How to properly furnish a college room with dorm furniture that is green and nontoxic to help keep immunity strong and illness at bay all year long!
Those of you who have sent a child off to college know that the dorm furniture situation can be a bit unnerving. This is particularly true for parents who are well versed in the safer, greener alternatives.
When we dropped our oldest off at college for the first time, we worked very hard to furnish his dorm room with the least toxic items possible. While not perfect by any means, I would say the plan was a success. He made it through his first year with barely a sniffle even when the flu was raging during the colder months. If you remember, the winter of 2017-2018 was a very bad flu season too.
Fingers crossed that these next few years bring more of the same!
Of course, wise dorm furniture decisions are ideally combined with making informed choices in the dining hall. Having a few key nutrient-dense foods back in the dorm room such as shelf-stable bone broth packed in glass jars really helps too.
Diet and environment very much play off of each other. When the diet is bad, the effects of an unhealthy living environment are magnified. Conversely, a healthier living environment will allow more wiggle room when the diet isn’t as good as at home.
Dorm Furniture: The Most Important Piece of All
By far, the most important piece of dorm furniture is the mattress your child will sleep on every single night.
Not only does the mattress need to properly support for a good night’s rest, but the reality of off-gassing from odorless, dangerous fire-retardant chemicals needs to be minimized. (1, 2)
This is where things get dicey.
The college dorms I’ve come across typically provide mattresses for the students. In other words, you can’t just waltz in there with your own nontoxic or organic mattress and build a bed just like at home. Perhaps some colleges allow this if you have a doctor’s note. Generally speaking, though, the mattress that your child must sleep on is the standard, twin long option that is already in the room. These mattresses are conventionally made and treated with fire retardant chemicals for safety purposes.
What’s more, many colleges require first-year and sometimes second and third-year students to live in on-campus housing. Hence, this exposure could be multi-year challenge.
Dorm Mattress Solution!
In our case, we solved the problem by buying an organic mattress topper (this is the one we bought). Beware of toppers that only add softness and not support. Conventional toppers also are typically treated with chemicals just like mattresses.
The chemical-free topper we chose is 3.5 inches thick so that the person sleeping is at least some distance removed from the dorm mattress. It also provides excellent support to encourage deeper sleep. A picture of the topper on my son’s freshman dorm mattress is above.
We combined the mattress topper with a nontoxic pillow, bamboo sheets, a cotton comforter, and a 100% wool blanket for colder nights.
Once the sleeping set-up is handled, the rest of the furniture decisions are relatively easy…
Dorm Chairs, Couches, and Tables
The dorm chairs and tables provided are typically made of wood. And, they’ve been there for a long time, so any off-gassing of formaldehyde from the particle board already occurred.
Couches are usually brought in by the students, so you can make nontoxic choices yourself. This article on selecting nontoxic or organic furniture on a budget provides some helpful tips.
A rug in a small dorm room is a very important furnishing. The cold tile floor just won’t cut it during the winter especially for colleges in northern locales. These floors are very slippery too for those coming into the room with damp feet from a bathroom located down the hall.
Be warned that manufacturers typically treat area rugs with chemicals known to depress immune function. (3, 4)
Your best bet is to try to source untreated wool carpet remnants. Be sure your college student knows how to clean wool carpet first though!
If all else fails, at least get a conventional piece of carpet or area rug that has been sitting out in a showroom or warehouse for a long time, giving it ample time to off-gas. Another option is to bring a good quality HEPA air filter.
College Furniture: The Reality
If I can share anything as the parent of a college student it is this: Don’t expect perfection.
This is a college dormitory, after all. The experience fundamentally involves people from a wide variety of backgrounds and cultural influences coming together under one roof. Duplicating the living environment you have created for your family at home just isn’t going to happen.
This is a good thing in so many ways! The great news is that perfection isn’t necessary for your child to thrive.
Making a few key dorm furnishing decisions upfront such as covering the standard dorm mattress with a nontoxic topper that adds safety and support will create a living environment that is safe enough to encourage a healthy and successful college experience.
what do you recommend for a water pitcher (purifier) to take to college?
Kim M Gates
I can’t seem to link to the mattress topper either and when I look on their website I can’t find the topper. Can you please send link again?
Sarah Pope MGA
Intellibed just went live with a new website and the mattress topper page is not there … I would call Intellibed (801.658.9619) and ask one of the Sleep Specialists if it is still available (be sure to use TheHealthyHomeEconomist coupon code to get your discount if they do).
The bone broth is a great idea, however how did your child warm it if they were not using a microwave? My child only has a fridge in his dorm. Hot pots are usually aluminum.
Thanks for all your research efforts 🙂
He has an electric tea kettle that quickly warms the broth in about a minute. It has an automatic shut-off for safety purposes. But, to be honest, most of the time, he just drinks it room temperature right out of a freshly opened jar (they are shelf stable and he stores them under his bed in a storage box on wheels).
Sarah, thank you so much for this article! We had our first child go off to college as well. Talk about panic (on so many levels)!! Being new to trying healthier alternatives, this was good to hear. I consider a valuable and trusted source!!
Please read chapter 1 of “An Electronic Silent Spring” by Katie Singer and see how college students and others can die if they are not protected against radiation producing electronic devices such as a cell phone tower. Also check out sites by Magda Havas, Dr. Martin Blank, Devra Davis and other EMF researchers. Electromagnetic fields are the culprit in a lot of serious diseases (including heart disease and cancer) that are affecting many people now. Non-ionizing radiation from cell towers can destroy the voltage gated calcium channels in a human, and lead to the destruction of melatonin which produces sleeplessness. It also releases histamine to cause rashes and anxiety. Cell tower radiation can also directly fire neurons in the brain producing a noise that can lead the victim to suicide. My wife is seriously affected by a cell phone tower constructed near our home, but none of the utilities will do any thing about it. Please take care of your son and protect him against EMF radiation as much as possible.
Cell phone towers are a big problem for sure. Some people are far more sensitive to EMFs than others. I checked the location of cell phone towers on his college campus before he enrolled … there are two nearby but nothing that close (anything closer than about 1500 feet is a definite problem and increases cancer risk dramatically according to German and Israeli research). Definitely something a parent should check beforehand. Thanks for sharing!
Hello Sarah, We, too have one in a college dorm. I cannot access any of the links for the mattress topper. What is the brand name, company name, or website please?
Sorry it doesn’t seem to be working for you. I just tested the links and they seem to be fine on my end. The company that makes the nontoxic toppers is Intellibed. Here’s the link again. https://www.intellibed.com/the-healthy-home-economist/?special=HealthyHome
Be sure to use coupon code HealthyHome to get 10% off.
This comment has nothing to do with dorms, I just don’t know how else to get a hold of you. Would you please do a post on silver diamine fluoride? My 5 year old son just got two cavities filled with this substance. The dentist convinced me it would be better than drilling. Ever since he got these, my sweet little preschooler has been mean, aggressive, and disobedient. I don’t know what to do. I would really appreciate any insight, especially how to treat him at this point.
Thanks for all your great information. Not a week goes by that I don’t refer people to your blog.
Hi Sandy, silver diamine fluoride is a very new treatment so not much research is out there on its effects at the present time, but anything that uses fluoride should be viewed suspiciously IMO due to its known effects on children’s neurological health. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22820538
You may wish to consider reaching out to a respected functional physician in your area to discuss and consider options for resolving the potential side effects of this treatment that you are observing.