After a long day installing solar panels on your roof or lobbying politicians to tackle climate change, what better than to rest your head on a truly eco-friendly pillow? Sadly, most pillows are an environmental nightmare, filled with petroleum-based polyester or stuffed with forcibly plucked feathers sterilized with formaldehyde. Thankfully, there are plenty of eco-friendly pillows available, if you know where to look.
When choosing a new pillow, you’ll want to consider how you sleep. Different pillow materials work better for different types of sleeper, so think about whether you tend to sleep on your side, stomach, or back, or a combination. You’ll also want to think about how firm, cool, or cozy you like your pillow to feel, as well as the size, shape, and portability of your pillow. Some eco-friendly pillows are also easier to clean than others, so consider how much time and energy you have for upkeep.
If you’re looking for a new pillow, consider asking the following questions:
- What is the pillow made from?
- Are the materials recycled and/or recyclable?
- Has the pillow been treated with toxic chemicals?
- Does the manufacturing of the pillow harm humans, other animals, and/or the environment?
When it comes to the firmness of a pillow, a lot depends on the type of material and how fully the pillow is stuffed. At the extra soft end of the spectrum, you’ll find kapok pillows, followed by wool. Cotton and shredded latex (rubber) foam are medium firm, with contour latex foam a little firmer, and solid latex foam firmer still. Buckwheat and millet pillows are typically extra firm, although this also depends on how fully they are stuffed.
Let’s look more closely at the materials used to make conventional pillows and the problems these materials pose for your health and the environment as a whole.
Our top picks for eco-friendly Pillows
|Product||Highlights||Leaf Score||Product Link|
Savvy Rest Organic Kapok PillowRead the Review
| ||Visit Site|
Savvy Rest Organic Kapok Body PillowRead the Review
| ||Visit Site|
Savvy Rest Organic Latex Soap-Shaped PillowRead the Review
| ||Visit Site|
Organic Textiles Slim Natural Latex PillowRead the Review
| ||View on Amazon|
Malouf Z 100% Natural Talalay Latex Zoned PillowRead the Review
| ||View on Amazon|
Atlantis 100% Hemp Pillow (12 sections) (Case Included)Read the Review
| ||Visit Site|
Rawganique Organic Buckwool PillowRead the Review
| ||Visit Site|
Rawganique Wild Kapok Contour PillowRead the Review
| ||Visit Site|
Rawganique’s Vegan Certified Organic Buckwheat Hulls PillowRead the Review
| ||Visit Site|
Savvy Rest Organic Latex Contour PillowRead the Review
| ||Visit Site|
Things to consider in Pillows
Pillows – What to Watch out for
Synthetic pillows require huge amounts of resources to manufacture, are usually riddled with chemicals that off-gas while you sleep, and wind up sitting in landfill for years before they begin to break down.
Pros and Cons of Polyester Pillows
The majority of conventional pillows are made using polyester, a mass-produced petroleum-based, nonrenewable resource. While polyester is cheap compared to better quality materials, its manufacture is incredibly energy intensive, which contributes to climate change and costs us more in the long run.
Polyester is also teeming with nasty chemicals, the main one being ethylene glycol. This toxin off-gases from pillows, meaning that we inhale it as we sleep. It can also be absorbed through our skin and can cause skin and eye irritation as well as damage to the nervous system and kidneys, and respiratory irritation. Polyester doesn’t breathe well, meaning that you’re more likely to overheat, sweat, and have an unpleasant sleeping experience. Furthermore, polyester is frequently produced in factories with unsafe and unfair working conditions, putting workers and the nearby environment at risk. It’s hard to rest easy when your pillow is poisonous.
Top Tip – Watch out for ‘down alternatives’ – these are usually made with a polyester blend.
There are some good things about polyester, aside from the cheap price tag. For example, polyester pillows can be thrown in the washing machine and dried on low heat in the dryer, making them easy to keep clean. Unfortunately, you will need to do this regularly because polyester is very attractive to dust mites as there are plenty of places for these bugs to hide. Polyester also tends to have a short life span, getting lumpy and flat within a few months, especially if you go for the really cheap options.
