It’s never too early to incorporate health and wellness in one’s life. Kids, in particular, are better off exposed to wholesome choices not only when it comes to nutrition, but also with the things they use regularly such as bedding.
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Children spend a significant amount of their time on the bed snuggling under its covers. This means they’re often in contact with the sheets that they even sometimes bite playfully. It’s important that these are not only clean, but also don’t cause any allergies or health hazards to them.
Conventional bedding is usually made with petroleum-based materials such as polyurethane that may cause irritation, headaches, etc. These can be treated with flame retardants that are known to give rise to many health problems like nerve damage and cancer. As such, this type of bedding is not the best for your child.
Natural materials such as organic cotton, natural linen, bamboo, hemp, and wild organic silk tend to be more breathable and are considered the best fabrics for kids bedding. Please note, however, that textile products do not have to be certified to be described as organic. Many manufacturers claim this label but the truth is, only a small percentage of products in the market are the real deal.
What is organic cotton?
Organic cotton differs from regular cotton due to the processing methods used. This type of cotton is cultivated without toxic pesticides and synthetic fertilizers.
To tell you how meticulous it is to earn the organic label of cotton, the land on which it is grown is “detoxified” for a minimum of three years. This removes chemical residue from previously used pesticides and fertilizers. Only after which can planting of organic cotton start.
There are already a number of countries that produce organic cotton such as Burkina Faso, China, India, Peru, West Africa, Syria, Tanzania, Turkey, Uganda, and the US. A 53-percent increase in production was achieved between 2005 and 2007, soaring tremendously in 2008 by more than 150 percent. It continues its steady rise to this day.
Pros of organic cotton
- Use of natural seeds. Organic cotton is soft, hypoallergenic, comfy, and derived 100 percent from plants. That is why it is the ideal material for newborn clothing and supplies.
- Promotes healthy soil. With less dependence on harmful pesticides, it can reduce pollution significantly, which helps preserve soil integrity. Its practice of crop rotation promotes biodiversity. Organic fertilizers such as manure or compost are utilized alongside herbal insecticides.
- Defoliated naturally when harvested. Leaves fall off as dictated by the season and water control instead of using chemical defoliation methods.
- Water and harsh pesticide usage are minimized. Unlike regular cotton, irrigation is reduced by 71 percent during its cultivation. Overall, there is less of an environmental footprint without the presence of toxic ingredients from pesticides typical of traditional farming.
- Uses nontoxic cornstarch for stabilizing warp fibers. Aside from cornstarch, double plying is also done to keep the warp fibers stabilized. This results in thicker, stronger and more absorbent fabric. It also uses soda ash in fabric finishing.
- Uses natural dyes. Fabric made of organic cotton is dyed using natural sources such as walnut shell, henna, pomegranate peel, sage tea, among others. Alternatively, organic clothing may also use fiber-reactive dyes, which are low impact and essentially does not harm the environment given their higher clothing absorption rate.
- Uses water-based inks for printing. The fabric remains organic down to the materials used on the printed design. It is important that the screen-printing inks are not only water-based but also free of Phthalate, which is said to affect the human reproductive system.
- Engages in fair trade using social criteria. In organic cotton farming, fair trade includes giving a premium price for cotton farmers. This helps cover not only production costs, but also develop better technologies and other worthwhile projects. In short, organic cotton gives back to the farmers.
Cons of organic cotton
One of the few disadvantages of organic cotton is its price. This comes with high quality, less production, higher manual labor and costly supplies. But with more cotton farmers shifting to organic practices, this cost may improve soon.
There have been questions raised of the lower yield of organic cotton, but there has also been evidence of higher cotton yields.
Some organic cotton organizations
The Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) is judged by four reputable entities, which ensure that each cotton facility is subjected to thorough inspection, and handling is done according to set criteria. A product can either be certified as “organic” which is the highest seal of approval, or “made with organic”.
Organic Trade Association (OTA) is a membership-based organization that seeks to promote organic businesses in North America. OTA has been working alongside Cotton, Inc for many years as it continues to improve factors in the production of organic cotton.
Green America is a non-profit, membership-based US organization that encourages ethical consumerism. It supports several companies that use organic cotton such as Organic Cotton Plus, which is the first fabric retailer to have acquired a GOTS certification, the online-based Natural Clothing Company, to name a few.
