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Weighted blankets were increasingly popular long before the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic prompted millions of people to hunker down at home. As these heavy spreads and throws have caught on, weighted blanket makers have added eco-friendly versions to their collections — fabrics made with organic cotton, sustainably-sourced fibers and filler made with recyclable or biodegradable materials. With social distancing and home self-quarantine more and more a part of an anxious new normal, a blanket that hugs and surrounds you could have natural appeal. One that also leaves a lighter ecological footprint might also help ease your worries about the environment — and, of course, might also help the environment itself. But what makes for an eco-friendly weighted blanket? We asked experts on sustainable textiles to help explain what eco-friendliness means in this space and how to best apply that knowledge when you’re shopping for weighted blankets.
In this article
Sustainability is extremely complex, and what one person might be talking about as eco-friendly may be different from someone else.
Karen Leonas, PhD, Professor of fashion and textile management, branding and technology at North Carolina State University
Why shop for eco-friendly weighted blankets?
There is debate about exactly how much waste and pollution textile products such as blankets generate, but there’s no doubt that the industry pollutes to some degree, according to the EPA. Textile-making consumes oil, crops and water, emits greenhouse gases and uses pesticides and other (sometimes toxic) chemicals that seep into soil and water, according to the nonprofit World Resources Institute. Discarded linens and clothing made of synthetic, petrochemical textiles such as polyester wind up in landfills and waterways and shed tiny, almost indestructible particles called microplastics that can threaten marine life. Some within the industry have taken steps to curb their environmental impact.
- Some brands have turned to organically produced fibers and fabrics derived from wood pulp like Tencel or recycled textile waste.
- Some are working to “close the loop” in manufacturing to recapture and re-use textile scraps and chemicals before they leach into the environment
- And yet others have adopted new standards like BlueSign and ClimateNeutral to certify their products are sustainably made.
Not every operator in the textile production chain has adopted these practices, of course, and even the most eco-friendly textiles come with some level of environmental cost. “Sustainability is extremely complex, and what one person might be talking about as eco-friendly may be different from someone else,” says Karen Leonas, PhD, professor of fashion and textile management, branding and technology at North Carolina State University’s Wilson College of Textiles. “Even for people in textiles it gets a little tricky.”
How to shop for eco-friendly weighted blankets
While tricky, experts say there are some guidelines for making eco-friendly purchases of you're interested in doing so.
Weighted blankets made of organic cotton can be a sound choice, environmentally-speaking, for the way the cotton is supposed to be grown:
- Without chemical pesticides
- Without synthetic fertilizers
- And on farms that conserve and replenish soil
Cottons also biodegrade more quickly than their synthetic counterparts. “If it’s between organic and synthetic polyester, I’d definitely pick organic,” says Preeti Arya, PhD, assistant professor of textile development and marketing at New York’s Fashion Institute of Technology. “It will be pricey,” she adds, because growing organic also produces less cotton per acre than standard industrial farming. “But if price is not a question and they can afford it, then definitely go for organic.”
When price is more of a consideration, weighted blankets made of hemp “might be a good alternative,” says Wilson College’s Leonas. But there are tradeoffs:
- Hemp needs less water than its cellulose-fiber cousin, cotton, to grow — but is more labor-intensive to convert into fabric.
- It also needs chemicals to achieve the soft, inviting touch — or “hand,” as textile experts call it — that cotton possesses more naturally.
Bamboo is another material found in weighted blankets that can serve as a cotton alternative. However, it requires more chemical solvents to get it from stalk to shelf. “It does take less water to produce and it does grow faster,” says Leonas, “but the process to get that bamboo out of the stock and actually go into fibers is pretty environmentally damaging.”
There is a newer class of fabrics used in weighted blankets that are not synthetic. They’re engineered using wood pulp or textile scraps in a closed-loop, or circular, manufacturing process designed to keep byproducts out of the environment. Tencel is one such fabric, a trademarked version of lyocell that can be “a good option” in a weighted blanket, says Anupama Pasricha, PhD, an associate professor of apparel merchandising and design at the St. Catherine University School of Business in St. Paul, Minnesota. Tencel, when blended with synthetics such as lycra, “may not necessarily biodegrade,” explains Pasricha, who is also the executive director of Educators for Socially Responsible Apparel Practices (ESRAP). But Tencel on its own will biodegrade, she said, adding it is “less harmful” to the environment than earlier-generation, man-made fibers such as rayon.
Blankets are often weighted with plastic pellets wrapped in polyester — which is essentially a plastic — to give them their heft and ability to cling to the body. Some also use tiny glass beads. “Whatever’s inside the blanket does make it problematic,” says Kate Black, a fashion sustainability consultant and author of "MagnifEco." Both glass and plastic can linger in landfills and water long after you’ve snuggled underneath your weighted blanket. But discarded glass does not turn into the kind of microscopic fragments that, in the case of plastic, are nicknamed “mermaid’s tears.”
