The Disingenuous and Sneaky Bamboo Pillow
March 22, 2017 • By
Have you noticed the bamboo pillows that are suddenly everywhere? They’ve exploded in popularity. According to Google Trends, they’re even more popular than traditional down pillows!
Despite their prevalence, I only noticed them recently while poking around on Amazon. A pillow stuffed with bamboo didn’t seem very comfortable… It caught my attention for one reason: it sounded like a “green” product. I try to shop responsibly, purchasing products that are ecologically responsible when possible. A pillow made from the bamboo plant, a plentiful renewable resource, sounded great to me.
So what is a bamboo pillow?
Bamboo pillows’ name clearly implies that a primary component is bamboo. In fact, the majority are filled with shredded memory foam, a petroleum-based product. The fabric outer shell or case, is most commonly a 40% rayon / 60% polyester blend.
So where’s the bamboo? The truth is in the fine print: apparently rayon is derived from bamboo. pfft… What a bunch of bullshit. It’s essentially just a memory foam pillow with a rayon pillow case and some very deceptive marketing.
Let’s take a closer look at their claims.
According to the product descriptions, these magical bamboo pillows are:
- environmentally friendly
- cooler than traditional pillows
- supportive and moldable
Are bamboo pillows environmentally friendly?
Bamboo sounds like an environmentally responsible, safe component to use in a pillow. Marketers love to use the term bamboo, because it appeals to eco-conscious consumers like me. Unfortunately the bamboo fabric, i.e. rayon, is far from being safe for the environment.
The most common way to produce rayon involves the “viscose” process. Cellulose material like bamboo is dissolved in a strong chemical bath and then treated until it solidifies into useable fibers. Very toxic chemicals like carbon disulphide, caustic soda, ammonia, acetone and sulphuric acid are used to turn it into useful fibers. Production results in the emission of hazardous air pollutants. In addition 50% of the solvents used are released as wastewater.
Rayon isn’t the only polluter in a bamboo pillow. The production of memory foam and polyester both result in the release of carcinogenic materials into our air and water causing significant environmental damage.
Verdict: You won’t find a bamboo pillow on mother nature’s bed.
It’s absolutely misleading to suggest that viscose rayon, polyester and memory foam are environmentally-friendly materials, particularly when compared to traditional fabrics and fill types.
Are bamboo pillows hypoallergenic?
Hypoallergenic claims resonate with consumers and help to sell products. What exactly is implied? Unfortunately it is very vague because there is no regulation in the United States that defines or governs the use of the term. Blakiston’s Medical Dictionary, however, defines it:
“Hypoallergenic” – Adjective
A term applied to a preparation in which every possible care has been taken in formulation and production to ensure minimum instance of allergic reactions.
Are the makers of bamboo pillows taking “every possible care” in the creation of their supposed hypoallergenic products? I doubt it…
First, let’s consider the bamboo pillow’s primary component, memory foam. A quick search of “memory foam allergy” reveals substantial and credible user complaints about headaches, rashes and similar allergic-type reactions. There is no credible evidence that suggests that memory foam is less likely to cause allergic reactions than other pillow fill types. Read More: “That Memory Foam Smell”
As it happens, dust mites are the true allergy menace and no pillow type is immune to them.
Dust mites are tiny organisms that live in the dust in your house and are one of the top five most common allergens. If you’re experiencing an allergic reaction to a pillow that you’ve been using for awhile, chances are you’re allergic to dust mites, not the pillow itself. Dust mite allergies are very similar to a pollen allergy except that the symptoms occur year round instead of just seasonally. All bedding is susceptible to dust mite infestations, including the so-called bamboo pillow.