Top tip – don’t be fooled by ‘hypoallergenic’ on labels. While people aren’t typically allergic to polyester, there are far better options that are natural and hypoallergenic too.
Pros and Cons of Memory foam Pillows
Memory foam pillows have become popular in recent years as they offer good support and feel comfortable while you sleep. Unfortunately, memory foam is simply polyurethane, which can release volatile organic compounds (VOCs) while you sleep. Again, the manufacture of polyurethane memory foam is energy intensive and involves formaldehyde and benzene, both of which are bad for factory workers, the environment, and for the end user (i.e. you and your family).
Some companies have started marketing their memory foam pillows and other products under the CertiPur-US™ logo. While this might make a pillow seem eco-friendly, the truth is that all this label means is that the environmentally-damaging memory foam is a little less terrible for you than standard memory foam. The certification offers some assurance that the foam component of the pillow is free from polybrominated diphenyl ether (PDBE) and flame retardants, and that levels of formaldehyde and other chemicals including ozone depleting substances, mercury, lead, and other heavy metals, and hormone-disrupting phthalates are low. However, memory foam is still resource-hungry, synthetic, and a source of VOCs, so it is best avoided.
Pros and Cons of Polyethylene Terephthalate Pellets (PETs) and Microbeads for Pillows
Polyethylene terephthalate pellets (PETs) are small stuffing pellets made from plastic and often used in pillows. Along with microbeads, which are made with another synthetic polyester type material, pillows made with PETs have a significant carbon footprint, emitting greenhouse gases at every stage of production. The PETs in these pillows can be recycled, technically, but most pillows simply end up in landfill.
One of the biggest problems with these types of pillows are that the pellets and beads take a long time to degrade, meaning that they often end up in waterways where they have damaging effects on wildlife. The beads and pellets are a choking hazard for animals, and the toxins in these synthetic materials persist and bioaccumulate, i.e. they increase in concentration the higher you go up the food chain.
Pros and Cons of Goose, Duck, and Chicken Down and Feather Pillows
Goose down and feathers a luxurious option for stuffing and make for a soft, indulgent pillow. These feathers are rarely sourced in a humane way, however, being forcibly plucked (repeatedly) from live geese, chickens, and ducks who are reared in cages too small for them to even spread their wings. Furthermore, these feathers are typically sterilized with formaldehyde, bleached, and treated with other chemicals to reduce their allergenic potential and naturally ‘gamey’ odor.
The Down Association of Canada (a non-profit organization) administers the Downmark® logo to certify that the down and feathers in a product come from birds killed for meat, i.e. the feathers are a by-product of the meat industry, like leather and suede; the birds are not reared specifically for their feathers. This label does not, however, offer any insight into the conditions these birds experience before slaughter.
It should also be noted that down and feathers are not the same. Down refers to the soft material under the breast feathers of geese and ducks. This material helps the birds stay warm in cold weather and doesn’t have sharp quills, which is why it is a popular stuffing for duvets and comforters. Feathers are easier to come by and are often mixed in with down to increase volume as a lot of down is necessary to fill a single pillow. This is why down pillows are so expensive. A grading system is used to mark the ‘fill’ of a down pillow, with a number somewhere in the range of 300 to 800 used to indicate how much space is filled by an ounce of down. The higher the number, the firmer the pillow.
Feathers also tend to poke through pillows and both down and feathers collect dust mites. These pillows require a lot of fluffing as they lose their shape and go flat very quickly.
Eco-Friendly Pillow Materials
There are plenty of good options available for natural, eco-friendly pillows. Natural fibers and fabrics don’t off-gas, have a lower carbon footprint (typically) than synthetic pillows, and are more easily recycled, upcycled, or able to break down naturally. Some of the most popular materials used for eco-friendly pillows include:
- Buckwheat (and millet)
- Rubber (natural latex)
- Organic wool
- Organic cotton
In recent years, kapok pillows have become increasingly popular, and for good reason. And, while buckwheat pillows were once seen as something only the most committed of eco-warriors would own, these pillows are now beloved by a wide spectrum of people. Let’s look at these materials in turn.
