Are Bamboo Pillow's Potentially Toxic?

Turgon

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OK, so last year when searching for a new pillow to help get better sleep, I came across memory foam bamboo pillows! :wow: It sounded pretty awesome and the clerk sold me on how amazing it is for sleep and having the memory foam would add all these cool benefits and so forth. So I bought one for myself and as a present as well.

But after reading a discussion where this came up, and after having slept on one for the last several months, I looked into this a bit more and whether they are as great as it's being touted. And so far, what I've found doesn't fill me with very much confidence. Now, it could be that just about everything in our environment emits some level of toxicity and it's near impossible to avoid them all so it's a matter of being able to detox ourselves as best as possible. But as one website put it, your sleeping on a pillow for close to 8 hours a day (if your lucky), and in case anyone is planning on getting one or already has one, here's what I found to be aware of. Some of the sites that I'm linking also try to sell other products as well, so take that into account, but they still bring up some interesting points.

This website says:

Off-Gassing Emissions and Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs)

Certain pillows release a chemical smell when you first purchase them, known as “off-gassing.” Memory foam pillows in particular are known for off-gassing. This happens when the chemicals present in the pillow break down and disperse in the air.

These emissions stem from volatile organic compounds (VOCs). VOCs are organic compounds present in objects that transform to vapors or gases. Keep in mind that almost all household products emit some form of VOC -- even fruit emits VOCs. It’s really a matter of how harmful those emissions are. Some VOCs are highly toxic, while others have no known ill effects.

The odor from pillows that off-gas usually dissipates within a couple weeks. But keep in mind that some of these VOCs are actually odorless.

Memory foam pillows generally contain more chemicals than other types of pillows. However, the VOCs in the finished product (ie: the pillow) are considered to be stable, thus minimizing how much VOCs are released. While the majority of people can use memory foam pillows with no issue, some people are particularly sensitive to these emissions.

The topic of VOCs and off-gassing is a complicated one, and if this is a concern, we recommend that you look for certifications that signal a level of safety and purity, as well as low VOC emissions.

and recommends:

There are manufacturers that create cleaner versions of any fill type available, including memory foam. It is worth spending time to find these manufacturers.

If you don’t have time to research, you can look for pillows containing materials that have been certified by independent 3rd-parties for safety and purity. Two of the most common certifications are:
  • CertiPur-US - certifies foam materials that are free from harmful chemicals and have low emissions
  • OEKO-Tex - certifies a range of materials that are free from harmful chemicals and have low emissions

And to freak you out even further, this website says:

Is Long-term Use of Memory Foam Healthy?

Many many people use memory foam products without reporting any side effects or related health issues. That said, there are various reports and studies which indicate that memory foam may be somewhat toxic. Reports include carcinogenic chemicals and formaldehyde gas. To manufacture memory foam, chemicals are added to polyurethane to make it more dense and viscous at the same time. Additional chemicals are required to make the polyurethane flame retardant. One of these, Pentabde (of the polybrominated diphenyl ether (PBDE) family), was used until 2004. Pentabde is now known to be toxic to the liver, thyroid, and nervous system.(1) A study in 2000 specifically found mattress emissions to be toxic to the lungs of labratory mice.(2)

The long-term effects of memory foam and its toxicity are not fully understood, but there clearly is some reason for concern. Aproximately one-third of your life is spent in close contact to your sleeping surface, so it is important to consider you and your family’s health when selecting a pillow or mattress.

And finally from this site:

How are bamboo fibers made?

Bamboo is abundant and fast growing, which is a big reason it seems to have a low environmental footprint. However, what was once your panda’s favorite snack doesn’t magically turn those bedding products you’re researching easily! Because the raw product is innately stiff and rough, the manufacturing process is labor intensive and requires lots of chemicals to create any finished product worth selling.

Viscose Rayon Manufacturing Process
Pillow companies will tout this kind of pillow as sustainable and earth friendly. It’s easy to describe bamboo material this way because the material itself is sustainable before manufacturing begins. However, the end product is far from green when you consider the process required to spin the yarn needed for a bamboo-based pillow cover.