Some define a hypoallergenic pillow in more specific terms:
…a hypoallergenic pillow is also designed to repel dust mites, one of the leading causes of allergies. Dust mites gravitate towards shed skin, hair, and oils, all things which tend to accumulate inside the stuffing of pillows over time. Hypoallergenic pillows are sealed so that dust mites cannot get into the pillow, with materials which also repel mold and mildew, substances which can cause allergic reactions. Read more: What is a Hypoallergenic Pillow? | wiseGEEK.com
Verdict: To call bamboo pillows hypoallergenic is misleading.
A lack of regulation and oversight makes the term rather hollow, but to call a bamboo pillow hypoallergenic is an overstatement.
Are bamboo pillows antimicrobial?
Bamboo is unique in that it contains a substance called bamboo-kun, which is an antimicrobial agent that gives the plant a natural resistance to pest and fungi infestation. Unfortunately, the chemical processes used to produce rayon destroys any of bamboo’s antimicrobial properties. There is no trace of the original bamboo plant in the finished rayon product.
Verdict: A bamboo pillow is not antimicrobial.
Are bamboo pillows biodegradable?
Biodegradable materials are capable of being broken down into natural materials without causing harm to the environment. Memory foam and polyester are NOT biodegradable. Depending on the specific types used, these materials will sit around for hundreds of years in the landfill. Rayon, is 90% biodegradable, but it is a very small portion of the pillow’s total mass.
Verdict: A bamboo pillow is not biodegradable.
In most bamboo pillows, only a small percentage of the fabric pillow case is biodegradable.
Are bamboo pillows cool?
If air is able to circulate through a pillow’s fill, it’ll stay cool while you sleep. Unfortunately memory foam is not known for it’s breathability. Memory foam restricts airflow, causing it to build up and retain body heat. I’ve tried several different types of memory foam pillows over the years and none could be described as being “cool.” These bamboo pillows, however, contain “shredded” memory foam. This shredded fill is simply memory foam that’s been torn into little pieces. These individual pieces would theoretically allow for better air circulation though the pillow, but for some reason they’re often enclosed in a non-breathable foam enclosure or case. This negates any cooling ability gained from using shredded vs. traditional memory foam.
Well, maybe the rayon/polyester blend, err “bamboo” fabric is extra breathable? There’s no evidence that suggests that it’s any more breathable than traditional bedding fabrics like linen or cotton that are well-known for their breathability.
Verdict: They aren’t any cooler than traditional pillows.
A bamboo pillow is no better at keeping you cool than a traditional pillow filled with down or similar fill. Memory foam’s reputation for retaining heat certainly doesn’t suggest that it’s superior.
A bamboo pillow isn’t completely awful!
I have no doubt that many people appreciate these bamboo pillows. I’ve been quite critical of them, but they do have their benefits.
Memory foam is quite good at providing consistent support for your head and neck. It will not collapse under the weight of your head like traditional pillow fills. The shredded fill isn’t a solid loaf like most traditional memory foam pillows, so it’s moldable—you can fluff, squish and squeeze it until it’s just the right shape for your head.
The fact that many are adjustable is also a big plus. Being able to add or remove fill allows you to fine tune the loft (thickness) exactly to your preference.
The benefits of a bamboo pillow are misleading.
There have been attempts by the government to deal with the issue of deceptive marketing of bamboo products. Several large retailers were warned in 2009 by the FTC about the blatantly misleading bamboo claims. It didn’t end with warnings…
“Sears Holdings agreed to pay $475,000 and remove false advertising from its line of “100% pure bamboo” products, which were anything but. Sears was the first of several large companies, including Amazon.com and Macy’s, that agreed to pay fines totaling nearly $1.3 million for violating for violating the Textile Products Identification Act…” –Time Magazine
The settlements set a precedence and larger retailers are mostly adhering to the FTC’s guidance. That said, the deceptive marketing practices remain prevalent amongst smaller retailers. I see several Amazon listings making all of the claims above. What seems to be consistent today is that sellers no longer allege that these pillows are 100% bamboo. Even excluding that falsity, the benefits of bamboo pillows are grossly overstated or outright false.