tapped from trees in South America. The sap is turned into foam through the Talalay water-based manufacturing process in the U.S., producing no environmentally harmful byproducts. This mattress is made with organic cotton and 100% organic New Zealand wool layered with the latex cores. The organic wool layer is naturally flame-retardant, so it requires no chemicals. Then the mattress is wrapped in a hypoallergenic, mold- and dust mite-resistant organic cotton cover.
Because Zenhaven’s cores and mattresses are manufactured in the U.S., its carbon footprint is much smaller than imported mattresses. Order online through Saatva, and you can buy the Queen Zenhaven for $1,899.
Essentia manufactures natural VOC-tested memory foam mattresses entirely from natural rubber, with no petroleum base. They also offer pillows, organic sheets, and natural dog beds.
The Clean Bedroom offers natural mattresses made from organic wool and cotton and natural Dunlop or Talalay latex. Their food for thought: “If you sleep on a foam mattress, you’re spending a third of your life sleeping on oil.” Less expensive products include 100% GOTS-certified organic sheets and mattress toppers.
Just Get Started
We don’t claim to offer perfect solutions, but we don’t believe that should prevent us from taking steps in the right direction. If your bedroom budget is under $1000, you can still make real improvements with organic mattress covers, linens, and bedding. Houzz offers a Greenzone Organic Cotton Jersey Waterproof Mattress Protector for less than $100. Whisper Organics offers 100% organic cotton sheet sets (my favorite) for every size bed, from baby crib to California King. The full set is shipped in an organic cotton carry-bag.
Natural wool blankets and sustainably dyed organic cotton comforters are more sustainable alternatives to artificially dyed polyesters with chemical surface treatments. You’ll sleep better knowing your skin is not absorbing these chemicals.
Finally, we spend so much of our lives breathing in close proximity to our pillows. Synthetic pillows have all the problems mentioned above, and down is often harvested using cruel methods. Many of the manufacturers and retailers we recommend offer better pillows.
So start with small, simple adjustments at first, and remember that your health is precious. How would it feel to have a cozy, non-toxic bedroom?
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