Below is a diagram and explanation of how bamboo is turned into “viscose rayon”. And before moving forward, it’s important to note that (all things considered) this process takes more energy and uses more chemicals than need for manufacturing cotton pillows.

viscose-rayon-manufacturing-process.jpg


Looks pretty complicated, eh? Don’t worry, we’ll simplify it for you before moving on to more important cost, comfort, and ethical concerns.

The manufacturing of viscose rayon starts at the top left corner of the chart above. And it all starts so innocently…

At this point the bamboo is still in form of an all-natural pulp, organic and IS sustainable. However, this is the last time you’ll be able to use the terms natural, organic, and bamboo in the same sentence. Why?

Here come the chemicals…

Your Semi-Synthetic Viscose Rayon Pillow
Once the pulp starts being pressed, a variety of chemicals and bleaches are added, causing the end product to be classified as a “semi-synthetic” material. It’s not straight from nature any more, but also not fully made by chemical synthesis. It’s like a panda mixed with a robot: a pandabot. It’s also important to note that this semi-synthetic material is no longer bamboo at all, it’s now viscose rayon, or “rayon” for short.

Doesn’t semi-synthetic viscose rayon pillow have a nice ring to it?

Adding Chemicals and Spinning Rayon Yarn
To create viscose rayon yarn, the plant is steamed, crushed, then soaked in sodium hydroxide. After that, the pulp cellulose is pushed through a sieve-like tool that helps harden the pulp in preparation for the next two steps: first spinning into thread, then more spinning into yarn fabrics. This is just a basic review of the manufacturing process. And instead of further focusing on the complexities of rayon manufacturing, we’re going to highlight the portions of this process that you may want to consider when choosing the right neck pillow.

Is Rayon The Same as Bamboo?
What you may have believed to be a 100% bamboo pillow turned out to be about 10% of a pillow cover.

Disappointing, yes. And it got worse…

Now we see that that the even the pillow cover is not bamboo at all, but a material called rayon.

The rayon used in these pillow covers is so far removed from the bamboo plant itself that companies such as Target, Walmart and Amazon have received warnings from the Federal Trade Commission for mislabeling their products and misleading consumers about bamboo in household products.

According the the FTC, bamboo and rayon are not the same.

Are bamboo neck pillows organic?
The Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) is the leading body for determining which products are and are not verified and certified as organic. And when you do your research, you’ll find that the GOTS public database search doesn’t contain any listings for organic bamboo…

You may be thinking:

But what about that organic bamboo pillow for sale I’m seeing online?

Well, because there is no such thing as “organic bamboo,” what you’re seeing online is certainly false advertising. Or as many angry buyer reviews refer to it: “the bamboo pillow scam.”
It’s clear there’s a problem for consumers when the Federal Trade Commission needs to step in…

The bamboo pillow scam became so widespread that the FTC finally instituted a law regarding bamboo textiles. The regulation makes it illegal to label textiles made from rayon (a.k.a viscose rayon) as organic. Many retailers have been sued for not complying with these regulations, which were put in place to protect unknowing shoppers from being scammed.

Toxic and not recommended for purchase
You may be wondering:

Wait, what? Companies are getting sued over using phrases like that use bamboo to describe bedding like sheets, pillows, and pajamas?!

Why yes, yes they are – and for your benefit!

Remember the chemicals used in viscose rayon manufacturing we mentioned? They’re toxic! And although there are many chemicals used, let’s take a look at carbon disulfide.

Carbon disulfide is a notorious solvent used in the manufacturing process that is often categorized as “highly toxic and a dispersant because 50 percent of the substance is released into the air when used in production.”

These dispersant effects make the end result a notable danger for both factory workers and the environment.

Does this sound like a material you’d like to lay your head on at night?