Pros and Cons of Kapok Pillows
If you haven’t yet heard of kapok, you’re in for a treat. This silky fiber is harvested from the seed pods of tropical trees called Ceiba pentandra. Also known as Java cotton, Kava kapok, silk-cotton, Samauma, or ceiba, kapok It is significantly lighter than cotton, feels very similar to down, and is wonderfully sustainable.
In the right conditions, the kapok tree can grow up to 13 feet in a year, and some trees reach over 160 feet high, forming the canopy of a rainforest. Kapok fibers are harvested from seed pods after they fall once the rainy season is finished. This means that the trees do not need to be chopped down or harmed in any way to get the fibers.
Kapok cultivation does not require pesticides and may help maintain important eco systems while providing good jobs for workers in Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean, northern South America, and tropical west Africa.
Kapok pillows are excellent for back sleepers as they offer minimal resistance and are very soft, fluffy, and luxurious. This makes kapok a natural alternative to down. Kapok is also hypoallergenic, and resistant to mold, and dries quickly.
To care for a kapok pillow, machine wash on a gentle cycle. Kapok pillows can also be dried on a cool cycle in the dryer. Add a tennis ball or two to help fluff the pillow.
Kapok pillows average around $50 and will last you for decades if well cared for. We would highly recommend the Avocado Natural Green Pillow and Rawganique’s Kapok pillows.
Pros and Cons of Buckwheat Pillows
Buckwheat pillows are filled with buckwheat hulls, which feel very different to standard pillow stuffing. The benefits of buckwheat pillows will quickly help you overcome any initial reservations if you’re used to fluffy synthetic pillows, however. Buckwheat pillows offer excellent air circulation, help to keep your head cool (which is better for sleep), and offer flexibility in terms of pillow thickness (just add or remove fill as desired!). They’re proving a big hit with folks with neck and back problems as they provide molded support.
Buckwheat hulls are a by-product of milling and the hulls are naturally pesticide-free, hypoallergenic, and sustainable. These hulls do not flatten or hide dust mites, meaning that these pillows can last a decade or more and are excellent for allergy sufferers.
Because these pillows are filled with hulls, there can be a little ‘crunchiness’ to them. If you think you’ll find this distracting, consider buying a pillow with an organic wool or cotton outer layer to muffle the sound. Some pillows feature a buckwheat side and a millet side to combine stability and support with dense softness and less ‘crunch’.
Buckwheat pillows range in price from around $50 for a small travel pillow to around $100 for a luxury padded pillow. Buckwheat pillows are easy to care for as you simply empty the hulls out onto a large tray and set the tray in the sun to air out the hulls while you machine-wash the pillow case. Some folks like to rinse the hulls in cold water and lay them out to dry, but this isn’t necessary unless something was spilled onto the pillow.
Pros and Cons of Millet Pillows
Millet pillows are similar to buckwheat, only the hulls are smaller and circular. This means that millet pillows tend to be a little smoother, softer, and less noisy than buckwheat pillows. Some pillows use a combination of the two hulls, with one side buckwheat and one millet.
Millet pillows are an excellent option for side and stomach sleepers and average $70 in price.
As with buckwheat, to care for a millet pillow, empty the hulls onto a cookie sheet or tray to air out while you wash the pillow case.
Pros and Cons of Latex (Natural Rubber) Pillows
Latex (natural rubber) is a renewable and biodegradable resource now use to make pillows. Rubber trees can provide rubber serum for up to 30 years and the resulting latex is firm, bouncy, and will eventually biodegrade without releasing toxins into the environment.
Latex pillows are a great option for side and stomach sleepers. Shredded or molded latex is like chemical-free foam, but firmer, and can help keep the neck and spine in alignment. Many chiropractors and other physicians recommend latex pillows for patients with back pain and related symptoms. Indeed, in one trial, latex pillows performed better than memory foam, contour memory foam, polyester, and feather pillows (feather pillows performed the worst) in relation to headache and shoulder or arm pain (R).
Latex is particularly good if you’re a warm sleeper, as the material is porous and disperses heat. Latex is naturally antimicrobial, resists mildew, and doesn’t harbor dust mites, so it’s good for people with asthma or non-latex allergies. It is also easy to care for. Simply hand wash the latex in warm soapy water, dab dry with a towel and then let it air dry. Pillow cases can be washed alongside other laundry as needed.
