7 min read

Invisible Series: What’s Really In Your Home - The Bedroom Edition

Find out what's concealed in your bedroom by uncovering the hidden toxins in the finishes and furniture, and learn how to create a healthy space to rest and recharge.


A Paint

WHAT'S IN IT: Paint can be a potential health hazard in the bedroom due to the release of VOCs into the indoor air. VOCs are chemicals that evaporate at room temperature and can linger in the air for an extended period after painting. Additionally, some paints may contain other harmful substances like heavy metals or biocides, which can further contribute to indoor air pollution and potential health risks. Lastly, antimicrobials are often present to increase resistance to mold and bacteria.

HEALTH IMPLICATIONS: Long-term exposure to certain VOCs has been linked to health problems. VOCs can trigger or worsen asthma symptoms, leading to increased frequency and severity of asthma attacks. Some VOCs, such as benzene and toluene, have been linked to neurological symptoms including cognitive impairment, confusion and drowsiness. There is also a cancer risk associated with some VOCs, such as benzene, as well as the risk of adverse reproductive outcomes for pregnant women, including miscarriage and developmental abnormalities in the fetus. Heavy metals can lead to headaches, dizziness, irritability and mental confusion. Antimicrobials can lead to endocrine and microbiome disruption, as well as allergic reactions.

HEALTHY ALTERNATIVES: Choosing low-VOC or zero-VOC paints, such as mineral paints, and ensuring adequate ventilation during and after painting can help minimize these hazards and create a healthier bedroom. Avoid any paints labeled as antifungal or antimicrobial as these will often contain additional pesticides. Seek out paints certified by Green Seal-11, which ensures that the paint limits VOCs and harmful biocides, along with mercury, lead and various carcinogens.

B Wood Flooring

WHAT'S IN IT: Certain wood flooring products, especially engineered boards crafted from composite wood materials like plywood, particleboard, or medium-density fiberboard (MDF), might incorporate adhesives or resins that gradually emit formaldehyde gas. Similarly, the finishes, stains, and sealants applied to wood flooring may harbor VOCs, including solvents and drying agents, which can evaporate into the indoor air following installation. One of the many toxic chemicals released in high levels from solvent wood coatings is 2-ethylhexanoic acid.

HEALTH IMPLICATIONS: Exposure to elevated levels of formaldehyde emitted from wood flooring can cause respiratory irritation, allergic reactions, neurological symptoms and cognitive impairment. More concerningly, formaldehyde is a known carcinogen and has been linked to an increased risk of certain cancers, including nasopharyngeal cancer and leukemia. The VOC 2-ethylhexanoic acid may potentially pose risks to maternal and fetal health and is thus particularly dangerous to pregnant women.

HEALTHY ALTERNATIVES: Look out for Greenguard-certified wood products which have been tested to ensure they emit little to zero VOCs. Solid hardwood flooring or engineered wood flooring featuring low-formaldehyde adhesives represent good selections for environmentally friendly and health-conscious flooring solutions. Select water-based finishes and sealants for wood flooring instead of solvent-based products. Maintain adequate ventilation during and after the installation of wood flooring to help dissipate any residual odors or emissions.

C Rugs and Rug Pads

WHAT'S IN IT: Rugs and the pads we use to stabilize them can trap dust, dirt, pet dander, and other allergens, especially if not cleaned regularly. In damp or humid environments, rugs can become breeding grounds for mold and mildew. Some rugs may contain synthetic materials, adhesives, dyes and finishes that emit VOCs such as formaldehyde, benzene, toluene and xylene into the indoor air. Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) are also present in many rugs and pads.

HEALTH IMPLICATIONS: Formaldehyde and benzene are carcinogenic, with high levels of benzene specifically being linked to leukemia. Toluene may cause symptoms such as headaches, dizziness, and respiratory irritation. Likewise xylene, present in the manufacturing process of rugs and rug pads, can cause headaches, dizziness, confusion and loss of muscle coordination. PFAS can cause adverse developmental outcomes in infants and children, including low birth weight, delayed development and altered immune function as well as liver damage.

HEALTHY ALTERNATIVES: Steer clear of carpets treated with stain-resistant chemicals like PFAS including PFOA and PFOS. Opt for rugs made from natural fibers such as wool, organic cotton, linen, jute, seagrass or sisal. Organic cotton rugs are made from cotton grown without synthetic pesticides or fertilizers. Wool fiber rugs are hypoallergenic and resistant to dust mites, making them suitable for allergy sufferers.

D Drapery/Window Treatments

WHAT'S IN IT: Drapery can accumulate dust, dirt, and other allergens over time, especially if not cleaned regularly. Some drapery fabrics may contain synthetic materials, dyes, finishes or flame retardant chemicals that can emit VOCs. Mold and mildew can also accumulate in drapery, particularly in humid climates or damp conditions.

HEALTH IMPLICATIONS: Accumulated dust can worsen respiratory conditions like asthma and allergies, resulting in symptoms like sneezing, coughing, and congestion. Exposure to mold spores can trigger allergic reactions and respiratory issues in sensitive individuals, as well as contribute to poor indoor air quality. Flame retardant chemicals and certain finishes can off-gas VOCs such as formaldehyde, benzene and toluene. Formaldehyde and benzene are carcinogenic while toluene can cause inflammation, kidney and liver damage and muscle fatigue.

HEALTHY ALTERNATIVES: Opt for drapery made from natural fibers such as organic cotton, linen or wool, which are less likely to trap dust and allergens and are easier to clean. Choose drapery fabrics that are free from chemical treatments such as flame retardants, stain repellents, or wrinkle-resistant finishes as these are the sources of VOCs. Seek out products certified by OEKO-TEX, which will ensure your drapery is free from chemicals hazardous to human health.