If you’re wondering why these products are being sold at nearly every bedding store, we’re right there with you…

Why are bamboo products for sale everywhere?
The answer is simple:

Bamboo shoots can grow up to four feet a day, making it the world’s fastest growing plant.

Supply and demand means the abundant supply of these shoots will lower the cost of the material that comes from them, right? In this case, it’s the bambusoide pulp. Next, pillow companies process this readily available bamboo into rayon yarn by using equally cheap (but toxic) chemicals.

The result is a marketplace flooded with uncontrollable amounts of toxic rayon yarn, which is then marketed as bamboo. As shoppers, it’s hard not to think of the word bamboo without picture happy pandas in a completely natural setting, munching away on the plant. And that’s what makes selling expensive bamboo pillows disguised as a natural alternative to regular neck pillows so easy for pillow companies with questionable ethics.
 
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mkrnhr

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Thanks @Turgon for these words of caution. Memory foam pillows are very trendy nowadays but I've never used one because I don't sleep in any fixed position. I wonder however if they are, regardless of their toxicity, as helpful for sleeping as they are portrayed to be.
 

Voyageur

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OK, so last year when searching for a new pillow to help get better sleep, I came across memory foam bamboo pillows! :wow: It sounded pretty awesome and the clerk sold me on how amazing it is for sleep and having the memory foam would add all these cool benefits and so forth. So I bought one for myself and as a present as well.

Can relate, except this would be in terms of the bed mattress department, which make similar claims and it is a tough one to figure out. There, too, bamboo mattresses are marketed that claim many things; and there are others brands. Often the ads focus on 'one' layer only while below that are other layers more toxic or, they will discuss only using 'natural' latex (soy) or what have you.

The other thing noticed from the big sleep stores or other big well known stores that people in the West are familiar with, is that they will market a certain brand-name and make claims about it, claims that don't cross over to the brand's own product discriptors, and that is because it is an exclusive brand made for them that is not available elsewhere. You may think it may sound reasonable (product/cost) until realizing it's like the apples and oranges comparison and the data is hard to find, leading one to read consumer reports (a good thing to do anyway) to figure out unsaid issues.

The pillow issue is near the same issue, and when considering spending 1/3 of ones life with a head on a pillow, probably a good idea to get that right - even if it costs more.

{article quote} Well, because there is no such thing as “organic bamboo,” what you’re seeing online is certainly false advertising. Or as many angry buyer reviews refer to it: “the bamboo pillow scam.”

Glad I read this.

This link factors a review of many different types - and there may be similar underlying problems: Healthy Sleep Pillows: 6 All-Natural and Non-Toxic Options

1. Latex: made of 100% latex, which is naturally hypoallergenic and resists dust mites. Available in standard, queen and king sizes.

{soy}
  • Best For: Side and stomach sleepers. Side sleepers should stick to the contoured shape, as the pillow's firmness helps support the neck and keep the spine aligned. Stomach sleepers should go for the soap shape, which tends to be softer and flatter.
  • Care: Hand-wash the latex in warm water with mild soap, blot with a towel, and air dry. Case can be machine-washed.
  • Average price: $69-$89

2. Buckwheat: as covered in this review by Emily, buckwheat pillows are filled with buckwheat hulls and, if you're used to fluffy pillows, may take a bit of time to get used to. Buckwheat is also great for air circulation and keeping your head cool, especially in warmer weather. Look for ones with an organic wool outer layer to muffle the 'crunchy' sound.



  • Best For: All types. A zipper lets you fill or remove the hulls to your desired thickness. You could even make your own.
  • Care: Rinse the hulls in cool water, drain, and air dry. Machine wash the case.
  • Average price: $75

3. Kapok: is a silky fiber harvested from ceiba trees (a tropical tree). After the ripe pods of the tree are harvested, the seeds are removed and the fluffy fiber is then thoroughly cleaned and dried. It is 8 times lighter than cotton and feels very much like down (without the accompanying allergies).