Prices for latex pillows range from around $60-$100, making them a bit more expensive than some other natural pillows. The cost usually depends on certifications, however, such as the GOLS – the Global Organic Latex Standard, and FairRubber, which indicate that the product is made using certified organic rubber sourced in a sustainable way by workers who are well treated and properly paid.
Latex pillows may have a rubbery smell at first, so it’s best to air them out for a few days before sleeping on them.
It’s also worth noting that there are two main types of rubber available: Dunlop and Talalay.
Talalay is so-called because of Joseph Talalay, who invented the Talalay production process. The latex mixture is filled with air, injected in a mold and expanded through a vacuum before being flash frozen at -30°C (-(22°F). This process enables the round, open cells to retain their shape and creates a smoother, more consistent rubber than Dunlop, which tends to be denser at the bottom than the top. Talalay latex pillows are baked or “vulcanized” at 115°C (235°F) before being washed, dried and tested for quality control.
Pros and Cons of Organic Wool Pillows
Wool naturally wicks moisture away from your skin, so wool pillows are excellent for maintaining a constant temperature. A fluffy, breathable, organic wool pillow will help you stay cool on summer nights while keeping you warm and cozy in winter.
Wool is also naturally resistant to mold and mildew, has natural flame-retardant and antimicrobial qualities, and is resistant to dust mites, making it a great option for allergy sufferers.
Wool is a little firmer than kapok and some other materials used to make pillows, so it’s best suited to side sleepers. It can also feel quite flat and dense and doesn’t conform to your head or body as other pillows might. This means you might need to move around quite a bit to get comfortable. Some wool pillows have a zipper that allows you to remove or add filling as needed. You might also want to consider a pillow made with natural latex covered with wool; the combination provides better cushioning alongside the benefits of wool. The resilience, softness, and ability of wool to maintain loft depends a lot on how the wool is processed, including techniques called carding and garneting. Companies like Rawganique use these traditional techniques to create higher quality wool pillows that stand the test of time, making their products much more eco-friendly and cost effective in the long-run.
Most wool is from sheep, but some is from goats, alpacas, or other animals. To care for an organic wool pillow, spot clean with a dilute vinegar solution and then air the pillow outside in the sun or on a sunny window ledge indoors. These pillows can be fluffed in the dryer with tennis balls.
The average price for an organic wool pillow is around $70. If you see a cheaper wool pillow, check to see if it is organic by looking for the USDA Certified Organic label or, ideally, GOTS certification. To really up your eco game, look for organic wool pillows that carry the European kfB certificate awarded to products made with wool sourced with minimal animal exploitation. In the US, wool pillows marked with the PureGrow™ label use wool from Californian farms that practice sustainable sheep ranching.
Also, look for wool that is processed without the use of any dyes or bleaches. Bleached wool contains toxic compounds including dioxins. Conventional processes used to treat wool include: Carbonizing, a process which uses carbonic acid to dissolve chaff; Shrink proofing; Chemical scale removal; and moth proofing, all of which can involve harsh chemicals that result in contamination and off-gassing.
Pros and Cons of Organic Cotton Pillows
Conventionally grown cotton is resource-hungry and involves the use of pesticides and other chemicals that damage the environment and are bad for human health. Organic cotton is grown and processed without pesticides, formaldehyde, or other harmful chemicals and is very soft, making it an excellent option for pillows, especially for stomach sleepers looking for a squishier pillow.
Many other eco-friendly pillows have organic cotton covers, but some pillows are entirely made with organic cotton. These pillows tend to be heavier and firmer and can become flat over time. Because cotton shrinks when washed in warm or hot water, it is best to wash on a cold gentle cycle and air dry, or simply spot clean with dilute vinegar solution. The average price for an organic cotton pillow is around $45.
Pros and Cons of Hemp Pillows
Hemp is a wonderfully sustainable, renewable resource with myriad applications across multiple industries. Hemp pillows may be 100 percent hemp, inside and out, or might have a hemp filling and cotton cover or a hemp cover and other type of filling. A pillow filled with hemp will be less fluffy and low-loft and will also flatten over time. As such, pillows made with a mixture of hemp and other stuffing may be preferable.