E Wood Furniture

WHAT'S IN IT: Wood furniture such as nightstands, wardrobes and other fixtures can emit formaldehyde if they are made from composite wood products, such as MDF, plywood and particleboard, which contain resins that off-gas harmful chemicals. Oil-based, polyurethane and lacquer varnishes, stains and sealants may also emit VOCs. Wood furniture may be treated with biocides and preservatives to protect against mold, mildew and wood-boring insects.

HEALTH IMPLICATIONS: Formaldehyde is associated not only with cancer but also with respiratory ailments, nose and throat irritation and conjunctival dryness. VOCs off-gassed by furniture finishes and sealants have a range of impacts on our health, from the exacerbation of conditions such as asthma to headaches, dizziness and neurological impairment. Preservatives, such as pentachlorophenol and creosote, can be toxic and pose health risks, including skin irritation, respiratory issues and neurological effects. Biocides also exacerbate respiratory issues and contribute to increased asthma symptoms.

HEALTHY ALTERNATIVES: Look for products labeled as CARB Phase 2 compliant or certified by third-party organizations for indoor air quality. Solid wood furniture is usually crafted from natural, untreated wood without added chemicals or finishes. Choose unfinished or raw wood furniture, avoiding particleboard and MDF, and select furniture that has been treated with natural oils and waxes. Opt for natural products such as linseed, tung, refined hemp, and walnut oil for healthier alternatives. Water-based wood stains and zero-VOC water-based varnishes make excellent choices instead of harmful chemicals.

F Upholstered Furniture

WHAT'S IN IT: Some furniture fabrics may be treated with PFAS to make them stain-resistant or water-repellent, while formaldehyde is often used in adhesives and finishes. Phthalates are plasticizers used in some upholstery materials to make them more flexible and durable. This type of furniture can also off-gas VOCs from materials such as adhesives, finishes, foam cushions and synthetic fabrics. Lastly, flame retardants are often present in upholstered furniture.

HEALTH IMPLICATIONS: PFAS can cause many adverse health effects ranging from changes in liver enzymes, low birth weights, testicular cancer and pre-eclampsia in pregnant women. Phthalates can damage the reproductive and endocrine systems and also have a negative impact on child growth and development. VOCs can lead to eye and nose irritation, shortness of breath, lightheadedness and headaches. Flame retardants have been shown to cause endocrine disruption, neurological effects and adverse outcomes in pregnancy.

HEALTHY ALTERNATIVES: Choose upholstery finishes and treatments that are free from toxic chemicals, such as formaldehyde-based adhesives or stain-resistant coatings containing PFAS. Natural fibers such as linen make an excellent choice as they are naturally hypoallergenic, as are wool and hemp which also boast antimicrobial properties. Organic cotton is produced without chemicals that emit VOCs. Choose natural, biodegradable materials for furniture fillings, like latex foam, coconut coir and sheep's wool, or traditional options such as horsehair, hemp and jute.

G Mattresses

WHAT'S IN IT: Polyurethane foam found in numerous mattresses, including popular memory foam ones, releases VOCs such as benzene, typically during off-gassing. Some mattresses are treated with harmful flame retardants like antimony and even fiberglass, as well as PFAS to make them stain-resistant. Additionally, formaldehyde is commonly used as an adhesive to bond layers of materials together.

HEALTH IMPLICATION: Some flame retardants have been linked to adverse health effects, including hormone disruption, reproductive issues, neurodevelopmental effects, and cancer. Benzene, a VOC, and antimony, a heavy metal, are both carcinogenic. Additionally, fiberglass additions might cause rashes and respiratory irritation. PFAS can cause adverse developmental outcomes in infants and children, including low birth weight, delayed development, and altered immune function, as well as liver damage and testicular cancer. Furthermore, formaldehyde exposure can lead to eye, nose, and throat irritation, and it has also been classified as a carcinogen by various health agencies.

HEALTHY ALTERNATIVES: Opt for mattresses crafted from natural materials, like organic cotton, wool, natural latex or foams derived from plants. Look for non-toxic mattresses that are certified by third-party organizations for low emissions of VOCs and harmful chemicals, such as Greenguard or GOTS. Avoid flame retardant chemicals and products with added chemical microbial treatments. Natural latex presents a good option, as it is resistant to mold and mildew, while being hypoallergenic.

H Bedding

WHAT'S IN IT: Bedding, such as duvets, pillows and linens, may contain formaldehyde, a chemical commonly used in textile finishing processes to reduce wrinkles and improve durability. Some bedding products, especially mattress protectors and pillows, may be treated with flame retardant chemicals, such as polybrominated diphenyl ethers and chlorinated Tris, to meet flammability standards. Conventional cotton bedding products may contain residues of pesticides and herbicides used in cotton cultivation. Mattress protectors and duvet covers may be treated with PFAS to make them stain-resistant.

HEALTH IMPLICATIONS: Extended exposure to formaldehyde can lead to respiratory irritation, allergies, worsened asthma symptoms and potentially increase the risk of cancer. Many flame retardants can cause endocrine and thyroid disruption, as well as fetal abnormalities and cancer. PFAS, or ‘forever chemicals’, can also impact the thyroid, cause cancer and adversely affect the liver and fertility. Pesticides and herbicides used in growing non-organic cotton can lead to dermal irritation, coughing and even gastrointestinal symptoms.

HEALTHY ALTERNATIVES: Look for bedding that is certified by third-party organizations for low emissions of VOCs and harmful chemicals, such as OEKO-TEX or GOTS. Items made with organic natural materials, such as cotton, linen, TENCEL and hemp, aren’t treated with harsh chemicals, making them good choices to avoid skin irritation. Linen and hemp are both naturally antimicrobial fabrics, while TENCEL, or eucalyptus silk, is highly hypoallergenic.