  • Best For: Back sleepers. This material is very fluffy and offers minimal resistance.
  • Care: Machine wash gentle cycle in warm water. Cool dry with tennis balls for fluffing.
  • Average price: $50

4. Organic Wool: A pure wool pillow is great for regulating temperature and moisture as the wool fibers naturally wick moisture away from your face so you remain at an even temp all night. Wool is also naturally mold, mildew, and fire-resistant.

{not mentioned in pillows and mattresses is the fire retardant that is used in North America, something to consider}


  • Best For: Side sleepers, due to the firmness of the wool, although you can find differing degrees of firmness.
  • Care: Spot clean with water and vinegar. Air outside in the sun or fluff in a dryer with tennis balls to freshen.
  • Average price: $70


5. Organic Cotton: organic cotton pillows are made without perfumes, formaldehyde, or dyes, are very soft and will compress over time.


  • Best For: Stomach sleepers, because you can squish it.
  • Care: Cotton will shrink if you wash it, so wash in cool water on a gentle cycle, or spot clean with water and vinegar.
  • Average price: $45

6. Millet: Similar in performance to a buckwheat pillow, the hulls from millet are smaller and circular, making for a smoother and softer pillow (also less noisy) than a buckwheat pillow.
 

Laura

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I never understood why anyone would want something that forms itself to them and stays that way, more or less, and takes time to re-form if they change their position.

I swear by pure latex. It gives constant, gentle support and "pushes back" instead of melting and forming!
 

Maat

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Thanks @Turgon for these words of caution. Memory foam pillows are very trendy nowadays but I've never used one because I don't sleep in any fixed position. I wonder however if they are, regardless of their toxicity, as helpful for sleeping as they are portrayed to be.
I've tried one and didn't like it at all. I found it too hard. Same thing for my husband.
 

Jenn

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Thanks for the discussion, I've been wanting to change our pillows and mattress for a long time as I've been waking up most mornings with aching neck and shoulders, not to mention congested sinuses (possibly due to the age of the bedding and toxicity!). With the amount of options out there in addition to the cost I've been putting it off.

This morning I ordered these latex pillows which were quite reasonably priced, I'll report back if I notice any difference.
 

Laura

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Thanks for the discussion, I've been wanting to change our pillows and mattress for a long time as I've been waking up most mornings with aching neck and shoulders, not to mention congested sinuses (possibly due to the age of the bedding and toxicity!). With the amount of options out there in addition to the cost I've been putting it off.

This morning I ordered these latex pillows which were quite reasonably priced, I'll report back if I notice any difference.

I think you will love them. Same exact ones I have. Complete, gentle, support to all parts of the neck and head and at the right height. Once I started using this pillow, all my neck problems dramatically reduced!
 

Persej

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I never used latex pillows, but I love memory foam pillows. My neck problems completely disappeared when I started sleeping on them. I have one in ergonomic and other one in regular shape, and both are great. I also tried buckwheat pillow and it was horrible.

I've tried one and didn't like it at all. I found it too hard. Same thing for my husband.

There are different levels of softness. Mine is semi hard, but there are other brands which are much softer than mine.
 

3DStudent

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Thanks for posting this. I have actually been looking at pillows in the past two weeks. I have TMJ and bruxism issues that I've been trying to fix. Taking valerian root at night helped. Along with turning around my pillow and fluffing it a bit. But you can also roll up a towel and put it in your pillowcase to support the cervical spine area. That helped me a bit, but it takes getting used to.

I sleep on my back, but I will occasionally turn on my side. I think I know subconsciously that side sleeping helps to clear out some of the brain chemicals and give a more rested sleep. I did this last night and woke up about an hour before my alarm this morning. When I go to sleep late I will roll over too.

I have a memory foam insert about 1.5 inches tall on my bed. I can't find much on how long they take to fully outgas, but I may have had it for 10-15 years. So like carpet I think the worst phase of outgassing would be over. And there are some layers of sheets and a blanket on top of it.

