Reducing Toxins in the Bedroom

We spend about one third of our lives in our bedrooms. Outside of the small amount of time coming and going, the majority of this time is typically spent sleeping (or attempting to sleep). Many are well aware of the importance of sleep and may even going taking steps to get more or optimize this essential daily activity. However what many may not realize is that if our bedrooms are inundated with toxins, we could possibly be doing more harm than good by spending more time in our bedrooms.


Possibly the biggest toxin in the bedroom is the mattress. Mattresses manufactured on or after July 1, 2007 must meet the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission’s (CPSC) flammability standard designed to reduce the severity of mattress fires ignited by open flame sources such as candles, matches and lighters. 1 As a result, flame-retardent chemicals like polybrominated diphenyl ether (PBDE), antimony (a toxic metal) and formaldehyde started showing up in mattresses across the country. While PBDEs are banned for use in Canada, Europe and some states, this is the number one flame retardant used to douse most non-organic mattresses in the US. Studies show that PBDE exposure has been linked to neuro-developmental toxicity, toxicity to the kidney, thyroid, and liver, dermal disorders and endocrine system disruption. 2 while antimony and formaldehyde have been linked to cancer. While mattress manufacturers are required to list the potentially flammable materials in their products, they are not required to list the chemicals/flame retardants, leaving many people guessing just how dangerous their mattresses really are. I think I’ll take my chances with the fire!

Bedroom Furniture

If you’re thinking about possibly replacing your mattress, you may actually want to consider just tossing your entire bedroom set altogether. In addition to formaldehyde possibly lurking in your mattress, if your bedroom furniture was made with pressed wood products there’s a good chance that the glue holding it all together may also heavily tainted with this nasty chemical (especially with older furniture before new regulations took place). In addition to cancer, formaldehyde exposure can cause burning/watery eyes and throat, asthma attacks and other breathing issues.


Carpet contains Volatile Organic Compounds (harmful in high concentrations) linked to headaches, nausea, liver, kidney and central nervous system damage, allergic reactions and possibly cancer1 this is particularly problematic in newly installed carpet and VOC emissions generally subside after a few days (which is why new carpet has an off gassing period in which it is recommended to stay out of the home). For those planning to build a new home in the future, I would definitely recommend looking into less toxic flooring alternatives such as wood (with a non toxic finish), organic carpet, stone/tile and even laminate or natural linoleum.

While ripping out your existing carpet may not be totally necessary at this point, properly caring for it can drastically cut down on toxin exposure relating to your existing carpet. Did you know that 40% of contaminants in the home are brought in on shoes and clothing. 2 We wear our shoes into public restrooms (and porta potties!), lawns and parks freshly treated with chemicals, into grocery stores “cleaned” with more toxic chemicals, and everywhere in between. All this walking adds up to some seriously disgusting toxins, chemicals and bacteria on the bottom of our shoes. When these same shoes are then worn into the home then eventually taken off in favor or socks then those oh so cozy socks slide into bed at night… well you can just imagine how toxic your sheets quickly become! Fortunately, this is an easy habit to change and those existing carpets can easily be cleaned, which brings me to my next topic.

Cleaning Supplies

In addition to a laundry list of chemicals which very few would recognize, most cleaning supplies (including laundry detergents, air fresheners and candles!) also display a list of warnings ] including: do not inhale fumes, avoid contact with skin, may be fatal if swallowed. Many air fresheners and furniture polish even have the warning of “deliberately concentrating and inhaling the contents can be harmful or fatal”. What happens if somebody non-deliberately inhales the contents (like for instance that plug in air freshener in the wall outlet)? Studies show that the average home contains 62 toxic chemicals, including phthalates (in air fresheners, dish soap and cosmetics) perchloroethylene (in dry cleaning solutions, carpet and upholstery cleaners) quarternary ammonium compounds (in fabric softeners and many antibacterial cleaners), VOCs (dry cleaned clothing, aerosol sprays, cleaners and disinfectants) and many more. 3 I don’t have time or space to go into the health dangers of all of the chemicals used in the home but I will say these add up quickly!


In the past month alone I’ve come across a handful of people currently dealing with issues relating to mold exposure. Mold is a difficult toxin to identify as it can grow pretty much anywhere in the home where oxygen and moisture are present and often goes unnoticed. Mold likes to grow in bathrooms, under sinks, around windows, in basements and in previously water damaged areas of the home. Because mold can be hard to spot, many will suffer from mold related illnesses for some time without pinpointing the culprit. Mold can produce mycotoxins, and mVOCs (microbial volatile organic compounds) which can wreak havoc on everything from the vascular, respiratory, skin, reproductive, digestive, neurological, urinary and immune systems. Symptoms include coughing, wheezing, sinus issues, itchy rashes, joint pain and declining health with no obvious source.


Other possible sources of toxins in the bedroom can include paint (can include VOCs. In homes built before 1978 lead is an issue), freshly dry cleaned clothing (more VOCs and other chemicals), and even the bedding on our beds (bedding can contain dyes while laundry detergent a list of questionable chemicals. I’m not sure if anybody even uses mothballs anymore but those with an attic or closet housing these best repellents be exposing themselves to paradichlorogbenzene and naphthalene, two nasty chemicals that can cause a plethora of health issues. There is the issue of EMF (Electromagnetic Field) exposure from electronics like cell phones, wireless routers, cordless phones and phone bases. Studies are ongoing to truly determine the danger of EMF’s but my recommendation is to remove or limit these things wherever possible.


Tips for Reducing Toxins in the Bedroom:

  • When it comes time to upgrade to a new mattress, consider organic mattress options made of wool, latex and organic fabric. My wife and I recently switched to an Essentia brand mattress and are extremely happy.
  • Swap out those air fresheners and candles for a diffuser and essential oils. Oils like lavender, vetiver, frankincense, bergamot, clary sage, chamomile, sandalwood and ylang ylang all have a calming effect and are non toxic.
  • Avoid wearing shoes in the house and have the carpets cleaned by a Green Seal Certified (or other natural organic cleaning company) OR clean them yourself with hot water, baking soda, vinegar, and a little essential oil
  • Swap out those chemical cleaners for things like baking soda, vinegar, lemon, essential oils and other natural ingredients
  • If the cell phone must sleep in the same room as you, turn it to Airplane Mode at night and remove any phone bases/wireless phones from the bedroom permanently.
  • To learn more about which household products are safest (and most toxic) visit the Environmental Working Group website at

  1. 1. 2004;
  2. Birnbaum and Staskal 2004; EPA 2009 ,
  4. Nishioka, M.G., Burkholder, H.M., Brinkman, M.C., Gordon, S.M., & Lewis, R.G. (1996). Measuring transport of lawn- applied herbicide acids from turf to home: correlation of dislodgeable 2,4-D turf residues with carpet dust and carpet surface residues. Environmental Science and Technology, 30(11), 3313–3320.
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