Thursday, April 22, 2010

Pillow Talk

When it comes to the health of my family, I’ll admit I’m a little smug. My family gets a good percentage of home cooked meals, we have an excellent water filters on our faucets, we eat berries and broccoli and we’re all pretty active. Sounds good to me, what do you think? Well you may have to think again because I found out yesterday I may be poisoning my family. Happy Earth Day!

Yesterday I attended the Museum of Natural History’s annual Spring Environmental Lecture and Luncheon. I love any excuse to go to the AMNH and lunch under the whale is something I could never pass up. The downside to this event is that I inevitably leave feeling as though something very important has gone under my radar and this year was no different.

The theme for this year’s panel discussion was “Green Design for the Urban Home.” I wasn’t sure what this title meant and had anticipated hearing about green construction and eco-friendly furniture. Sure enough, we learned of wood cabinets made from sustainable forests, innovations in lighting and even recycling blue jeans for use in wall insulation, who knew? We completed a major (non-green) renovation a couple of years ago and so sadly much of this information was quickly filed under interesting but does not apply to me.  Not to worry, things started to hit home rather quickly.

When you think of the word environment you may picture a globe or the North Pole or maybe an ocean or a forest. However, for urban dwellers, our environment is really our apartments and offices. I learned yesterday, we spend 90% of our time indoors (depressing). Once inside we are inhaling dry cleaning chemicals and glue from cheap furniture (high school students need not “experiment” they can just sit in the living room) and maybe even cleaning chemicals. I heard a term called “off gassing” which, in this context, doesn’t refer to a bodily function. Off gassing is the slow release of a gas that was trapped or absorbed in a material. Vinyl shower curtains off gas (replace with nylon ASAP) and chances are so do many other items in your urban home.

As if off gassing wasn’t enough, the conversation shifted to the bedroom. The audience was asked “do any of you have pillows that are more than 2 years old?” Almost everyone nodded. We were told this was the bedding equivalent of wearing the same pajamas for two years. Our, older than toddler pillows, were likely to be 30% dust mites! Everyone gasped and worried and planned their personal pillow purge. It was explained that we should purchase new pillows and also hypoallergenic covers (which go under the cases) that can be removed and washed. If you are still reading, the other revolting take home message was to close the toilet seat. The spray from a flush as a 2 to 4 foot range. So those toothbrushes or hairbrushes on the sink... recycle those along with your pillows and from now on make sure all lids are closed. Feel free to vomit anytime.

As the panelists spoke they referenced many of their clients who had or had children stricken with asthma or allergies or autism. The panel’s interior designer told a story about a client, after cancer surgery, who wanted no stone left unturned in creating a safe, non-toxic, greener home. What about the rest of us? Should we wait for breathing difficulties or instead take proper steps toward preventing them now?
Did you know all of this or are you as shocked as I was? Any tips or tricks for greening your home? Are you going to get new pillows?


  1. Thanks Lauren. Great post!

    My biggest adjustment at home was to start using natural cleaning products a number of years ago. There are more good (read: effective) ones available now than there were when I made the switch. It's a relatively painless way to make your home environment more friendly for you, your pets, and your family. I, for one, am completely grossed out by the smell of chemical cleaners and can smell them a mile away. (Just ask my former home cleaning service, who made the mistake of using their own cleaning products one too many times and were rewarded by phone calls from me saying "I know you used them. I can smell them."

    Yeah, I'm a little crazy like that when it comes to chemicals in my home. ;)

  2. Lauren - great post. Love hearing about this stuff. Makes so much sense, pillows. We use them EVERYday.
    Wanted to share some facts I know about the "indoor" air we breathe too. Check it out: Did you know?
    ◦In general, indoor air is four to five times more polluted than outdoor air
    ◦According to a study by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, indoor air contaminants are responsible for or aggravate half of all illnesses
    ◦It is recommended we drink approximately two quarts of clean water each day. By comparison, we inhale approximately 15,000 quarts of air each day
    Children especially at risk
    ◦More than 15 million Americans are estimated to have asthma, including one in 13 school-aged children
    ◦Because they breathe faster than adults, children inhale 50 percent more air per pound of body weight than adults and are especially sensitive to air quality problems

    Poor indoor air quality negatively affects the health of more than 15 million Americans who have asthma and the 28 million who suffer from hay fever and other allergies.


  3. The pillow thing completely freaked me out. And then Bryna tried to "make it better" by telling me that dust mite exoskeletons aren't all that bad. Ew. Whole new set of pillows, pillow cases and pillow protectors.

    For your readers who feel compelled to overhaul their linens, Macy's is having a home sale starting on Wednesday. Our new pillow wardrobe cost about 65% less than retail with this sale.

  4. Dust mites get killed by direct sunlight - so when you wash your covers you lay your pillow if possible out in direct sun light - you can also put stuffed toys direct into the freezer - this kills them to. I live in the tropics and on sunny days i put my pillow outside everyday I can!