If you have a memory foam mattress or insert, think twice before you open the zipper to get to the foam! Apparently some companies put fiberglass in for fire retardant and it can get everywhere. Don't wash the memory foam either! I just unzipped the insert to look at the foam, and I freaked out because I had read that after I opened it. But it was only a few feet and then I took an LED light in the dark to see if there was any fiberglass that came out and it seemed fine. Here's the link I read: Memory Foam Mattresses: Are They Safe? - Sleep Junkie

So I just ordered an organic latex pillow so I will be trying it out this week. I might be tossing that foam layer. The fiberglass issue has me more creeped out. But I'd think even an old memory foam would outgas a bit still.

Edit: here's a video about the memory foam fiberglass (2:29):

 
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Marina9

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Yes, thanks Turgon and everyone who has contributed to this thread. I do find my pillow very comfy, although my neck contracture is still there, I thought that it is more related with build up stress and so on, than the actual pillow, but I guess i'll have to change it then and give it a try with a latex one to see how it goes.
 

Laura

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I was looking at pure latex mattresses (pricey!) and came across this description of the product (machine translation?). In any event, it does pretty much lay out the differences:

Pure Talalay Bliss builds their Beautiful Bed with the concept of the most beautiful and luxurious sleep in mind. They do not copy other mattresses and use polyester fiber that mashes down and makes beds uncomfortable. It doesn't contain polyurethane foam that quickly develops holes where you sleep causing roll together and lack of support. It doesn't contain cotton that flattens and packs down causing a hard lumpy feel. Pure Bliss offers you a beautiful mattress made with an exceptional latex rubber building process provides heavenly pressure relief that increases circulation and reduces painful pressure. This comfort is accomplished with uplifting support and the bottomless pressure relief found in Pure Talalay Bliss Talalay Latex rubber. PTB's competitors' new mattresses are often criticized for having a strong chemical odor. This smell is a result of polyurethane foams, memory foams, nearly 100 percent synthetic materials most of which are manufactured in a very chemically intensive process. Natural Talalay Latex is not petrol based and is the result of a building process called the Talalay Process which utilizes the sap of a tree which can be tapped for years, harvested for lumber and easily replaced with another to resume a life cycle that is environmentally friendly. Using only rubber as the cushioning material makes it the most durable and best pressure relieving material being used in a mattress today and is at the heart of this Beautiful Mattress

That's why I like latex: it's from trees, doesn't kill the tree, and is all-natural. Gives an all-new meaning to "tree hugger"!
 

flashgordonv

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Interesting thread. I have struggled with pillows over the years. We recently bought a bambillo pillow for my wife but she found it too big and gave it to me. I've found it to be the best oillow I have ever used so I am somewhat diamayed to read the material here.

Some years ago we bought a latex mattress but we had to exchange it as we both found we got incredibly hot sleeping on it, to the extent of waking up drenched with sweat. A woolen underlay helped to some extent but still too hot so we ended up swapping it for a conventional mattress.

I guess I will have to consider the latex pillow option
 

Voyageur

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Some years ago we bought a latex mattress but we had to exchange it as we both found we got incredibly hot sleeping on it, to the extent of waking up drenched with sweat. A woolen underlay helped to some extent but still too hot so we ended up swapping it for a conventional mattress.

Suppose that would be a factor depending on where one lives. When looking, ended up spending a lot of time reading consumer comments, and what you said came up, yet on some charts it was way down the list and the benefits were high in comparison to the foam type beds (which were hot and they would not rebound after a shots period). The other thing (for us) was looking for a mattress that you could rotate and turn over (longevity thing). It's a big investment so you kind of want to ensure you are going to be happy with it - and it lasts, and if you are two on a mattress, one might like something soft and one more firm, so there is a balance to consider.

When looking also, the firm mattresses are cheaper and the softer more expensive with more layering.

That's why I like latex: it's from trees, doesn't kill the tree, and is all-natural. Gives an all-new meaning to "tree hugger"!

Cute!

