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What’s The Best Natural Pillow?

When you think that we spend a third of our life sleeping, furnishing our bed shouldn’t be an afterthought.  It should actually be a place where we invest in quality.  Unfortunately most pillows and mattresses are covered in serious amounts of toxic flame retardant (filled with hormone disruptors) and formaldehyde.  And as if that isn’t bad enough, no matter how much chemical they slather onto our pillows, that doesn’t prevent them from immediately starting to accumulate fungi, dead skin cells, dust mites, their carcasses and their faeces.  In fact, over time (as little as 18 months), up to 1/2 of the weight of your pillow can be attributed to this delightful cocktail.  So yeah…I wash my pillows pretty frequently.

Over the years I’ve slept on pretty much every kind of pillow going and before I go into why I have settled on my pillow of choice, let me run through the pros and cons of the other pillows I have used (and a couple which I haven’t).

Synthetic Pillows

In my first apartment I had the artificial polyester hollow fibre pillows.  They can be inexpensive, but they don’t last particularly well, as they go flat quickly and when you throw them into the washing machine to clean them, they separate and clump up.  Even a trip through the tumble dryer doesn’t quite put them back to rights, and these misshapen, unsupportive pillows can cause neck pain.  They generally have a life span of about 6 months but should never be kept longer than 2 years.  So you can start to see how investing in a good pillow can make a difference.  I’ve also tried memory foam pillows which I personally found to be awful.  They sound fancy, but they’re just made from polyurethane with other added chemicals.  They gave both of us aching necks (when they were supposed to ease them!) and the smell of them gave us headaches.  They also don’t ventilate well and they can make you sweat quite a lot.  They quickly made it on to the guest bed of unwanted pillows.  Not money well spent.

Feather Pillows

I’m not a fan of feather pillows.  Like the synthetic pillows they can go clumpy (even more so) and I find that the sharp bases of the feather soon start to poke through the pillow, making the pillow a bit spiky and cactus-like.  I also have allergies so I find these pillows exacerbate this problem.  And then there is the issue of the ethics of these pillows.  The feathers often come from birds kept in terrible living conditions which are then plucked alive.  I know John Lewis department store has expectations of animal welfare for the birds which are plucked to fill the feather and down bedding they sell.  In other words, these feathers are by-products of the food industry.  Either way, its not pretty.  Personally I have not found an ethically satisfactory source for feather pillows so I would not recommend them from a comfort, care or ethical standpoint.  However, my husband came with a set of these nasty pillows included…so if you are ever staying in our guest room, all I can say is sorry.

Down Pillows

Now while down feather pillows may face the exact same ethical issues as feather pillows do, they are made from the soft, under-feathers of some types of birds – usually ducks and geese – and they are extremely, deliciously comfortable.  They’re also quite expensive, so you’ve got to watch out for companies selling pillows which are a blend of down and feather.  They’re a long lasting pillow and you can wash them in the washing machine, so long as you don’t try to air dry them.  They WILL MILDEW inside the pillow if you try to air dry them, so be sure to tumble dry them until they are beyond bone dry.  They will once again become fluffy and plump after this process.  My husband uses down pillows on his side of the bed, and I find them easy to care for.  I have not found an entirely ethically satisfactory source for down pillows or duvets, so I make sure I look after the ones we already have very well with regular washing, airing and maintenance.  (See Kapok Pillows below for a great vegan-friendly alternative).

Wool Pillows

Okay, I love wool pillows.  Its incredibly easy to source organic wool pillows and duvets which are locally and ethically made here in the UK as well as in Canada and the US, and they are so comfortable and soft.  I know vegans aren’t too happy about wool, but the fact is that modern sheep breeds need to be sheared, so as long as its a nice organic farm where they love their sheep, I’m okay with that.   Wool pillows don’t go clumpy or lumpy and they don’t go flat.  They’re naturally hypoallergenic, they deter dust mites and wool is a very breathable material.  They’re also super easy to throw in the washing machine on a regular basis too.

Buckwheat, Millet & Spelt Pillows

I have to admit I haven’t tried these, but they may be worth investigating if you like a really firm pillow.  I’m assuming that anyone with coeliac disease or a severe gluten intolerance should probably avoid the spelt pillow and opt for the millet or buckwheat instead, as they are gluten-free fillings.  The millet is smaller and more sand-like, whereas the spelt husks are bigger and have a more massage-like effect on the body.  They also have a high silica content and are considered to help prevent muscle aches and pains.  The buckwheat pillows are robust and supportive while still being light and airy.  They are a great option for anyone who tends to sweat up a storm at night, as they allow moisture and heat to evaporate quickly.

Natural Latex Pillows

I have also not tried natural latex  filled pillows, but they offer a firm support and are a bit bouncy.  They’re also good for people who suffer from dust allergies because they cannot support the growth of bacteria, germs and moulds.  They’re not for people with chemical sensitivities though (lots of people have latex allergies), and some people can detect a slight smell of latex the first few times they use the pillows.

