Home Publisher's Point of View If I Die Young, Bury Me in Cotton—Organic, Please

If I Die Young, Bury Me in Cotton—Organic, Please

Glenn Hasek

Will organic cotton linens—sheets, pillow cases, duvet covers—ever become common in our industry? Now, they are a rare find even in upscale hotels and resorts. They are not used in Pure Rooms. Nor are they used in Stay Well rooms. Yet, according to experts, organic cotton linens provide an environmental and wellness advantage over standard cotton linens.

According to Anna Sova, a provider of luxury organic cotton linen, conventional cotton makes up only 3 percent of the world’s crops but uses 25 percent of the world’s pesticides annually. Every pound of cotton grown has been treated with one-third pound of pesticides. Pesticide residues often can remain in the fabric through the processing and finishing stages of the garment.

It is not just pesticides that should cause all of us nightmares. The chemical used to make linen wrinkle free, wrinkle resistant or stain resistant is formaldehyde. Yes, that same chemical used to prevent decomposition once we kick the bucket.

Potential Health Problems from Formaldehyde

Formaldehyde can produce a long list of health problems. These include watery eyes, burning sensations in the eyes, nose, and throat, and coughing, wheezing, nausea and skin irritation.

“You are laying on linen for six to eight hours,” says Dan Bornholdt, owner of Green Suites Hotel Solutions, another provider of organic cotton linen. “Your face is in your pillow case. The chemicals in the fabrics are pretty heinous.”

In 2011, the National Toxicology Program, part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, classified formaldehyde as a known human carcinogen—certainly a good reason to ask your supplier whether formaldehyde was used in the finishing of the linen you purchase.

The elephant in the room when it comes to organic cotton linens is cost. There is at least a 25 percent premium as compared to standard cotton linens. Organic cotton linen is certainly a better match today for hotels offering a more luxury experience. Hopefully that will change soon. For any hotel using organic cotton linens there is an opportunity to better tell a green story and better appeal to green-conscious and chemical-sensitive travelers. Organic cotton linens can certainly complement other wellness-related items in a guestroom to form a room type that you can upsell.


Two certification organizations to look for when purchasing organic cotton linen are OEKO-TEX and the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS). As part of STANDARD 100 by OEKO-TEX, for example, important legal regulations, such as banned Azo colorants, formaldehyde, pentachlorophenol, cadmium, nickel, and other chemicals and substances are considered. A textile product carrying the GOTS label grade “organic” must contain a minimum of 95 percent certified organic fibers whereas a product with the label grade “made with organic” must contain a minimum of 70 percent certified organic fibers. GOTS also considers inputs such as formaldehyde as well as packaging material.

My article posted this past week on organic cotton linens includes four suppliers. Be sure to check them out.

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