Positions and Pillows
Finding the right pillow can be a real challenge, especially if you suffer with back or neck pain. Different companies use different terms to describe the firmness of their pillows, which can make things confusing. One company’s ‘firm’ might be another’s ‘medium-firm’, and what feels perfectly soft to you might be unbearably extra-soft to someone else. All in all, when buying a pillow, it’s a good idea to look for products that have a reasonable return policy. After all, you’ll likely need at least a week sleeping on a pillow to decide if it’s right for you.
According to a couple of studies, most people experience proper cervical spinal alignment with a pillow that is around 4 inches (10-11 cm) high (pillow height is known as loft) (R, R). Another study suggests that a pillow with a loft of 5-10 cm is best for pulmonary function (i..e the function of your lungs) (R). The ideal height for your pillow will vary depending on the firmness of your mattress. For a firmer mattress, you’ll need a higher pillow. If your mattress is softer and your body sinks in more, a lower pillow is better.
A properly designed pillow helps to ease pressure on cervical (neck) muscles and promotes a good night’s rest (R). The correct pillow height can also support good air flow and blood flow to the brain, without which there is an increased risk of neurological disorders, including cerebral hemorrhage and stroke (R). In general, research shows that feather pillows perform less well than other types of pillow and that latex pillows perform best (R, R).
Side sleepers, stomach sleepers, and those who sleep on their back tend to do better with different types of pillows. As such, thinking about how you sleep is a good place to start when considering any new pillow purchases. Some brands conveniently label their pillows as ideal for different sleep positions, but, as with firmness, these designations can vary.
In general, side sleepers do best with a firm or extra-firm pillow as this helps to keep the neck and spine in alignment. Most people (around 70 percent) are side sleepers, and side sleepers tend to sleep better with a contoured pillow shape that supports the neck and head. Traditional or contoured latex pillows help support the head at the proper angle and do not flatten over time, unlike polyester or down pillows. A soap shape (high on the sides and low in the middle) pillow is also a good option for side sleepers.
Back sleepers do best with a pillow that supports the head without compromising the neck’s natural curve. Medium-loft, medium-firm latex or buckwheat pillows are a good place to start. With buckwheat, you can add or remove filling as needed to get the correct alignment for your back and neck. You may also be able to do this with some shredded latex, wool, and cotton pillows.
Stomach sleepers sleep with their face very close to the mattress, which means that a soft, scrunchy pillow is best. This may be a kapok pillow, thin latex pillow, a down pillow, or a buckwheat pillow with some of the filling removed. High-loft, firm pillows make for an uncomfortable sleep if you tend to end up face-down on your pillow as these force your head up and cause neck pain.
If you’re a combination sleeper, it’s a good idea to go for a pillow that is lower in the center and higher on the sides, possibly with a mix of firm and soft areas. Buckwheat and millet pillows are excellent choices for combination sleepers.
Top Tip – “Nonallergenic pillows are not a substitute for covering them with allergy-proof encasements. Foam pillows are not less prone to dust mite allergens than are feather pillows.” (R)
Reduce, Reuse, Recycle
When it comes to the environmental impact of pillows, it’s not just your choice of a new pillow that matters. Landfills are teeming with toxic pillows made from synthetic materials that leach chemicals into the soil and water supply. It’s important to note that the term ‘biodegradable’ is not regulated in the U.S., so instead of being a sign of eco-friendliness, it can simply mean that a pillow will degrade (eventually) into some other harmful chemicals when exposed to air and light.
Organic cotton, wool, hemp, kapok, natural rubber, buckwheat, millet, and other natural plant-based materials are the best options for truly biodegradable, eco-friendly pillows. And, as with every household product, before you even consider sending an old pillow to landfill, think about ways to repurpose, upcycle, or recycle the pillow.
You could donate lightly used pillows that just aren’t a good fit for you to a nearby retirement home, shelter, or social housing for those in need. Pillows can be reused to make comfy beds for cats and dogs at shelters (or in your own home!), or you might turn a pillow into a throw cushion for the couch by removing or compressing the filling into a smaller, square, shape. Indeed, if you have an old t-shirt or sweater and an old pillow, these can be paired to make a comfortable bed for a small dog or a fun cushion with a vibrant motif.
