Are there Chemicals in Pillows?

Fire resistant pillows

Which pillows have the least chemicals?  An email from one of our readers brought up this interesting question.

How much do you know about the material your pillows are made from?  And what has been used to make cheaper memory foam pillows, anti-allergy pillows and duvets, anti-crease or flame-retardant bedding?

Synthetic pillows ( hollowfibre, microfibre or polyurethane or memory foam pillows) are all made from polyester in different forms. Polyester can ignite more easily than natural materials and you don’t really want to be lying on a flammable object if you can help it so manufacturers have had to ensure that their synthetic pillows are treated with fire-retardant chemicals. Recently there has been some concern that breathing in high levels of these chemicals may not be the best idea for our health.

Now we’re not chemistry experts here but we can give you a brief overview of the situation from a pillow point of view. UK manufacturers are not currently obliged by law to disclose what kind of treatments they have given their pillows, mattresses or furniture. Basically, I would assume that all synthetic pillows have been treated to some extent unless they specifically say that they haven’t. In the U.S. they’ve had to declare this for a while, so you’ll see some American products stating on their packaging that they haven’t used flame-retardant chemicals.

Don’t forget that the majority of these chemicals are considered safe to be used in household products. But if you don’t like the idea of sleeping on fire-retardant materials, choose a natural pillow. All polyester pillows are synthetic, and neither the chemical process of creating this material nor the product itself is environmentally friendly. Some toxic waste is a by-product and you do of course get a non-recyclable, non-biodegradable product at the end of the process.

But, if you’re going green, you should probably check your duvet, your mattress and your cushions too.

Natural fibre pillows include down, feather, silk or wool, and obviously you’d want a 100% cotton cover if you’re avoiding all polyester. Wool and silk have a good level of natural fire-resistance so also better from that point of view. You might also consider a natural latex pillow which is manufactured without the fire-retardant chemicals, or of course an organic pillow.

Lastly as with any product, if you’re concerned, check the label. Some ‘organic’ pillows are only actually organic on the outside casing (containing memory foam inside); and some silk or wool pillows are blended with microfibre, so go for the ‘one-hundred-percenters’ if you can.

 There’s an extended and updated article about chemicals in bedding on our sister site:
More facts about chemicals in pillows and recent scientific research, plus discussion of Panda Pillows’ organic certified range, Simba Sleep‘s chemical-safe certification, and John Lewis‘s Nomite range can be found in the newer article on Duvet Advisor.


Facts, studies and sources of more information:

Read the facts on Wikipedia.

More from government and scientific research here about the use of Formaldehyde in production of home bedding and perchloroethylene (known as PCE or tetrachloroethylene) in dry cleaning.


Our suggestions for natural and organic pillows:


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