This made me have to think about this soy/latex thing, and it's important. There is a European mattress site (Soven) that guilds consumers on these issues. (https)://sovn.com/soy-latex-natural/

As a reminder, there are 2 general types of latex foam: natural and polyurethane.
NATURAL LATEX:
  • Made of sap derived from the Hevea Brasiliensis (rubber) tree
  • 100% natural latex is incredibly durable and mold/mildew/dust mite resistant
  • Can be manufactured in 2 different ways to create different firmness levels/support: Talalay and Dunlop. Talalay involves a freezing process that isn’t used in Dunlop method.
POLYURETHANE FOAM:
  • Synthetic latex made of petroleum-derived polyols and isocyanates. Also known as SBR (Styrene-Butadiene Rubber)
  • As a chemically-based product, off-gassing occurs
  • Prone to rapid breakdown, due to the inability to effectively dissipate heat and moisture
  • As explained in our most widely-read blog, “Natural Latex vs. Synthetic: What’s the Difference?“, memory foam falls under this category, as it’s polyurethane foam with additional chemicals and waxes that create that ‘heat sensitive’ effect.
We’ve gotten some questions lately about what’s being marketed as “soy latex.” The main question is:
“Soy latex is natural latex, right?”
The answer is no, it is not natural latex.
It is, however, an example of how terminology can influence assumptions.
Soy latex is actually polyurethane foam with a small amount (from 5-20%) of soy polyols substituted. It’s not natural latex. It’s a bit more natural, however, than regular polyurethane foam.
An example, in layman’s terms:
If you have a glass of tea, and you add a squeeze of lemon, do you then call it lemon? Does it become lemon?
No, it’s still tea. It has an additive now, but it’s still tea.
What questions can a consumer ask to determine what kind of foam it really is?
1) Is this 100% natural latex foam, or is there any amount of polyurethane in it?
Why ask this?
Because ‘natural latex’ is a term that can be used for any product that contains at least 30% natural latex. This is a question designed to uncover ‘green washing,’ which is when a company advertises their products as non-toxic and chemical free, when in fact, they are not.
2) Does this 100% natural latex contain any clays or silicates, or any other fillers?
Why ask this?
Because some manufacturers use additives to reduce costs, both to themselves and the consumer. The problem with this practice is that additives affect the properties of the mattress: it’s not able to respond to weight, heat, and moisture like 100% natural, non additive-laden latex. You’ll get a cheaper mattress, but it will break down more rapidly than 100% natural latex mattresses.
3) Does this ‘soy latex’ / ‘green memory foam’ / ‘bio-foam’ / ‘coconut foam’ mattress contain any polyurethane?
If answering honestly, the answer will be yes. If the answer is no, you’re likely dealing with greenwashing and/or dishonesty.
Some companies sell blended latex beds. This mean they utilize a small amount of 100% natural latex foam within the same mattress that contains a polyurethane component as well, which can hardly be honestly called a ‘natural latex bed’ – it’s usually a polyurethane mattress with a small amount of 100% natural latex within.
Always look for valid third party certifications, then uncover exactly which component that certification applies to.
Unfortunately, a common practice among more questionable retailers is to have a component’s materials certified prior to it being a finished product.
For example: Imagine you’re doing research online, and you’ve found a company with a valid third-party certification logo on their website, which leads the consumer to believe all the items they offer are safe/chemical-free.
After researching further, you may find that the certification applies only to the cotton used in the mattress covers of one particular mattress model, not all the mattresses they sell.
In addition, you discover that to meet fire retardancy standards, chemical flame retardants were sprayed onto this mattress cover, so it can longer factually be called a natural component. The certification is NOT for the finished product including the chemical flame retardants.
It can be tricky to wade through the greenwashing and semantics, but hopefully this gives you some ideas on how to uncover the facts.
 

hlat

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We created our own mattress with a featherbed top layer, egg crate foam middle layer, and memory foam bottom layer, with all the layers bound together with a mattress protector, and all of that laying on top of plywood. We like it a lot, and when traveling find hotel beds to be much less comfortable than our own bed.
 
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