Chemicals in Pillows?

Fire-resistant labels on pillows

Which pillows have the least chemicals?  An email from one of our readers brought up an interesting question.
How much do you know about the material your pillows are made from?   Synthetic pillows (that is hollowfibre, microfibre or polyurethane or memory foam pillows) are all made from polyester in different forms. Polyester can ignite more easily than natural materials and obviously, you don’t really want to be lying on a flammable object if you can help it so manufacturers have had to ensure that their synthetic pillows are treated with fire-retardant chemicals. Recently there has been some concern that breathing in high levels of these chemicals may not be the best idea for our health.

Scroll down for our list of the best natural pillows and the best organic pillows. 

Now we’re not chemistry experts here but we can give you a brief overview of the situation from a pillow point of view. UK manufacturers are not currently obliged by law to disclose what kind of treatments they have given their pillows, mattresses or furniture. Basically, I would assume that all synthetic pillows have been treated to some extent unless they specifically say that they haven’t. In the U.S. they’ve had to declare this for a while, so you’ll see some American products stating on their packaging that they haven’t used flame-retardant chemicals e.g. the My Brest Friend Nursing Pillow.

Don’t forget that the majority of these chemicals are considered safe to be used in household products. But if you don’t like the idea of sleeping on fire-retardant materials, choose a natural pillow. All polyester pillows are synthetic, and neither the chemical process of creating this material nor the product itself is environmentally friendly. Some toxic waste is a by-product and you do of course get a non-recyclable, non-biodegradable product at the end of the process.

But, if you’re going green, you should probably check your duvet, your mattress and your cushions too.

Natural fibre pillows include down, feather, silk or wool, and obviously you’d want a 100% cotton cover if you’re avoiding all polyester. Wool and silk have a good level of natural fire-resistance so also better from that point of view. You might also consider a natural latex pillow which is manufactured without the fire-retardant chemicals, or of course an organic pillow.

Lastly as with any product, if you’re concerned, check the label. Some ‘organic’ pillows are only actually organic on the outside casing (containing memory foam inside); and some silk or wool pillows are blended with microfibre, so go for the ‘one-hundred-percenters’ if you can.    See Wikipedia  if you want to read more facts on flame retardant materials.

Our suggestions for natural and organic pillows: