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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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)
- DO NOT go to bed with wet hair. It must be fully dry to avoid moisture and mould growth in the pillow.
- 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.
- Consider investing in good pillow protectors made from natural fibres.
- Air your mattress or even change the direction it faces and flip it over every few months and vacuum every week or fortnight.
- 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. I also love Killa Pilla which are cotton and wool pillows with a difference – they’re designed by a chiropractor and wife team for maximum support not only for your neck/back but your nervous system too. They’re quite something and you can grab one any time with 10% off with the code LOWTOXLIFE10
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 into 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.