Two years ago I saw organic crib sheets at a baby store and laughed at how gimmicky I thought they were; who would pay double price for organic bedding?! Not like anyone will be eating it or anything!
But as time went on, I started noticing that organic sheets were creeping up in stores everywhere (and, thankfully, some of the prices were going down). But how could the demand for them have climbed so high? Either a lot of people were naively falling for good marketing, or else maybe, just maybe, there were legitimate health reasons to go with a more natural option that I needed to get on board with.
So, of course, I began looking into it, and was soon convinced to make the switch. The girls got organic crib sheets a few months ago for Christmas, and Papa Bear and I just received ours in the mail today (thank you, tax returns for funding that)!
WHY SAY GOODBYE?
In my research, I came across several toxins & chemicals that I wanted to avoid. But there were two main factors that really hit home for me: the amount of time we spend snuggled up in sheets & what happens when toxins are absorbed into the skin.
TIME. The amount of time we spend in between the sheets throughout life is enormous. The American Time Use Survey says that employed adults (aged 25-54) with children under the age of 18 sleep an average of 7.7 hours each night – that amounts to nearly 1/3 of life!
SKIN. No, I will not be eating my sheets, but the dirty truth is that chemicals can be absorbed through the skin and into the bloodstream & lymphatic system, causing toxic effects (source). Though absorption is shown to vary based on the substance, studies like this one show an average of 64% penetration of chemicals through skin absorption, while it is reported that underarms & genitalia show up to a 100% penetration rate.
SO, WHAT TOXINS ARE ACTUALLY LURKING IN THE SHEETS?
Many of us are aware of the toxic dangers associated with the mattresses we sleep on (due to flame retardants, added chemicals, and synthetic materials), but sheets can be chemical-laden too. Actually, to say they can be is an understatement.
It is a safe bet that non-organic cotton sheets have been heavily sprayed with pesticides during farming and treated with formaldehyde in later processing stages, whether or not the tag states it.
PESTICIDES & INSECTICIDES IN COTTON
Most bed linens are made of cotton due to its breathability, comfort, and durability. Cotton should be natural enough, right? If only. We are talking highest-sprayed-crop globally.
- Just 2.4% of the world’s arable land is planted with cotton yet it accounts for 24% of the world’s insecticide market and 11% of sale of global pesticides, making it the most pesticide-intensive crop grown on the planet. (source)
- In California, five of the top nine pesticides used on cotton are cancer-causing chemicals (cyanazine, dicofol, naled, propargite and trifluralin). (source)
FORMALDEHYDE IN EASY CARE/PERMANENT PRESS
Perhaps being wrinkle-free isn’t all it is cracked up to be. In order to achieve an “easy care” classification, sheets must be treated with toxic resins, most often formaldehyde and formaldehyde-releasing preservatives. (source, source, source)
Formaldehyde has been classified as a known human carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer and as a probable human carcinogen by the U.S. environmental Protection Agency. More immediate effects can include burning sensations in the eyes, nose, & throat; coughing; wheezing; nausea; and skin irritation.
Countries such as Austria, Finland, Germany, Norway, Netherlands and Japan have national legislation restricting the presence of formaldehyde in textile products, but in the United States, formaldehyde levels in fabric are not regulated. Nor does any government agency require manufacturers to disclose the use of the chemical on labels. (source)
DON’T THE CHEMICALS WASH OUT DURING LAUNDERING?
Though washing will help some and the off-gassing will decrease over time, the chemicals will never wash out completely.
- Pesticides affect more than just the surface; they can be found inside cotton fibers after harvest
- Wrinkle/stain resistant fabrics & colorfast dyes are chemically bound to the fibers, specifically designed to not wash out in order to maintain their effects
We cannot eliminate toxin exposure completely, but making wise changes in what we sleep with can reduce some of the off-gassing and exposure to harmful chemicals for 1/3 of our lives, and to me, that is a huge step toward health and wellness.
ORGANIC COTTON. To be certified organic, there is very strict criteria that must be met from farm though all stages of manufacturing. Toxic heavy metals, formaldehyde, aromatic solvents, functional nano particles, chlorine bleaches, GMOs and their enzymes are all prohibited (just to name a few!). Only specific chemicals evaluated & found to meet requirements for toxicity & biodegradability can be used in processing (for dyes, auxiliaries, & process chemicals).
COTTON JERSEY OR COTTON FLANNEL. Though non-organic cottons such as these will have still been sprayed heavily with pesticides, they will not have been treated with formaldehyde in later stages.
FORMALDEHYDE FREE. If the tag says formaldehyde free, then it is! Most sheets, however, give no indication. If there is nothing mentioned on the tag about formaldehyde (and it is not organic), then you can assume that it has been used.
What kind of sheets are you sleeping on?
This post is part of my “Farewell” Friday series.