If you don’t have the certifications and you’re claiming that ‘my product is eco-friendly,’ that’s just hearsay
Anupama Pasricha, PhD, associate professor of apparel merchandising and design at the St. Catherine University School of Business
Is your eco-friendly weighted blanket certified?
Having confidence that your weighted blanket is as eco-friendly as possible might require some homework on your part, and attention to the product labeling. Experts in textile sustainability say to look for labels that certify a product’s environmental quality. They mention two in particular that stand out because both require independent testing and onsite inspection — steps the industry itself voluntarily pays for — to verify that manufacturing and processing meets higher standards for environmental health.
Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) certified textiles
The Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) requires a textile product contain at least 70 percent organic fibers — “organic” as defined by law. GOTS also limits or bans the use of several chemicals in fiber processing, and requires wastewater treatment for certain water-intensive forms of cotton-making. It is a “very highly respected” standard inside and outside the industry, says Leonas.
Oeko-TEX certified textiles
Oeko-TEX is an interlocking set of standards that requires testing for the presence of harmful chemicals at various points in the manufacturing process, from yarn-making to textile weaving to product finishing. It also involves monitoring working and environmental conditions at textile plants. Leonas notes that Oeko-TEX certification does not necessarily cover every step in a textile-making process or every component in a finished product. But, where it does apply, it certifies that “raw materials are chemically safe and that any processes are chemically safe,” she says. An Oeko-TEX label can also be checked online for authenticity.
“If you don’t have the certifications and you’re claiming that ‘my product is eco-friendly,’ that’s just hearsay,” says Pasricha of St. Catherine University. “There’s a lot of greenwashing going on out there,” she says, using the term for eco-friendly product marketing that has little or no basis in reality. “That’s where those certifications are really relevant and important.” Pasricha says customers can also request that a company back up its certification claims with documentation.
The best eco-friendly weighted blankets
Ready to shop for a eco-friendly weighted blanket? Here are some leading options to give you an idea of some of the best eco-friendly weighted blankets out there.
“Chunky” is the word often used to describe the Bearaby Napper — a hand-knitted throw with a distinctive piled look. The Napper weighted blanket comes in two types: one made with cotton and a another made with Tencel and organic cotton (called the Tree Napper, which is GOTS-certified). Bearaby says that the original Napper is made with organic cotton although, as of now, it doesn't carry GOTS certification on the product page.
This cotton and hemp hybrid weighted blanket is GOTS-certified. Organic cotton’s environmental benefits aren’t limited to farming and production, to boot. “Organic cotton next to skin — it doesn’t have any of those pollutants, insecticides and pesticides,” says Pasricha. For weighting, the TruHugs weighted blanket uses gently heat-conducting glass beads sewn into quilted pockets and surrounded by a soybean-based filler that helps keep the blanket’s weight evenly distributed as you shift underneath the covers.
Baloo’s machine-washable and dryer-safe weighted blanket is made with Oeko-TEX certified (but non-organic) cotton. When you’re adjusting your blanket, Baloo says it shifts more quietly than blankets using plastic filler thanks to the lead-free glass micro beads tucked into its quilted pockets.
This one-piece blanket does not need a duvet cover and is made with a combination of bamboo and lyocell. Like rayon, lyocell is made from wood pulp. Unlike rayon, it reuses the water and solvents needed for its production. As noted above, bamboo has environmental pluses and problems, but as a fabric it is gaining admirers for its feel and versatility.
The Buzio blanket for adults is made with Oeko-TEX certified materials including (non-organic) cotton. It also contains non-toxic, hypoallergenic glass beads for weighting. Glass beads are sewn into pockets and surrounded by polyester. Twelve ties along the edges help the blanket hold its shape inside the duvet cover (which is sold separately).
The Saatva Organic Weighted Blanket features a diamond-quilting design and a soft, organic cotton velvet material. The organic cotton velvet is GOTS-certified, as well as Fair Trade Certified. Saatva's weighted blanket does include beads that are made of glass — and you have two color options.
Holden & Hay uses a wool-synthetic blend for its blanket fabric, and recycled shredded denim for weighting instead of glass or plastic — a step that upcycles old jeans material instead of sending it off to landfills. “You pulled it out of the waste stream and you’ve reused it so you’re not depleting natural resources to get it out there,” says Leonas.
Preeti calls wool a “high-performance fiber” that could have a bigger role in sustainable textile making, although it is more expensive to produce. The Holden & Hay is near the upper end of the weighted blanket price scale — the duvet cover is included.
This bamboo-derived weighted blanket is made with all-natural bamboo material and may help relieve tension and anxiety. The small inner compartments throughout the blanket allow for even distribution across the body and the cooling fabric is ideal for those who sleep hot.
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