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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.

Dorm Rugs

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.