Tuesday, October 13, 2009

5 Ways Your Bedroom is Killing You

Your bedroom is the the place you go to rest, relax, and recharge each night, so you want it to be healthy. Perhaps with the except of your office, the bedroom is probably the place where you spend the most time; a full third of your life is spent between the sheets. Yet, there are a handful of ways that your bedroom might be slowly and silently killing you each night. Avoid these hazards in five spots around your bedroom and rest a little easier each night.

Your Pillows

You may not think much about your pillow -- and, hey, you're asleep while you're using it -- but you could be breathing in chemical fumes, or being exposed to synthetic dyes and other toxins. Poly-fill and other synthetic materials, like polyurethane foam, are often made from petroleum derivatives. Aside from the fact that using oil for your pillows ain't cool (since it's a non-renewable fossil fuel and all), it's also extremely flammable -- you've seen what happens when you light gasoline on fire, right? So they're treated heavily with polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) or other brominated fire retardants, and, while that helps them not burst into flames, they can bioaccumulate in your body, and toxicological testing indicates those chemicals may cause liver toxicity, thyroid toxicity, and neurodevelopmental toxicity. Not something you want from the spot where you lay your head.

Pillows also often harbor dust mites, and many people are allergic to their leavings, so finding hypo-allergenic options can also be beneficial for your health; check out our piece on green pillow options to learn more about some of the eco-friendly places to lay your head.

Your Mattress

The pillow for your body has many of the same hazards (plus a few more) that your pillows do. Many mattresses contain polyurethane foams, which have the PBDE or other brominated flame retardants in them, and just about every conventional mattress is given a separate brominated fire retardant or other chemical treatment. State laws have been rapidly changing over the past few years, changing the chemicals used by different manufacturers -- some use boric acid, for example, a common household pesticide that can be toxic when inhaled by humans -- but, in general, none of them are very good for you. To be sure your mattress isn't slowly killing you, check out our guide to buying green mattresses.

Your dresser, bed, and other furniture

Aside from your mattress and pillows, the rest of your bedroom furniture -- your bed, dresser, bedside tables, and the like -- may not be doing you much good. If it's made from plywood, oriented strand board (OSB), particle board or other wood composite material, that means there's a significant amount of glue and adhesive holding it together. All too often, those adhesives are formaldehyde-based (its hazard has been well-documented) which can off-gas volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in your bedroom for years after you bring the furniture into your home.

And, though you can't see them, VOCs aren't anything to trifle with; at high concentrations, some VOCs can cause chronic and acute health effects, and others are known carcinogens. But even low to moderate levels of multiple VOCs can produce acute reactions. Bottom line: Avoid volatile organic compounds as much as possible. To avoid VOC-laden furniture, learn more about choosing good wood furniture.

Carpets and rugs

Your flooring isn't immune from dangers, either. Carpets often contain significant amounts of VOCs, in everything from the padding in wall-to-wall carpets to the adhesive used in modular carpet tiles. Same story for rugs; the backing is often adhered with indoor air quality-damaging glues, and occassionally made from composites held together with the nasty stuff.

To avoid these hazards, perhaps the greenest thing to do is tear up your wall-to-wall carpeting, but if you can't live without the soft padding underfoot, be sure to clean your carpet without chemicals and look for green carpeting options when it's time to replace your current carpet.

Paint and other wallcoverings

Just as your flooring can contain harmful hidden materials, so it is with your wallcoverings. Paint might be the most common (or at least the most widely known) source of VOCs in your home; thankfully, the list of companies and retailers offering no- or low-VOC paints is pretty big and growing all the time, so splashing up a healthier coat isn't as difficult as it was even a few years ago. The hazards don't stop with paint, though; many wallpaper adhesives -- like lots of other adhesives that we've mentioned here -- can be harmful to indoor air quality. And the same goes for wall textiles and other wallcoverings, too -- if it can be glued, it can be full of VOCs.

When installing new wallcoverings, the smell test is the easiest way to test for VOCs -- if it stinks, it's harmful to you, and can continue to be long after the 24 or 48 hours when you can really smell it. Look for no- and low-VOC adhesives, and you'll be breathing easier -- and living healthier -- for years to come.

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