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These Are the Most Toxic Pillows to Avoid! Linked to Lung and Liver Damage

You may not realize it, but your pillow could be hiding a range of toxic chemicals and allergens that could be harming your health while you sleep. From flame retardants to mold and mildew, these hidden nasties can lead to a host of health issues, including respiratory problems, allergic reactions, and even cancer. In this article, we will explore the potential toxins in your pillow, their health consequences, and how you can protect yourself by choosing safer alternatives.

Chemicals Commonly Used in Pillows

  1. Flame Retardants

Polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) are commonly used flame retardants found in pillows. These chemicals have been linked to various health problems, including cancer, hormonal disruption, and fertility problems (1). Moreover, PBDEs are extremely difficult to break down and can accumulate in the body over time.

  1. Pesticides

Pesticides are used to kill pests when growing crops for traditional fabrics such as cotton. Pesticide residue can still be present in the finished product, posing a risk to human health. Pesticides have been associated with neurodevelopmental problems, hormone disruption, and cancer (2).

  1. Formaldehyde

Formaldehyde is a known human carcinogen, classified as such by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) (3). It is commonly used in textile manufacturing and can off-gas from pillows, causing irritation to the eyes, nose, and throat, as well as respiratory problems.

  1. Perfumes and Deodorants

Many pillows are treated with perfumes and deodorants to mask the chemical smell of off-gassing toxins. However, these fragrances can cause symptoms such as headaches and sore throats, particularly in those sensitive to fragrances (4).

  1. Polyester

Polyester is an artificial fabric often used in pillow filling. It is a type of plastic made from petroleum and emits harmful chemicals when it breaks down. These chemicals can lead to respiratory problems and skin irritation (5).

  1. Dust Mites

Dust mites are tiny creatures that thrive in warm, humid environments, like pillows. They feed on dead skin cells, and their excrement can trigger allergies and asthma attacks in sensitive individuals (6).

  1. Mold and Mildew

Mold and mildew can grow in pillows, especially if they are not properly cleaned or stored. Mold exposure can cause various health problems, such as respiratory infections, headaches, and fatigue (7).

  1. Fungi

Fungi, such as Aspergillus fumigatus, are another type of microorganism found in pillows. Like mold and mildew, fungi can cause various health problems if inhaled, including allergic reactions and lung infections (8).

  1. Bacteria

Bacteria can be present in dirty pillows and can cause infections, stomach flu, and other illnesses (9).

  1. Ticks, Fleas, and Bedbugs

Ticks, fleas, and bed bugs can also be found in pillows, especially if they are second-hand or have been stored in an unclean environment. These pests can cause numerous health problems, including Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever (10).

Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs): Many of the toxins in your pillow are classified as volatile organic compounds (VOCs). These VOCs off-gas into the air, and you breathe them in while sleeping.

Exposure to these VOCs and other chemicals has been linked to a variety of health problems, including:


-liver damage

-brain fog


-eye irritation

-throat irritation




-lung issues

-thyroid problems


-central nervous system damage

-kidney damage

-nose irritation (11).

Toxic Pillows to Avoid

  1. Memory Foam Pillows

Memory foam pillows generally contain higher levels of chemicals than other types, releasing an “off-gassing” odor as these chemicals break down and disperse in the air.

  1. Down/Feather Pillows

A study found that down and feather pillows often contain dangerously high levels of glue used to bind the filling, posing potential health risks.

  1. Synthetic Latex Pillows

While synthetic latex pillows may be less toxic than memory foam alternatives, they can still emit volatile organic compounds (VOCs) due to the presence of polyurethane (PU) foam and other synthetic materials.

To protect yourself from these hidden dangers lurking in your pillow, consider taking the following steps:

  1. Choose Natural and Organic Materials

Opt for pillows made from natural and organic materials, such as organic cotton, wool, or kapok. These materials are less likely to contain harmful chemicals and provide a healthier sleep environment.

Here are some materials you can find in sustainable pillows:

  • GOTS-certified organic cotton
  • GOLS-certified organic latex
  • Buckwheat hulls
  • Eucalyptus or kapok tree fiber
  • Sugarcane fiber
  • Woolmark-certified wool

Some brand recommendations include:

  • Birch
  • Coyuchi
  • Cozy Earth
  • Buffy
  • Brentwood Home
  • Avocado

2. Look for Certifications

When shopping for pillows, look for certifications such as Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS), Oeko-Tex Standard 100, or Greenguard Gold. These certifications ensure that the product has been tested for harmful substances and meets strict safety standards.

  1. Regularly Wash and Replace Your Pillow

Washing your pillow regularly can help reduce the build-up of dust mites, mold, and bacteria. It is generally recommended to replace your pillow every 1-2 years to maintain optimal hygiene and support. Always follow the manufacturer’s care instructions to ensure the proper maintenance of your pillow.

  1. Invest in Pillow Protectors

Pillow protectors are covers specifically designed to protect your pillow from allergens, dust mites, and other contaminants. They can also help extend the life of your pillow and keep it clean.

  1. Maintain a Clean Bedroom Environment

Regularly vacuum your bedroom, wash your bedding, and air out your room to reduce the accumulation of dust, allergens, and other irritants. This can help minimize the presence of harmful substances in your sleep environment.

  1. Be Cautious with Second-Hand or Stored Pillows

If you’re using a second-hand pillow or one that has been stored for a long time, be sure to thoroughly inspect and clean it before use. Ticks, fleas, and bedbugs may be present in such pillows, posing a risk to your health.

  1. Educate Yourself on Pillow Materials and Manufacturing Processes

Learn about the materials used in your pillows and their manufacturing processes. This knowledge will empower you to make informed decisions when purchasing new pillows, ensuring you choose the safest and healthiest options.

  1. Ventilate Your Bedroom

Allow fresh air to circulate in your bedroom by opening windows or using an air purifier. This can help reduce the concentration of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and other harmful substances in the air, promoting a healthier sleep environment.

  1. Be Mindful of Personal Sensitivities

If you have allergies, asthma, or other sensitivities, be especially mindful of the materials and treatments used in your pillows. Choose hypoallergenic options and avoid pillows treated with chemicals that could exacerbate your symptoms.

  1. Support Sustainable and Ethical Pillow Brands

By choosing to purchase pillows from brands that prioritize sustainability and ethical practices, you can support positive change in the industry. These companies are more likely to use eco-friendly materials and manufacturing processes, reducing the presence of harmful substances in their products.

It’s essential to be aware of the hidden dangers in conventional pillows and take steps to minimize exposure to these harmful substances. By choosing natural, organic, and certified pillows, maintaining a clean sleep environment, and supporting sustainable brands, you can enjoy a healthier and more restful night’s sleep.

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