Your bedroom is more than just a place to catch some zzz’s. It’s a retreat from the rest of the world.
You might be shocked, then, to learn that one of the most relaxing rooms in the house is also a hot spot for chemicals that can disrupt sleep, trigger allergies and cause a host of health issues from asthma to cancer.
“You spend more time in your bedroom than anywhere else in the house, which means you’ll be more affected by the air quality there,” explains Cindy Olson, vice president of Eco-Coach, a Washington, D.C.-based environmental consulting firm.
An eco-friendly bedroom makeover can help reduce chemical exposure and improve indoor air quality. You’ll sleep much better after making a few small changes.
You don’t have to undertake a major renovation to have an eco-friendly bedroom (but if that’s part of the plan, keep reading). Some of the smallest changes have the biggest results: Switch the light bulbs in the overhead fixtures and bedside lamps to compact fluorescent light bulbs, or CFLs, which use 75 percent less energy than regular incandescent bulbs. The bulbs do cost a bit more but the return on investment is significant. According to ENERGY STAR, CFLs last 10 times longer than incandescent bulbs and will save about $30 over the lifetime of the bulb.
When it comes to the impact of chemical cleaning products on health, the research is clear: One report found that women who used aerosol sprays are more apt to experience headaches and depression and another linked the use of furniture and glass cleaners to a 50 percent increase in the risk of asthma. Using green cleaning products — in the bedroom and throughout the rest of the house — is also a positive change.
The most eco-friendly (and cheapest) cleaners are those made from household products like white vinegar and baking soda. You can find simple recipes for nontoxic cleaners at Care2.com.
Green cleaning products from companies like Seventh Generation, which are great non-toxic and biodegradable options, have become more widely available. Since manufacturers aren’t required to list ingredients on the labels of cleaning products, it can be difficult to know which chemicals are lurking inside the bottles. The solution? Look for cleaning products that have been certified by Green Seal or Ecologo, which have to meet federal safety, health and environmental standards.
Color Your World … Green
Fresh paint is the hallmark of a makeover. You don’t have to choose colors like Fresh Mint, Seafoam or Emerald Isle to go green. Look for paints with low VOCs. VOCs are volatile organic compounds — chemicals in paints that are released into the air and cause indoor air pollution.
“We’re all familiar with the smell of a freshly painted room,” notes Linda Chipperfield, vice president of marketing and outreach for Grean Seal, a nonprofit organization that writes environmental standards and awards the best products a Green Seal. “That smell is caused by chemicals like formaldehyde, benzenes, chloride and heavy metals that are in the paint.”
Low- and no-VOC paints are made without these chemicals and are low odor so there is no lingering paint smell. The demand for green paints has made them easier than ever to find. Benjamin Moore, YOLO Colorhouse and Sherwin-Williams all manufacture paints with low or zero VOCs. You won’t have to sacrifice color, either: Eco-friendly paint is available in thousands of colors and multiple sheens. Unlike organic fruits and veggies, which are more expensive than their conventional counterparts, low-and zero-VOC paints cost about the same as regular paints. You can also look for paints that are Green Seal certified.
Go Back to Basics
Your bedroom basics could use a green upgrade. There could be pesticides, fire-retardant chemicals and formaldehyde lurking in the mattress, linens and pillows.
“Conventional mattresses are filled with chemicals that off-gas and affect our health,” Olson says.
An eco-friendly mattress is worth the splurge. Unlike conventional mattresses, which can contain chemical fire retardants that have been linked to delayed brain development and ADHD, eco-friendly mattresses are made from materials like organic cotton, coconut fibers and lambswool. Best of all, organic mattresses have been found to contain fewer dust mites!
According to Olson, “There are a lot of good eco-friendly bedding options. The demand has grown so mattresses that are made from organic cotton, rayon from bamboo and other green materials are becoming more mainstream.”
Don’t forget about green linens. Bedding made from organic cotton, rayon from bamboo and hemp is free of the harsh chemicals used to grow and manufacture linens made from materials like conventional cotton and polyester.
The furniture can be toxic, too. Pieces made from particleboard, pressed woods and plywood can off-gas formaldehyde, a gas that has been linked to asthma, skin irritation and allergies. The EPA also believes formaldehyde to be a possible carcinogen.
When it comes to finding bed frames, dressers, nightstands and chairs that have minimal impact on the environment, it’s possible to spend big bucks. The best (and most expensive) options are pieces made with organic fabrics and woods that have come from sustainable forests and certified by the Forest Stewardship Council. There are less expensive options.
“The greenest product is the one that already exists,” explains Leah Ingram, author of Suddenly Frugal: How to Live Happier and Healthier for Less. “By buying secondhand you have decreased your home furnishing’s carbon footprint. Plus, you’re likely to save a ton of money in the process.”
An eco-friendly bedroom doesn’t have to be boring. Go for eco chic with fair trade décor, including market baskets made by artists in Ghana, Vietnamese wall scrolls and hand-quilted throw pillows that are both beautiful and good for the planet.
Ingram “shops” in her own house, moving accessories from one room to another to create a new look. “By reusing products I already own and circulating them as decorations in different rooms around the house, I’m saving money and I’m not creating any waste,” she says.
Don’t forget to accessorize with found items. Twigs, seashells, sand and smooth river rocks are beautiful, green and free!
It’s true that small changes add up to big results. Sometimes, a major overhaul is needed. Your best bet for planning a green renovation starts with finding a green contractor.
Contractors committed to green renovations will create a design that uses eco-friendly materials and local resources while minimizing waste. Your local homebuilders association can provide referrals to green contractors. During the renovation, do your part by recycling items that won’t be part of the new bedroom design.
Donate used mattresses, dressers and accessories to Goodwill or local homeless shelters. You can also post items on websites like Freecycle and Craigslist. “We forget that there are a lot of people who have far less than we do,” notes Olson. “You might think it’s old but it could be perfect for someone else.” Donating also keeps items out of the landfill.
Jodi Helmer is the author of The Green Year: 365 Small Things You Can Do to Make a Big Difference.