How to Recycle Pillows

by heather

green-bed-pillows-lI watched the “Story of Stuff” the other night. If you haven’t watched this 20-minute documentary about where our Stuff truly comes from, then give it a look. It’s an informative, sobering look at the true costs of all the stuff we buy and use on a regular basis.

So, what does this have to do with recycling pillows? Well, I’m getting there…

In the Story of Stuff, Annie Leonard talks about how our pillows (and our mattresses and couches and carpeting and curtains…) are treated with flame retardant chemicals, called PBDEs. These chemicals are highly toxic, and yet we’re laying right on them 8 hours a night. Every night.

The problem is that these chemicals leach out of the products they’re put in. And, they’re leaching into us. These chemicals have been linked to infertility, slow brain development, and cancer. Especially in babies and children.

Ironically enough, the very next day Michigan Radio (part of NPR) did a story on these PBDEs. They said that although these chemicals are highly toxic, they’re still allowed because the government doesn’t require companies to list all the chemicals they put in their products.

Of the 100,000 chemicals that are used in this country for manufacturing, only 4% have ever been tested for safety in human interactions.

And, none of them have been tested in the real world, when they’re in a product and reacting with other chemicals in other products.

Yeah, scary.

So, all of this is still leading up to recycling pillows. Promise.

Now, I consider myself pretty eco-savvy. But I had NO IDEA PBDEs existed, and I sure didn’t know how bad they were. I was shocked to learn that I was completely surrounded by these chemicals.

I know I can’t replace everything in my home. After all, PBDEs are in everything: carpeting, curtains, TVs, cell phones, couches, computers…other than moving to a cave with hay on the floor, I’m probably not going to get away from them.

After feeling sad and miffed about it, I had a EUREKA! moment. I can’t completely eliminate them. But I can work towards getting rid of them where I spend the most time. That is, my bedroom (night sleeping), and my office (day working).

My Tiny Steps To Reducing PBDEs

The first thing I decided I could do is get eco-friendly pillows. And when I say eco-friendly, I mean pillows that are made from buckwheat and kapok, and made here in the U.S.

I found a few options I’m considering.

1. Buckwheat Pillows on Etsy





Courtesy enhabiten on Etsy

Courtesy enhabiten on Etsy


I found a lovely little shop called Enhabiten, on Etsy, that sells handmade buckwheat pillows.

The fabric is hemp that she’s stained with tea, and the filling is balsam and buckwheat hulls.

No chemicals!

She’s selling these awesome little pillows for $28. So far, buying from her is my favorite option.

2. White Lotus Organic Pillows

It’s important to really pay attention when you’re shopping for organic pillows.

For instance, I found out that GIAM makes organic pillows. But, they’re made in China. I’m not 100% confident that their pillows are chemical free, which is why I’m not buying from them.

I did find some awesome kapok and buckwheat pillows over at White Lotus. White Lotus makes all their organic pillows here in the U.S., and they offer free shipping.

How To Recycle Pillows

So now that I’m replacing my pillows (which is Step 1 in my plan to reduce PBDEs in my home), what do I do with the old pillows?

I really don’t want to just chuck them in the trash. But, I can’t donate them (Salvation Army won’t accept used pillows). So, where should they go?

Here is an idea:

1. Your Local Animal Shelter- Many animal shelters need used pillows all the time. They make great dog beds! This is what I’ll be doing with my old pillows.

There were plenty of other ideas (like turning them into smaller pillows, using the stuffing for chair cushions, etc.), but my goal is to get it out of the house because of the PBDEs. Which is why I thought the animal shelter was the best idea.

I did find this creative tutorial at the Undomesticated Wife on how to turn old pillows into cozy dog beds. No sewing involved! I could do this and create some “outdoor beds” for the backyard.

My Next Step To Get Rid of PBDEs

Like I said, replacing everything in my home just isn’t an option. That would be wasteful, and expensive. But I am considering going with a buckwheat or kapok mattress, and donating my current one (which is almost 10 years old anyway). We’ve been thinking about doing this for a while, because our current mattress is so heavy that with just the two of us, it’s almost impossible to move without bursting a vein.

I’ve only just started looking at organic/eco-friendly mattresses, however, and the ones I’ve found are really expensive.

If any of you know of a good company that makes organic mattresses I’d love to hear about them! And if you’re sleeping on a kapok or buckwheat mattress, I’d love to hear about your experience. I’d really like to go with something smaller and more lightweight than what we’ve got right now.


heidi March 11, 2010 at 11:23 pm

Great post topic! Btw, no worries about getting carried away with the idea of dirt housing options – – it’d be a really fun project! Seriously though, pillow (and fur coat) recycling to shelters or wildlife rehab places = definitely beneficial all around!

