Are Bamboo Pillows Toxic?

by Alyse Kaitlyn

It’s a common fact that, whether we want it or not, we come into contact with a plethora of different chemicals on a daily basis through the air we breathe, the products we use, or even the water we drink. While some of them are nontoxic, others can cause severe health problems. 

This prompts more and more people to learn everything about their surroundings and limit their exposure to toxic chemicals as much as they can, especially when it comes to the place we spend almost a third of our lives in — our bed.

This is why people nowadays are discovering organic materials such as bamboo, and changing their sheets, quilts, or pillows. But as bamboo pillows are using more than just 100% natural bamboo materials, the question “are bamboo pillows toxic: is arisen. To cut a long story short — bamboo pillows are not toxic, but let’s discover all the chemicals used in the production of bamboo pillows and see whether they can cause any health risks or not.

What Materials Are Used in the Production of Bamboo Pillows?

Bamboo pillows consist of two parts — a removable cover and the filling. In order to understand all the chemicals used in their production, you need to know the materials used in these separate parts.

The Bamboo Cover

The bamboo pillowcase or cover is primarily made with bamboo fibers which go through chemical processes before reaching the final product. Due to these chemical processes in the production, bamboo fabrics are referred to as semi-synthetic as their content is slightly altered.

The Memory Foam Filling

Depending on the company, the memory foam used in the production of bamboo pillows is either a solid or shredded memory foam. This is mostly made of polyurethane which is a man-made material that is quite contouring when pressure is added. 

All the Components That Make up a Bamboo Pillow

To make sense of whether bamboo pillows are toxic or not, you need to know the components that make up these cozy influencer favourites.

Chemicals Found in the Bamboo Pillow’s Cover

Carbon Disulfide

Carbon disulfide is a colorless liquid with a characteristic odor of rotten eggs that is used as a solvent in the production of bamboo viscose rayon fabrics. According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety & Health, inhalation exposure to this solvent can cause poor sleep, headache, dizziness, anxiety, and vision changes amongst others.

Sodium Hydroxide

Sodium hydroxide, also known as caustic soda, is yet another chemical used in the bamboo viscose manufacturing process that can cause corrosion or even chemical burns to workers during the manufacturing processes.

Memory Foam Pillow Components

Polyols 

Polyols are organic compounds commonly known as building blocks of any memory foam and can be found in almost everything, from sugar to plastic. Their main function is to give the voluminous touch or bulk to pillows.

Diisocyanates

This is the chemical compound that reacts with polyols in the production of contouring polyurethane foam. It is important to note that there are two types of diisocyanates — toluene diisocyanate (TDI) which is a rather toxic compound and methylene diphenyl diisocyanate (MDI), its less toxic counterpart. During manufacturing processes, however, both MDIs and TDIs may cause coughing, wheezing, and even asthmatic attacks.

Blowing Agents

Blowing agents are substances that have the power to create a cellular structure through a foaming process, helping numerous materials to undergo phase transition or hardening. There are three types of these substances that manufacturers use in the production of polyurethane foam, including water as a chemical and cyclopentane and hydrofluorocarbon as physical blowing agents — the three of which help the creation of a chemical reaction that converts liquid into foam. 


Contact with cyclopentane can irritate the skin while breathing in large quantities causes throat irritations. On the other hand, there aren’t any studies that show the toxicity of hydrofluorocarbon.

Potentially Toxic Byproducts Found In Memory Foam

Methylene dianiline / MDA

Workers that are exposed to methylene dianiline are susceptible to experiencing skin irritations or eye damage.  However, the greatest hazards with MDA happen during manufacturing as foam pillows don’t contain enough quantity of this substance to harm sleepers.

Methyl Benzene

The World Health Organization associates methyl benzene with numerous long-term adverse health effects which include aplastic anemia and cancer. This byproduct is mostly harmful to those who inhale it which means that the main perils are during the manufacturing process, not after purchase.