Green Certifications for Pillows
The marketing used to promote pillows is often nothing but fluff with no meaningful standards to back it up. Terms like ‘natural’ and ‘organic’ often carry no clout, and even when a pillow claims to be certified organic or complaint with Oeko-Tex Standard 100, this might just apply to one small part of the product, such as the outer cover or part of the filling.
Fortunately, there are some robust green certifications for pillows that can help you figure out the most eco-friendly product for a good night’s rest. These typically assess the product as a whole, providing reassurance of quality and environmental and ethical standards.
For a pillow to qualify for the USDA Organic seal, for instance, it has to contain a minimum of 95 percent certified organic materials and to be processed without potentially harmful chemicals. Few pillows meet the USDA Organic standards, but we’ve found some that do.
Some certifications go beyond the materials that make up the final product, covering growing conditions for raw materials, manufacturing processes, worker conditions, non-human animal welfare, and social and environmental impact overall.
Two of the most important logos to look out for when buying a pillow are GOTS and GOLS.
Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS)
GOTS requires that at least 95 percent of the materials in the mattress be certified organic, and it prohibits outright the use of certain substances even for the other 5 percent, such as chemical flame retardants and polyurethane, the chief ingredient of memory foam.
Global Organic Latex Standard (GOLS)
GOLS ensures that a mattress with latex is made of 95 percent organic latex, with restrictions on the other 5 percent of the mattress’s components. Natural-latex mattresses may have both the GOTS and GOLS labels.
Greenguard and Greenguard Gold
Greenguard is one of the most common green certifications and requires testing of a finished pillow for specific emission limits of formaldehyde and other volatile organic compounds. The related Greenguard Gold has more stringent emission limits for VOCs. Both were developed by UL Environment and Greenguard worked with ANSI to become an official standard-setting organization. Neither certification offers reassurance that a product is free from toxins, however, nor do they include a social or animal ethics component.
Green America certifies businesses that actively use their business as a tool for positive social change. To be certified with Green America a business must also:
- Operate a “values-driven” enterprise according to principles of social justice AND environmental sustainability;
- Demonstrate environmentally responsible practices in the way they source, manufacture, and market their products and run their operations and facilities;
- Be socially equitable and committed to extraordinary practices that benefit workers, customers, communities, and the environment; and
- Be accountable for their work by continually improving and tracking their progress and operating with transparency in every facet of their business.
Green America has been evaluating and certifying small businesses since 1982 and has worked with companies such as Seventh Generation and Honest Tea, as well as Malouf, a pillow manufacturer listed in the ecoHome directory.
There is also a Green America Gold certification that is reserved for companies who are industry leaders for responsible, sustainable business practices.
Cradle to Cradle Certification
Cradle to Cradle is one of the best eco certification programs around but is yet to gain traction in the pillow and bedding industry. Cradle to Cradle is both independent and fairly robust, offering various levels of certification for products. The Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute is a non-profit organization, making this a third-party certification program.
Cradle to Cradle demonstrate that good green credentials are not the only considerations when buying bedding. Their ‘social fairness’ component means that you can rest assured that you’re sleeping soundly on bedding that wasn’t made using child labor or other exploitative working practices, for instance.
The Cradle to Cradle Certified™ Product Standard is awarded to products that are sustainable and eco-friendly and created by manufacturers who demonstrate continual improvement in environmentally friendly industry practices. For example, products are assessed in terms of the amount of water and sustainable energy involved in their manufacture, rather than just the presence of VOCs in the final product.
Cradle to Cradle have developed a Material Assessment Rating System called ABC-X:
- A – The material is ideal from a Cradle to Cradle perspective for the product in question.
- B – The material supports largely Cradle to Cradle objectives for the product.
- C – Moderately problematic properties of the material. The material is still acceptable for use.
- X – Highly problematic properties of the material. Should be phased out.