JN Urbanski March 12, 2010 at 7:53 am

Great post. Thanks! But so depressing… So many chemicals, so little time!

Todd March 12, 2010 at 3:40 pm

I’m surprised that as paranoid as you are about those “horrible” chemicals seeping into your brain, that you’d suggest it’s a good idea to give those to animal shelters. If those pillows are SOOOO poisonous, why would you let cats and dogs use them? (Please note, I’m not an animal lover, but I think this article contradicts itself.)

Michelle March 13, 2010 at 9:25 am

Great post. The Story of Stuff is a great video I found a couple years ago and will hopefully make people think about simple living. Please don’t assume that everything from China is not safe. An associate had parents not wanting to use essential oils from China because they would contain BPA. It’s about educating.

heather March 13, 2010 at 10:32 am

Hi Todd,

That’s a valid point. But to me it comes down to this: give them the pillows I WAS using, or let them sleep on a cold concrete floor. To me, giving them pillows to get a cozy night’s sleep is the best choice than just chucking them in the trash.

Nancy March 13, 2010 at 11:47 am

I think the Story of Stuff should be watched by everyone and replayed every year to remind all that we need to get away from our disposable lifestyles.

Recently I just saw an animal shelter asking for old blankets and comforters that weren’t nice enough to pass on to others. I had never realized that they would use the old bedding for the animals or thought about adding pillows to the donation.

Alison March 13, 2010 at 10:16 pm

Great post. I too just watch the Story of Stuff and began googling on better pillows. Up turned your site and I just ordered my new pillows from white lotus! I am glad I now know options on what to do with my old pillows.

Kim from Milwaukee March 16, 2010 at 11:23 am

Isn’t the chemical used only in the fabric part of the pillow? What if you were to sew a new ‘case’ for the feathers out of organic cotton fabric and restuff it?

I’d also try to wash it to remove the chemicals, and if it’s already been washed, why not keep it until it’s time to be replaced? Sunlight sanitizes mattresses, maybe hanging your pillow on a clothesline after washing would eventually leach out any remaining chemicals. I would do this before making a pet bed out of it, even for a shelter animal….passing along a chemical-laden bed just wouldn’t justify it for me. I’d be laying in bed every night picturing the kitty I just provided a bed for getting cancer….make it stop!

heather March 17, 2010 at 12:44 pm


That’s a really excellent question, and some even more excellent suggestions! Thanks so so much for sending those in!

First, I don’t know what part of the pillows are actually hosed down with those chemicals; my research didn’t say one way or another (they just said “pillows” in general). I don’t have feather pillows, so I’d just assumed it was the “batting” in the pillow itself.

Putting it outside to let the sunlight do it’s work is a fantastic idea! Thanks again for sending those ideas in.

pharmacy tech March 31, 2010 at 10:20 pm

Great site. A lot of useful information here. I’m sending it to some friends!

Dhwani January 6, 2011 at 10:40 am

I run a small Eco friendly vacation rental in San Francisco. We needed new mattresses and I was really wanting to escape all those chemicals for our guests as well as the planet. I found Keetsa online and fell in love almost immediately. I called to check availability and store hours (this was over new years so I wasn’t sure they would be open). Andy was the representative I spoke to and he was incredibly helpful. I visited the store the next day to feel the mattresses for myself and the deal was done. SO comfortable! I want to support greener living and this company makes it so easy. The atmosphere in the showroom is very relaxed. Andy was available and very informative and he even pre-emptively answered a few questions that would have arisen later.
We had them delivered yesterday and the delivery man, Jeremy, was very nice and had taken it upon himself to get us the mattress cover that can easily be unzipped to be washed. The cover encases the entire mattress and since we have so many guests we need to wash them often. It was very thoughtful and was one more example of how this company treats it’s customers.
They also sell pillows 🙂

Cindy October 22, 2012 at 8:25 am

I called the SPCA to donate my many pillows and was told they don’t take them anymore. The dogs would tear them up and puppies were choking on the stuffing. Still looking for an easy way to recycle these pillows.

Katie July 20, 2013 at 10:24 am

Thanks for the idea of recycling pillows by giving them tomthe animal shelter! I have 2 big bags of them in my garage that i havent been wanting to out in the landfill!

Melinda September 11, 2017 at 9:16 am

How does one wash a buckwheat pillow?

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