How to Choose an Organic Pillow

by: EJ on 10/28/2016

I need to buy a new pillow.  In fact, our whole family has needed new pillows for about 4 years now.  So why haven't I simply gone out and purchased this household necessity?  Because I know too much about toxic chemicals and not enough about safe pillows! 


(Photo credit: Rev Stan)

Who wants to sleep 8-10 hours a night (yes, I do like my sleep) on a product that contains chemicals that might damage the endocrine system or contribute to cancer?.  That is not a restful thought to lay my head on. 

To find out what kind of pillow is safe to sleep on, I needed to do some research. I turned to my first most trusted source of information.  Google?  Nope, New Society authors. And as always, I was not disappointed.  Here is what Deanna Duke, author The Non-Toxic Avenger: What you Don't Know Can Hurt You has to say about pillows.

I needed a new pillow and I wasn’t about to replace it with something even potentially toxic so I started researching my healthy and natural pillow options.


Kapok (photo credit: Robyn Jay)

I wasn’t really interested in a noisy or hard pillow, like something made out of buckwheat hulls. Nor did I want something that I knew would compress over time, like organic cotton. I’ve slept on one too many futons in my lifetime and I know what sort of leaden lump those turn into, regardless of how much fluffing and turning you do to them. The other options were kapok seeds, 100% wool or natural latex. The latex reminded me too much of the memory foam, but it was an option I was willing to look into. I wasn’t sure about the kapok. I was really interested in the all-wool pillow, but since you can’t wash it I didn’t want to have it around all the people in my house who tend to barf. A lot. I decided to go with a nonallergenic down pillow. We already had several goose down comforters and, although I’ve read that down tends to attract more dust mites and mold, washing it several times a year and having a cover on it helps keep that problem down.

I found an eco-friendly, allergy-free down pillow with an organic cotton cover that fit the bill. It was expensive, but I didn’t want to spring for a cheap one that would lump up over time, or that didn’t meet my requirements for being non-toxic and nonallergenic.

I also bought an organic cotton case for the pillow to keep out moisture and dust mites to further protect my investment. I was really concerned that it wouldn’t work as well as my Tempur-Pedic pillow and that I’d have to work my way through several different kinds of pillows before I found the right one.

Since it’s hard to find natural pillows in bedding stores, you can’t really experience what they feel like until you’ve bought them online and by then it’s too late. Pillows are like underwear and bathing suits — once you’ve taken them out of the package and tried them out for a while you can’t return them. I guess they don’t want to restock a pillow full of drool. In any case, if the down pillow I ordered ended up not being comfortable, my husband would get it as a replacement since he needed a new one and I would try the wool. And we would just try to keep the barfers away from it. However, I ended up liking my down pillow so much I didn’t need to look any further.

Now to Google.  Earth 911 has a fine summary of what to avoid in pillows. 

  • Chemical Flame Retardants – Early studies suggest that the chemicals used could possibly be affecting your hormones.
  • Antibacterial Biocides – Ingredients that aim to kill germs, dust mites and mold.
  • Polyurethane Foam/Synthetic Latex Rubber - Ironically, these are highly flammable substances created from a slew of chemicals.

And because Canada has different regulations than the United States, The Queen of Green at David Suzuki Foundation was my next stop. She has a whole series of blog posts about bedroom furnishings including one specifically about pillows.  She also owns an entire family of different eco-pillows and has sleep tested them all.  You can read the whole post here.

Snowflake the killer duck

After reading all this information, I am leaning towards a down pillow - but these are not without ethical issues for the conscientious consumer.  Did you know that some down is produced by live plucking the bird?  Is there no end of the misery industrial agriculture has inflicted on the living beings that share this earth with us?  To avoid purchasing a down pillow that may have contributed to this inhumane practice, look for the Downmark certification specifically in Canada and the Responsible Down Standard in the United States and 24 other member countries.

Also beware down washed in formaldehyde. In Canada, look for down from Feather Industries which using only hypoallergenic and 100% biodegradable detergents.

Stay tuned to our instagram page and I if I am successful in my search tomorrow, I will post a photo of my new, healthy, animal friendly, comfortable and hopefully not uber expensive new pillows!  Happy weekend everyone. 


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