Need a new pillow? Here are your low tox options

In the 50+ talks I gave last year, I was asked so often what my top priority swaps were.

I recorded a solo podcast for the show talking through all my top swaps in detail if you want to listen, here are the show notes that have the links to ITunes / Stitcher / Spotify, depending on where you listen.

Of all the top swaps it seems the pillow came as the biggest shock when I spoke about it on the show and during the book tour. Amazing that we’d think to swap an eye shadow we use once or twice a week on a tiny part of our bodies, and not think of the thing we bury our heads into all night for 7+ hours, breathing in and out over and over again. (And I was guilty of this too by the way so pop away that shame right now, it’s all about getting excited about what you’re going to change from TODAY!)

Over the years I have read of and researched dust mite proliferation contributing to asthma, mold spores contributing to chronic inflammation or acute allergy and synthetic polyester being terrible for us and our planet, as the microplastic dust comes off everything from our soft toys to our pillow fillings to our gym pants. I know, right? Super exciting realisation. Or is it “OH MAN. EVERYTHING IS TRYING TO KILL US!!!!!!”  Usually, it’s the latter proclamation.

Once you’ve had the dummy spit though, it’s helpful to swiftly move to solutions and change rather than staying paralysed by fear that it’s all bad for us at every turn because it simply isn’t. We learn more, we change what we do and things get better. Simple as that.

So, I’m going to keep it super simple as to why we need to rethink our pillow options and then give you some options.

On the health front:

Research shows that the average pillow can harbour dust mites, mold, other fungi, cockroach particles (mmm!) and release microplastic dust into our breathing space, when a pillow is made of synthetic materials.

Here’s a study linking dust mites to asthma in Puerto Rico looking at over 500 asthmatics and other respiratory conditions and here’s a fantastic synopsis of household dust components from the American College of Asthma, along with useful tips on what you can do to minimise dust altogether AND have healthier dust.

Dust mites are not thought to be harmful to our health, however, their poop is and linked in multiple clinical journals to asthma, rhinitis and eczema os if there are skin issues, not just respiratory issues, then it’s worth taking a look, too.

Here’s a study published in the European Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology showing how much fungi is potentially found in synthetic and feather pillows. I ended up happening upon this after realising the palpitations I got every time I sat on our couch were linked to the feather pillows we had in our damp apartment which made the fether pillows a breeding ground for mold. Being sensitive to mold, if they were there, my heart went crazy, when we removed them, I was fine. Feather pillows anyone? NO THANKS! There is also the animal rights issue with feather pillows as it’s very hard to trace where they’re from and there are horrific stories of live plucking in certain countries where animal rights aren’t considered at all.

On the environmental front:

Synthetic fills and materials mean that our pillows aren’t for the most part able to become something new or break down in the environment in a way that is non toxic to ecology. Couple that fact with the release of billions of microplastic particles into the air you breathe and share with our planet and microplastics quickly spread out into the world.

SO… What to do?

Here are the best natural material options

Latex (100% pure, natural)

Unless you have a latex allergy, latex is a fantastic option for your pillow choice. It moulds to your head which is great for your spine health.

Wool (must be aired in direct sun monthly!)




(“Down” doesn’t make it on there due to lack of being able to find traceable down pillows, coupled with the fact that mold and mites are particularly fond of feathers, unfortunately.)

Top tips to keep a healthy pillow and good air in your sleep space into the future:

  1. Replace your pillows every two years as recommended by several asthma councils around the world. Need it to stretch further for the budget? Wash covers regularly and sun/air more often.
  2. Vacuum your bare pillow (and mattress while you’re at it) with a HEPA filter vacuum every couple of weeks. We have the BOSCH relaxx’x shhh model and love it.
  3. Wash your pillow in hot water and detergent and sun it completely dry, every couple of months – Sun is any mold, fungi, dust mite’s kryptonite! NOTE: Do not wash or directly sun latex as it causes it to break down. Just air it outside in the shade a few hours every month or so.
  4. Wash soft toys once a season and sun them completely dry (for big ones you might need to take them out two days in a row for peak sunshine to dry right through)
  5. DO NOT go to bed with wet hair. It must be fully dry to avoid moisture and mould growth in the pillow.
  6. Sleep with fans on in the summer so that you don’t sweat into the pillow overnight if possible as this overtime can encourage mould growth.
  7. Consider investing in good pillow protectors made from natural fibres. 
  8. Air your mattress or even change the direction it faces and flip it over every few months and vacuum every week or fortnight.
  9. If you or your kids/partner are a hot sleeper and get sweaty in the night, consider popping a dehumidifier on for a couple of hours in the morning to allow the mattresses to dry out from any sweat.

Watch out for ‘eco’ pillows that still contain synthetic foams. There’s a bit of ‘greenwashing’ going on out there in pillow land.

I hope this helps – feel free to share where you got your pillow from if you have a good natural one.

AUS: The Natural Bedding Co has a great selection if you want to check that out in Australia.

USA: Lifekind is a great USA option.

UK: Natural bedding Co has Kapok, Wool options (skip the memory foam)

And please feel free to share resources so I can add them to the post for everyone, in the comments.

Here’s to a great night’s sleep and a healthy, natural-fibred pillow – it’s what we deserve, don’t you think? Are you up for a new pillow this year?

Low Tox. Healthy People. Happy Planet.






Comments 10

  1. Hi Alexx,
    I was wondering if you have any strategies for what you do with your pillows if we need to replace them every two years… I’m trying to think of ways that mean we are not just sending old pillows to landfill – have you got any insights on that? I am at a bit of a loss!
    Thanks for this post, some great tips!

    1. Post

      Very welcome! Best is to empty the wool into compost and any zip off covers made of cotton can go to something like H&M store for their textiles recycling service. If you have latex pillows, these can be cut up and used for safer packaging buffers or kept in garage for when you need to move something, so you have a few for padding… I’ve put a call out to a mattress recycler to ask if they’d consider doing pillows too and will update the post if this comes through in the positive x

    1. Post

      I know Sharyn, but I always say… don’t feel the pressure to buy everything at once. Start with affordable and manageable changes and prioritise what is most important to you. With big purchases, I pop a few dollars a week away until I have enough stashed for those big-ticket items. If it takes me a few years, that’s ok too!

  2. I’m confused about your suggestion of latex – I thought that latex pillows were synthetic! The original ingredient of latex from trees is not the same as the end product in pillows, is it??? I thought it had gone through a synthetic process to make it a foam… happy to be corrected if I’m wrong…

    1. Post

      Hi Andie, great question. Thanks for asking it! There are two types of latex: Natural 100% latex from rubber trees and synthetic latex from petroleum, so yes, sometimes it’s not low tox and always worth ensuring you’re buying latex from a reputable, transparent company that uses 100% natural latex. Some companies also say ‘made with natural latex’ but with the ambiguous loophole there it’s also ‘made with’ synthetic and blended, so again, need to be sure they’re using 100% natural latex.


  3. Hello Alexx
    The natural pillow protector link above is crossed out. Are you still recommending the company in the link? Thank you

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