Cradle to Cradle certification levels comprise:
At the Gold and Platinum levels, products are certified as free from X materials. Platinum level also requires that the product has a Material Reutilization Score of 100, and that the product is actively being recovered and cycled in a technical or biological metabolism. In addition, Platinum certification requires that:
Renewable Energy and Carbon Management
- For the final manufacturing stage of the product, >100% of purchased electricity is renewably sourced or offset with renewable energy projects, and >100% of direct on-site emissions are offset.
- The embodied energy associated with the product from Cradle to Gate is characterized and quantified, and a strategy to optimize is developed. At re-application, progress on the optimization plan is demonstrated.
- ≥ 5% of the embodied energy associated with the product from Cradle to Gate is covered by offsets or otherwise addressed (e.g., through projects with suppliers, product re-design, savings during the use phase, etc.).
- All water leaving the manufacturing facility meets drinking water quality standards.
- A facility-level audit is completed by a third party against an internationally recognized social responsibility program (e.g., SA8000 standard or B-Corp).
- All Silver-Level requirements are complete.
So far, just one company is claiming c2c certification for pillows, Vita Talalay. This company began making latex as far back as 1932 in Maastricht and now makes latex pillows, mattress toppers, and mattresses. The company’s products carry a wealth of eco certifications, including c2c, Rainforest Alliance, Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), essent (Green Energy), and eco Institut, and publicly state that they are, “committed to Cradle to Cradle values. Inspired by nature’s continuous cycle, this concept requires companies to use materials and design products in such a way that they will be positive to the environment and human health.”
One other c2c certified company, Lomotex, makes bedding products including pillow cases, but not pillows themselves. Lomotex do not appear to sell direct to consumer, however.
Oeko-Tex Standard 100 and 1000
Oeko-Tex Standard 100 lays out limits for the emission of harmful chemicals such as formaldehyde and other volatile organic compounds (VOCs). It also outright bans the use of certain chemical flame retardants, colorants, and allergenic dyes, but it doesn’t offer any guidance on whether materials are organic or sustainably sourced and it’s not always clear if an entire product or just a single component is certified.
The certification process for the OEKO TEX Certification is fairly robust and includes testing for a variety of hazardous chemicals, pesticides, phthalates, lead, arsenic, and other heavy metals. If a pillow carries this certification, it has been tested and found to contain no:
- Chlorinated phenols
- Carcinogenic dyes
- AZO dyes
- Allergy inducing dyes
The OEKO TEX Standard 100 Certification is voluntary and must be updated each year in order to remain active.
Some pillows are certified to Oeko-Tex Standard 1000, which requires proof that the company meets additional social standards as well as more robust environmental standards. These include standards covering:
- The use of environmentally-damaging chemicals, auxiliaries and dyestuffs
- Compliance with standard values for waste water and exhaust air
- Optimization of energy consumption
- Avoidance of noise and dust pollution
- Workplace safety measures
- Child labor
- Basic elements of an environmental management system
- The existence of a quality management system.
The Eco Institute, located in Cologne, Germany, is an independent organization that has more than 25 years of experience testing products for the presence of pollutants and emissions, even in trace amounts. If a product is Eco-INSTITUT certified, you can be assured that it does not contain even trace amounts of hazardous chemicals and will not off-gas undesirable chemicals and odors into your home. Some of the chemicals the Eco-Institute certification rules out include volatile organic compounds (VOCs), phthalates, formaldehyde, pesticides, heavy metals, and persistent organic pollutants.
If you’re buying a pillow that contains latex, look for the Eco-Institute and GOLS certifications, as well as the FairRubber certificate.
Fair Rubber Association
The Fair Rubber Association expands the concept of Fair Trade to products made from natural rubber. The Fair Rubber Association’s aim is to promote improvements in working and living conditions of those producing goods made from natural latex (rubber), and to promote environmentally friendly rubber production that is chemical-free. The Fair Rubber logo is reserved for products which fulfill the criteria of Fair Trade in natural rubber.