Horsehair Pillows

I’m just gonna say it.  I don’t see myself sleeping on a pillow filled with Black Beauty’s tail.  I don’t care how ethical the sourcing is.  But the advantages to a horsehair pillow are that they provide a medium firm support and are another great one for anyone who gets the night sweats, as they regulate moisture well.  They are warm and dry and the horsehair is said to have anti-rheumatic qualities.

Kapok Pillows

So I’ve saved my absolute favourite for last.  These pillows are incredibly luxurious. If you didn’t know you were sleeping on Kapok you’d swear you were sleeping on the softest down pillow ever.  And its vegan friendly, so if you don’t use animal based fibres in your home, then kapok means that you don’t need to resort to using synthetic fibres. So what the heck is kapok?  Well its a sort of silky fluff which comes from a tree which grows wild in tropical forests.  So while they’re not ‘grown organically’ there’s never any pesticides on them.  These trees are an important part of local economies and therefore are always very well looked after.  The kapok fibre itself contains naturally bitter compounds and that makes it really unattractive to dust mites and other creepy crawlies in general (that was a win for me!) and the fibres are also covered in a sort of wax which cannot absorb or retain moisture, so your  kapok pillow or duvet will always be dry, no matter how damp the weather outside.  Kapok pillows can be washed and tumble dried, but what I love about the one I have is that the organic cotton quilted cover and inner cover can be unzipped, and the soft, downy kapok filling removed while the fabric is being washed.  So if you only want to fluff and ‘air out’ your kapok filling from time to time, its much easier to do so.

OLOL Kapok Pillow

Conclusion

So whatever pillow you opt for, try to find one which provides the right level of support for you, one that is easy to clean on a regular basis (remember the mite faeces & carcasses I mentioned earlier?) and which comes from ethical and environmentally sustainable materials.  Remember that you and your partner don’t necessary need to have the same pillow – one of you might benefit from a firm buckwheat pillow, while the other luxuriates on the softness of kapok.  Personally I love supporting small, local producers and manufacturers.  My organic wool and kapok pillows are simply the best pillows I have ever had.  I can’t remember where my wool pillows from Canada were bought now (somewhere in Canada, obviously!), but the kapok pillows came from Greenfibres, a shop based down in Devon which also produces organic wool, buckwheat, spelt, natural latex and horsehair pillows in the same nifty design where you can remove the filling for airing, cleaning and to adjust the height and density of the pillow.  I’m just going to big up this shop a bit because they were incredibly helpful in talking me through the process of finding a new pillow – in fact I’d have never known about kapok pillows if it weren’t for them – and they’re on Etsy as well, so if you can’t find a local supplier in your own country, you can order them internationally as well.

And because I care about you guys and I really  hate the thought of you sleeping on dust mite poop, I’d also like to share with you this great, short video from Clean My Space which I discovered during the ‘nesting phase’ of my pregnancy and its where I learned how to clean and maintain my pillows and duvets:

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Zero Waste Challenge

About a year ago I came across the concept of the zero waste lifestyle.  I loved everything about it in the same way I once loved reading Vanity Fair.  A lifestyle promoted by impossibly perfect, model-like women living in their unattainably stylish, minimalistic New York micro-lofts, shopping at Whole Foods and fitting all their annual household rubbish into a mason jar and then blogging or vlogging about it.  I mean, good for them.  If I were 15 years younger and starting out from scratch I’d do the same (without being impossibly perfect or model-like).  But what about when you already have a house full of stuff, a husband, a baby and a very hairy geriatric dog?

Well, you do what you can.  That’s what you do.

We are not a zero waste home, but we do our best and I have made significant reductions in our household waste over the last year.  I started moving towards my zero waste goal at home by making small changes.  I switched to a bamboo toothbrush (rather than a plastic one), started making a lot of my own personal care items and…well, just buying less ‘stuff’.  Every time you go out and buy ‘stuff’, you come home and take it out of its plastic bag, unpackage it, use it / wear it for a bit / put it on a shelf with your other ‘stuff’ and then get rid of it.  All of that – the bag, the packaging and the ‘stuff’ itself – ends up in the recycle bin or charity shop at best, and more often than not, it ends up in landfill.

The green/eco blogging community is a fairly small one, and so when another green lifestyle blogger, MumBalance approached me to do a Zero Waste Challenge with her throughout the month of June, I thought it would be a great opportunity to up my own game at home.  So over the next few weeks I’m going to write some posts to help you learn a bit about some practical ways to introduce a few zero waste changes into your own lifestyle.  And I can promise you that you’ll be model-like and have a perfect, stylish home and will only shop at Whole Foods by the end of it.  Okay, maybe not…but you’ll definitely notice your house will be filled with less crap, your medicine cabinet will look a lot more chic, you’ll spend less money and most importantly, your garbage bin will be less full each week.  Meanwhile, here at chez OLOL I’m going to work on introducing a few more changes into the way we do things to even further reduce our household waste.

If you’d like to get inspired to learn more about realistic small changes you can make to move towards a zero waste lifestyle, please come back and check out my posts throughout June and if you’d like to see a family who really does successfully live this way, check out Zero Waste Home where Bea Johnson and her family in California produce just one jar of rubbish per year.

