It doesn’t seem like sleeping would have an environmental impact, but even in sleep, our choices are affecting the planet. How much energy we burn to keep the room a comfortable temperature, the bed we sleep on, and the bedding we cover it with all have their impact. Mattresses are probably the most impactful items in our bedrooms. Pillows require fewer materials and less energy to ship. They are also far less likely to contain flame retardants. But we purchase many more pillows than mattresses over our lifetime, and there is much less consumer pressure for pillow-producer responsibility, especially for recycling options.
Fortunately, some companies are working to make clean, Earth-friendly pillows. Although companies are less transparent about their manufacturing processes for pillows than for mattresses, Earth911 collected available supply chain, certification, and manufacturing information for 10 sustainable pillow brands to help shoppers find the best Earth-friendly sleep. We’ve filtered out all companies that do not make an explicit promise that their products are green and healthy.
Note that most pillows not made from a solid foam core are intentionally overstuffed with the expectation that purchasers will remove as much of the fill as necessary to reach their personal comfort level. If saved and stored, consumers can reuse that excess fill when the pillow begins to feel flat, extending the useful life of the product. Don’t toss out extra fill; use it to extend the live of your pillow investment.
The information below is based on our research to help you pick sustainable products. The results — displayed below in a printable chart you can use when shopping — reveal a wide range of options for Earth-friendly sleep.
To view our complete printable comparison chart, click the image below.
Our Rating Criteria
We considered the following factors when assessing the environmental-friendliness and sustainability of the pillow brands.
Pillows are made of many of the same materials as mattresses, often by the same companies. Yet none of the brands we looked at offered a take-back program for recycling, or even mentioned recycling options for their product. Recyclability of the pillow and materials is, therefore, something of an academic question. In the absence of practical recycling options, we rated pillows made from natural, biodegradable materials such as latex, cotton, and wool rather than synthetic materials like memory foam. Polyurethane is the primary ingredient in most memory foams. However, many manufacturers use proprietary memory foam formulas that contain an unknown quantity of unidentified chemicals, making it an even more questionable choice.
Pillows can be made from both synthetic and natural latex. Although few pillow companies examined revealed the country of origin for their latex, most of them use natural latex. It is a good idea to confirm that you are buying natural latex. Also, in most cases, shredded latex (and shredded memory foam) used to fill pillows is recycled from the manufacturing process for mattresses.
Kapok is a fine, fibrous substance very like cotton that grows around the seeds of the ceiba tree. Like rubber trees, the ceiba grows in tropical climates. Although there is very little information about growing practices and organic certification is rare, kapok may be a more sustainable crop than cotton.
Sourcing Supply Chain
Aside from Avocado and Holy Lamb Organics, none of the pillow manufacturers revealed the country of origin for all the materials used in their products. Inquiries have been submitted to all the manufacturers listed. Earth911 will update the table — and potentially the rankings — as more information becomes available. Because of the carbon impact of global shipping, materials sourced from the United States and domestic manufacture are ranked higher than imported materials.
Anyone can make a claim to environmental friendliness on their website without any data to back it up. Certifications provide third-party assurance that certain minimum standards have been met. Unfortunately, in some cases those standards are quite minimal and amount to little more than greenwashing. There is a wide range of stringency in the certification business.
There are several different labels for wool, for example. Like cotton, wool can be labeled organic, which means it meets U.S. Department of Agriculture certification standards. However, like cotton, the supply of organic wool does not meet demand. Eco Wool is raised by small-scale U.S. farmers. Although it is an industry-led program, some of its sustainable and cruelty-free guidelines exceed organic standards.
Here are some of the certifications you will see when you are shopping for pillows:
- USDA Organic certification is best known for produce. But the agency’s certification standards apply to all agricultural products, including cotton and wool. While it guarantees that the plants or animals were raised without chemicals and other excluded methods, it does not guarantee that the resulting textile has not been subject to chemical processes during manufacture.
- CertiPUR-US certification of the foam. The CertiPUR-US seal ensures the foam is made without chemical flame retardants, mercury and other heavy metals, formaldehyde, or phthalates. CertiPUR-US also reviews the emissions, or “off-gassing” of low volatile organic compound (VOC) emissions to ensure they are fewer than 0.5 parts per million.
- OEKO-TEX Standard 100 certification addresses the safety and sustainability of textiles, such as cotton and wool. The Standard 100 certification assures customers that harmful chemicals and environmentally harmful substances are not produced by the manufacturing process or included in the product.
- eco-INSTITUT certification involves similar testing, measuring the emissions from the material and the environmental responsibility of the sourcing of materials. In particular, eco-INSTITUT examines the sources of natural latex, which is harvested from rubber trees.
- GREENGUARD Gold certification, from United Laboratories, validates that a product does not exceed the emission standards for VOCs that contribute to indoor pollution.
- Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) covers the processing, manufacturing, packaging, labelling, trading, and distribution of all textiles made from at least 70 percent certified organic natural fibers.
- Global Organic Latex Standard (GOLS) outlines requirements for latex products. To achieve GOLS certification, a product must contain more than 95 percent certified organic raw material and comply with permissible limits for harmful substances, emission test requirements, and polymer and filler percentages.
Charity and giving programs are another indicator of a responsible company. Several manufacturers donate their products to people in need, while others have adopted a specific cause to support. Some have committed to giving 1% for the Planet, contributing to an extensive network of environmental nonprofit programs.
Earth911’s Sustainable Pillow Rankings
Also ranked #1 for mattresses, Avocado provides a thorough reckoning of its environmental impact, fully disclosing all materials used in its pillows and nearly all their sources. The company makes their pillows exclusively from renewable natural materials, upcycling latex from its mattress manufacture. Avocado holds certifications for GREENGUARD Gold air quality, eco-INSTITUT natural latex, OEKO-TEX textile safety, and organic cotton. They source their materials from around the world, but manufacture the pillows in the U.S. And Avocado purchases carbon offsets for its shipping. They are the only pillow company in our rankings to do so. Selecting a new charity each month, Avocado gives 1% for the Planet.
2. Holy Lamb Organics
A close second, Holy Lamb Organics is a small, family-owned manufacturer employing rural workers. Operating out of a historic building in Washington state and guided by permaculture principles, Holy Lamb pillows use no synthetic materials. They source all materials domestically — primarily from other small businesses in the Western U.S. Holy Lamb Organics is committed to a zero-waste manufacturing process. They meet the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) for all textiles and are a Green America Certified Business. Their cotton is IOAS certified organic, their latex is FSC certified, their wool growers follow Eco Wool guidelines, and their wool is certified organic.
There is not much to distinguish the next three companies on the list from each other; they all fall behind Avocado and Holy Lamb. All three produce a variety of pillow choices made from natural materials, at least some of which they produce in the U.S. Naturepedic pulls ahead slightly by using organic cotton, latex, and kapok, and including a plant-based polyester fill option. They hold the most certifications, holding GOTS and Global Organic Latex Standard (GOLS) certifications, as well as GREENGUARD Gold air quality, Non-GMO Verified, and others. The source for Naturepedic’s materials varies by lot, but manufacture takes place in the U.S. Naturepedic gives 1% for the Planet.
With nearly as many certifications as Naturepedic, PlushBeds offers a variety of pillows made from natural materials, including wool and natural latex. The latex used to make their pillows is GOLS and USDA certified organic; their cotton and wool is GOTS and USDA certified organic. All of their wool originates in the U.S. and the company is transparent about their suppliers’ wool-growing practices. They also offer a pillow filled with a blend of down and feathers, although they do not provide information about the source of this fill. PlushBeds manages a scholarship program and supports the Autism Society.
5. White Lotus
White Lotus also offers a wide variety of pillows made from natural materials, including buckwheat hulls, which are not available elsewhere on this list. They also make a wool pillow, and one that blends wool with buckwheat hulls. All their pillows have an organic cotton cover. Their wool is not certified, but their website does link to their wool providers, who generally follow Eco Wool practices.
6. Organic Textiles
Organic Textiles offers the widest selection of any company on this list, and some options may be better than others among their offerings. They cover all their pillows in either organic cotton or a bamboo fabric. Pillows may be filled with kapok, wool, natural latex, down, or organic cotton. The wool and organic cotton they use originate in the U.S. But they don’t specify the sources for other materials. Fabric and latex labelled as organic are certified by the Global Organic standards.
7. Savvy Rest
Savvy Rest pillows are mostly made with natural latex and wool; all have organic cotton covers. They do not provide any sourcing information, but they do hold several certifications, including: GOTS certification for all textiles, GREENGUARD Gold, eco-INSTITUT certified latex, USDA Organic and GOLS-certified Dunlop latex, and their Thalalay latex is Cradle to Cradle Gold certified and FSC certified. They donate bedding to women’s shelters and have a partnership with the tree-planting organization American Forests.
8. Nest Bedding
Marketing for Nest Bedding emphasizes luxury rather than sustainability. Only the Easy Breather Natural Pillow, which uses natural latex instead of memory foam, makes any claim to eco-friendliness. Nest manufactures its pillows in the U.S., and their latex is OEKO-TEX Certified. All their foams are CertiPUR-US certified.
9. Brooklyn Bedding
Brooklyn Bedding is a family-owned business that manufactures its products in the U.S. They make their pillows from CertiPUR-US certified natural latex. However, their shredded foam pillow is infused with an unidentified gel.
Snugglepedic pillows contain a proprietary mix of memory foam, covered with a bamboo-polyester-lycra blend fabric. Made in the U.S., their memory foam was CertiPUR-US certified in 2012, but the company has let the certification lapse.