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What Lurks Under the Covers

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Bed covers

Mattresses, pillows, and other bedding can contain chemicals that, while intended to make sleep safer, actually have the opposite effect.

If any space in a house should feel healthy, it’s the bedroom. Yet mattresses, pillows, and other bedding can contain chemicals that, while intended to make sleep safer, actually have the opposite effect.

Triclosan, a chemical found in many hand sanitizers, is often pumped into mattresses to kill microbes. Research has linked the substance to disrupted thyroid function, liver toxicity, and antibiotic-resistant infections.

Studies also show that the presence of chemical fire retardants, introduced in the 1970s, has far-reaching health implications. They can impair neurological and reproductive function or act as a carcinogen, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council. Retardants were phased out of the manufacturing process in 2005 and replaced by other chemicals, whose toxicity is still being investigated.

For a safer night’s sleep, opt for newer products made with natural fibers, such as cotton, wool, or natural rubber. These materials are intrinsically fire resistant and may contain fewer chemicals.

When buying sheets and other bedding, avoid dark colors, which are usually produced with a harsher dyeing process. And steer clear of fabrics claiming to be wrinkle-free or no-iron.

Swap out conventional laundry detergent for one without fragrances, dyes, and brighteners to avoid accumulating additional toxins.


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