One other certification you’ll likely run into when looking for a new pillow is CertiPUR-US. This logo applies only to the polyurethane foam in a pillow (i.e. memory foam), certifying that it meets certain standards such as being free from polybrominated diphenyl ether (PDBE) and flame retardants). This standard, which is administered by a non-profit organization in the U.S., also requires testing for formaldehyde and other chemicals including ozone depleting substances, mercury, lead, and other heavy metals, and hormone-disrupting phthalates. While this reduction in problematic chemicals is laudable, memory foam is still a resource-hungry synthetic material that off-gases VOCs, so we don’t think it has any place in an eco-home.
kbA and kbT
Products made and/or sold in Europe may carry kbA and/or kbT certifications. The former certifies that the product is made with organic cotton and the second translates roughly to ‘controlled organic livestock’, meaning that materials are sourced from suppliers using organic farming methods ‘optimally adapted to the climatic and living conditions of the region’ and using ‘species-appropriate animal husbandry in harmony with nature’ (R). The kbT certification means that no genetically modified foods or fattening aids are allowed in the rearing of animals, no forced reproduction of the animals is allowed, and practices such as tail docking or mulesing are prohibited. kbT virgin wool also has to be free from pesticides and insecticides, a practice that applies both to the animals and to the soil on which the animals graze.
Responsible Down Standard
If only down will do for your pillows, you’ll want to look for companies who only use feathers and down from certified RDS sources. The Responsible Down Standard was created in 2014 through a partnership between The North Face, Textile Exchange (a global nonprofit dedicated to sustainability), and Control Union Certifications, an accredited third-party certification body with expertise in agriculture and farm systems.
The RDS is an independent, voluntary global standard designed to minimize the harm that comes to geese and ducks in the process of gathering down and feathers. It also provides traceability in supply chains, so you can be certain of where the down in your pillows and other products came from.
Most of the down and feathers in pillows is sourced from waterfowl raised for meat. These birds have their down and feathers repeatedly plucked while they are still alive (causing extreme pain) and are often subjected to force feeding and other inhumane practices.
Down and feathers from RDS certified suppliers have to meet the following six conditions:
- From hatching to slaughter, there is holistic respect for the birds’ animal welfare—proper feeding and handling, proper health treatment, and a safe environment should all be provided.
- Each stage in the down supply chain is audited by a third-party certification body—no matter where an organization lies in the supply chain, it must provide proper documentation that the down has been acquired from an RDS-certified supplier.
- RDS down and feathers are properly identified, so down and feathers that aren’t RDS-certified aren’t misidentified.
- Only products with 100 percent certified down and feathers carry the RDS logo.
- Removal of down or feathers from live birds is prohibited.
- Force-feeding birds is prohibited.
While it remains arguable if RDS-certified down can be considered truly cruelty-free, it is certainly far better than standard down in terms of animal welfare. What this certification does not do, unfortunately, is offer any guarantee over the cleaning practices used in the production of end products. As such, RDS down may still be sterilized and de-odorized using toxic chemicals including formaldehyde. This certificate should, therefore, be paired with other eco-friendly certifications for increased peace of mind across the board.
Parachute and CocoMat are the best options for down pillows. These companies use RDS-certified down and CocoMat products meet GOTS and OEKO-Tex Standard 100 at least. They also have a philanthropic wing to their company.
Another company using exclusively RDS-certified down is Scandia Home. This company produces luxury products for bed, bath, and home, including premium down pillows. They use a 12-stage cleaning process for the down (although they don’t claim that this is chemical-free) and have been using only RDS-certified down since 2016. They encase the down in cotton, silk, and other fabrics that are OEKO-TEX® certified to be free from harmful substances. The whole pillow is not certified, however, and they are yet to commit to using certified organic cotton or recycled silk. Still, of all the down pillows available, these seem to be some of the best and they carry a lifetime guarantee, so you might never need to buy a pillow again, hence their inclusion in the ecoHome directory.
Check out the ecoHome directory for conscientious options for eco-friendly pillows.
Companies to Consider for Conscientious Pillow Purchases
With so many eco-friendly pillow materials available, a huge number of companies, small and large, have popped up in recent years offering products that sound eco-friendly, at least at first glance. Upon closer inspection, a lot of the hype from these companies is revealed as simple greenwashing.
As far as possible, the companies and products included in the eco directory are there because they not only produce safe products from natural materials, but also show a commitment to environmentally friendly manufacturing practices and charitable enterprise.
These companies include:
Some other good options include:
- Scandia Home