How conventional cotton differs from organic cotton
Cotton has become an indispensable material in everyday products. In spite of its seemingly positive attributes, however, it is considered the dirtiest crop. Why you ask? Growing cotton requires a whole lot of pesticides and other agrochemicals in order to turn into that shirt you are probably wearing right now.
Conventional cotton largely differs from organic cotton in more ways than one. But first, here are the hard facts;
- Twenty-four percent of insecticide sales around the world is used for cotton, owning up to sixteen percent of pesticide sales worldwide.
- Cotton that often makes up the product that you have is modified genetically.
- There is heavy dependence on pesticides and irrigation in cotton farming, which adds to pollution and disturbance of ecosystems. For every 10 major pesticides used, eight are categorized by WHO under moderately to highly hazardous.
- Up to 3 percent of cotton workers become inflicted with severe poisoning, mostly brought about by regular exposure to harmful chemicals from insecticides.
- Many cotton manufacturers employ children.
Let’s take a look at how conventional cotton varies greatly from its organic cousin.
- Planted on un-detoxified land
- Utilization of synthetic fertilizers
- Artificial pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, and insecticides
- Treatment of seeds – GMO
- Practice of monocropping
- Affects mortality of small, harmless animals such as frogs, earthworms, etc.
- Performs chemical defoliation
- Requires 10,000 liters of water for a kilo of cotton
- Employs harmful chemicals during scouring, washing and bleaching
In terms of fabric quality, conventional cotton has a lower grade than organic cotton. The reason for this is the treatment involved using harsh chemicals such as formaldehyde and chlorine bleach, which weaken the fibers unlike when they’re left untreated. Moreover, organic cotton is hypoallergenic so it won’t cause any skin allergy.
How about bamboo, is it organic?
One of the fastest growing plants in the world, bamboo can reach up to four feet each day. It is a sustainable resource just like cotton that’s even more absorbent. It’s not surprising there are many supporters of this material, claiming it to be an organic option. Or is it?
There are many qualities to like about bamboo that gives it a nice edge over conventional cotton. Aside from its rapid growth, it is much easier to cultivate because of its ability to self-generate. This means no fertilizer and replanting is required.
While bamboo may seem organic, unfortunately the products that are made of it cannot be considered as so. The process to make fabric from bamboo is chemically intense, involving machinery to mechanically strip the fibers from the bamboo, and then use strong chemicals to dissolve this pulp into a material suitable for textile production. This process (similar to the process used to make rayon) often results in chemical wastage and as much as 50% of the chemicals used can enter the environment if not manufactured in a closed-loop process.
Lyocell is a bamboo-derived fabric that intends to address some ecological issues associated with the manufacturing process. It utilizes a closed-loop process of extraction, which reduces pollutants from wastewater. However, this bamboo fabric is semi-synthetic given its manufacturing methods so it cannot be considered organic.
Why choose organic bedding for your kids
After discussing the common bedding materials such as cotton and bamboo, now you know that between the two, only organic cotton has been certified. It will then be a good place to start when considering organic bedding for your children and even for yourself.
Organic kids bedding does not cause any skin allergies, which is a compelling reason by itself. The un-dyed cotton means you will have plain white or ivory-colored sheets. The weaving style of organic cotton makes it a strong material, providing softness, comfort and durability. The strengthened fibers stand up very well to frequent machine-washing and drying.
It will help if the bedding you buy has certification from GOTS or USDA. If neither is present, you can, at the very least, use the following tips as your quick guide in buying organic bedding.
- Look out for fabrics such as organic cotton, natural linen, hemp, and wild organic silk
- Check if the bedding uses natural dyes
- Check other certifications present in the label
The price may be a little high, but you are getting a lot more value with your purchase. Certifications are difficult to achieve so if your bedding has at least one, you can be assured that you have a genuine organic product.
Organic bedding is highly recommended for your kids given its better quality, eco-friendliness and social responsibility. And it’s always good to see if the bedding is GOTS-certified or other verifiable third-party certifications for your complete peace of mind.
About the Author
Victor is a trained Software Engineer that loves writing software for a living. He is passionate about the environment and sustainability and raising awareness of the impacts conventional cotton has. He has 2 kids that he loves dearly and has founded a startup Wriggly Toes that dedicates itself to making organic kids bedding that is fun and affordable.