Vinylidene Chloride

Vinylidene chloride is a colorless, viscous, flammable liquid that belongs to the class of organic halogen compounds. Possible health problems include respiratory diseases and eye and skin irritations

Chlorofluorocarbons

Global Monitoring Laboratory considers chlorofluorocarbons as nontoxic, nonflammable chemicals containing atoms of chlorine, carbon, and fluorine. However, there are some organizations that strive to limit these substances because of their ozone-depleting effects.

Are Memory Foam Pillows Toxic?

According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, some memory foam pillows can contain harmful chemicals such as isocyanates which can irritate the eyes, nose, or mouth. However, not all manufacturers use the same materials when it comes to creating memory foam products. This is because researchers serve information on our plates about the toxicity of these chemicals with a plethora of reliable studies, prompting manufacturers to use safer alternatives lately. 


Ultimately, this encouraged manufacturers to replace harmful petrochemicals with green materials such as soybean oil which helps them retain the original characteristics of the contouring memory foam while producing safer products.

VOCs

Another term that connects bamboo pillows to the term toxicity is volatile organic compounds (VOCs). An extensive group of chemicals, these compounds can be found in numerous products people use to decorate or maintain their homes. Once products that contain these chemicals arrive at our doorsteps and you unbox them, they release an off-gassing smell in your living space. This is because all the chemicals used in the production break down at room temperature. While breathing these compounds in high quantities can cause nausea or irritate the nose or throat, the main hazards are yet again during the manufacturing processes. 


Do note, though, that this off-gassing smell dissipates in the air after a day or two upon unboxing a new bamboo pillow. If you purchase a high-quality product, however, the smell should evaporate as quickly as 24 hours after unboxing. Once the odor dissipates in the air, chances for VOCs to cause any of the aforementioned complications are zero to none.

Flame Retardants in Bamboo Pillows

Flame retardants are used with the intention to slow the growth of fire in numerous household products. Oddly enough, different manufacturers use diverse approaches to this process which makes us want to carefully consider the brand before making any purchases. 


For instance, some manufacturers use polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) for this purpose but as researchers linked these compounds to numerous neurodevelopmental disorders, most of them began replacing these with safer alternatives. Other toxic chemicals that are used to fireproof polyurethane foam include melamine, which may cause kidney stones when ingested in large doses.


In order to avoid any complications, manufacturers are liable to ensure consumers that their products don’t jeopardize their health in any way, or if otherwise, label the potential risks. 

CertiPUR-US Certification

The fact that there are some manufacturers who voluntarily submit their products for testing is an important thing to consider when purchasing a bamboo pillow. When seeing foams that use CertiPUR-US certification, for instance, you can rest assured as this organization sets industry standards by using technical guidelines — which are guided by the global foam industry, environmentalists, consumer group representatives, and scientists — to test and analyze polyurethane foam. The best part about them is that they double-check foams during the first year of collaboration, and re-check them at least once a year thereafter for re-certification.


What makes CertiPUR_US certifications separate themselves from other organizations is the fact that they certify companies that make their foam without polybrominated diphenyl ethers and other flame retardants such as formaldehyde, and chlorofluorocarbons and other ozone depleters. They also promote companies that sell polyurethane foam with low VOC emissions.

Final Takeaway

Many of us want to rest our head on a safe, smooth surface, especially as a way to de-stress after a busy and tiring day. As bamboo pillows can truly provide you with this and much more, you ought to know whether there are any potential hazards of sleeping on such a surface.


Many agencies such as EPA are declaring memory foam safe nowadays, but to be on the safe side when purchasing a pillow that uses these materials, choose organic brands with reliable certifications. This means 100% bamboo viscose fabrics that are sustainable and eco-friendly, using certified memory foam as a filling.

FAQ

Are bamboo pillows really toxic?

Even though there are some manufacturers that use toxic flame retardants in memory foam, you can find a safe bamboo pillow by checking whether it is CertiPUR-US certified or not.

Are bamboo pillows safe?

Bamboo pillows are generally safe and the chemical smell that comes with them often dissipates within a day or two.

Can memory foam cause health problems?

Generally, no. However, there are some instances where uncertified memory foam materials can cause trouble breathing, a runny nose, or red, itchy eyes.

Sources

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