 

Five Practical Uses for Essential Oils

While most people have at least a few essential oils they love, a lot of people just don’t know how to use them in everyday life.  And these days there are really wonderful quality essential oils which are both therapeutic and food grade, so you can do more with them and safely use them in your home, on your body and you can eat some of them too!

I’m a pretty crunchy mama and I like to keep my house and body as free of toxic chemicals as possible.  I also very much admire the zero waste lifestyle and I try to apply these principles where I can by making my own home cleaning and personal hygiene products.  But they can be…well, a bit bland….and by adding some high quality essential oils they become so much more pleasant.  Remember – they’re not just smells, essential oils are chemicals in their own rights and have various properties to make your homemade products so much more effective.  In many cases, more effective than their toxic commercial counterparts.

So I thought I’d share my top 5 practical uses for essential oils in everyday living.

1. Toothpaste

I know, I know, who makes their own toothpaste?  I’ve spent a lot of money on a lot of cruddy toothpastes with ‘green’ credentials.  First of all, they’re expensive.  They don’t have that great mouth feel of foam that we get from Colgate and Crest, they don’t taste of candy canes and they don’t make your teeth any whiter or cleaner feeling.  And quite frankly this one shares two of those qualities.  It doesn’t taste of candy because there’s no sugar (or fake sugar) in it and it doesn’t foam up.  But what it does do is make my teeth feel and look the cleanest they have ever felt and its pretty inexpensive to make.  So, I’m sharing the YouTube video that I followed for my recipe.  (You can add in activated charcoal for even more whitening properties!)  When making this toothpaste I recommend only using a food grade peppermint essential oil, such as Young Living or DoTerra.  Please don’t just go out to your local health food store and buy what’s on their shelf.  Its really not the same thing.

2. Face Moisturiser

I believe in growing old gracefully…but not for a few more years, please.  In the meanwhile I use the anti-aging power combo of Frankincense essential oil and rosehip oil.  Frankincense promotes healthy cell regeneration and keeps existing cells and tissues healthy and rosehip oil is full of anti-oxidants (lycopene, beta-carotene and vitamin C) which prevent free radical damage as well as essential fatty acids omegas 3,6 and 9 which repair and regenerate damaged skin tissue.  I dispense my rosehip oil into a dropper bottle and place 4-5 drops on my hand each morning.  Into that I drop 1-2 drops of Frankincense essential oil.  I rub my hands together and spread it over my face and neck.  It makes me smell gorgeous too!

Why not coconut oil, you say?  I thought coconut oil was the answer to everything?  Well this is one time when I don’t think coconut oil is the answer.  Coconut oil scores a 3 on the comedogenic scale, whereas rosehip oil only scores a 1.  That means coconut oil is going to clog your pores a lot more.  Which doesn’t really help with the whole anti-aging thing.

3. Floor Cleaner 

There are fantastic natural all purpose household cleaners which already contain the essential oils in them, such as Thieves cleaner and probably Melaleuca make one too.  However, I live in the UK where Thieves cleaner can often run out of stock (literally there’s none available at the moment) and its also a bit pricy.  So I make my own floor cleaner using heavily watered down organic Alma Household Cleaning concentrate (I’m not sponsored by them or anything…I just really like this cleaner!) combined with 5-8 drops of Thieves essential oil to it and store it in a heavy duty spray bottle.  I have a three storey house filled with all antique wooden floor boards, and I spray ahead of me as I follow behind with the microfibre mop and my floor boards shine and smell like Christmas from the Thieves oil.  (You can recreate this oil by blending clove, lemon, cinnamon, eucalyptus and rosemary essential oils…but its easier to buy it already made up!)

*Update:  Since writing this article I have now got my hands on a bottle of the Thieves Household Cleaner.  It is amazing!

4. Fabric Softener

This is a really easy one!  Pour 6 Tbs white vinegar into a measuring jug, add 3-4 drops of essential oil and 1 Tbs of baking soda.  Let the fizz settle down then pour into the fabric softener tray of your washing machine.  I change the essential oil I use depending on the season and I use lavender for the baby’s clothing and bedding.  (Remember to add the essential oil to the vinegar before the baking soda.  After you add the baking soda, the oil won’t sit on top of the vinegar anymore and you won’t get oil spots on your stuff!)

5. Vacuum Scent

This is another easy one!  Just take a cotton ball and drop 4-5 drops of your favourite essential oil on it.  I like fresh citrus smells like orange and grapefruit.  Just vacuum the cotton ball straight into your vacuum cylinder and as it goes ’round and ’round and heats up, it fills your home with scent while you’re vacuuming!

By now you’ve probably realised that there’s very little that baking soda, vinegar and coconut oil can’t do!  I hope you enjoy de-toxifying your life a little bit by trying even just one of these ideas!

Disclaimer: The contents found on OurLittleOrganicLife.com not intended to diagnose, treat or cure. If you have concerns, please contact a doctor before altering your health care routine.