There are few things that are better than getting comfortable under a nice warm blanket. Weighted blankets are blankets typically between 5 and 30 pounds. They are commonly used as therapeutic tools, and have surged in popularity due to claims that the pressure from the blanket helps users relieve stress or anxiety and improve sleep. Market sales of weighted blankets are expected to climb to $1.17 billion by 2026. That’s a lot of material and resources being used to meet demand. Let’s unravel (pun intended) some of the most important things to keep in mind if you’re looking to curl up under one of these.
WHAT TO BE WISE ON:
When it comes to weighted blankets, needs range from warmth and comfort to alleviating insomnia or severe sensory disorders, which means material type and desired heaviness is subjective. When choosing between types of weighted blankets, consider if you need the blanket to be filled with weighted material, like beads, or if a heavy knitted material will do the trick. Blanket “filler” is likely the variable that will have the greatest influence on environmental impact and differentiate the impact from one type of weighted blanket to the next.
THE FACTORS TO CONSIDER:
Material Type - Blanket
Cotton is the most widely produced natural fiber on the planet. Since conventional cotton needs a lot of water to quench its thirst, it’s important to choose organic. Organic cotton is grown with way less water and without the use of harmful chemicals, reducing any contaminants in the soil, water, and air that farmers are breathing in. A life cycle assessment (LCA) done by the Textile Exchange showed that, compared to conventional, one metric ton of organic cotton production saves over 1,900 liters of water, more than 2,500 kWh of energy, and reduces 830 kg of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. Those CO2 savings is the equivalent of the CO2 emissions from consuming 93 gallons of gasoline or from burning over 900 pounds of coal.
When it comes to 100% cotton weighted blankets, no ‘stuff’ is needed on the inside. The densities of the yarn and weave pattern give 100% cotton blankets their weight. Another benefit? Open-knit styles can make a more breathable, less sweaty blanket, which may result in fewer washes.
Did you know most flannel made and used today is just cotton that’s been sort of, fluffed? Its softness comes from a process where the fabric is brushed on one or both sides which raises the fibers. Flannel can be traced back to Wales where textile workers used leftover sheep’s wool to create warm flannel. Once flannel made its way to the U.S. (thanks, globalization), production ramped up to keep soldiers warm under their World War l uniforms, and again in the early 1990s when it was incorporated into grunge fashion, it was made largely with cotton.
Wool flannel is a different animal. Get it? Although a sheep haircut is part of their natural care, using the excess trimmings isn’t the simple win-win it appears. Wool has been linked to complex animal welfare issues and is often treated with a synthetic plastic coating to hold up better in the washing machine. This treated yarn, known as superwash wool, may extend the life of the fabric, but it unravels the benefits of using natural fibers in the first place. More on that later.
Fleece is typically made from plastic polyester - aka man-made petroleum-based fiber tied to the fossil fuel industry. So, we don’t love that. Recycled plastic, like PET that comes from plastic bottles, can be used to create polyester, and helps reduce the impact that comes with sourcing virgin plastic, so take a look at the label or tags to see if this is an option. Still, polyester will always take much longer to break down and has other implications when washed. Patagonia conducted a study on fibers like fleece that result in the shedding of microplastics when laundered. The takeaway? If you can avoid purchasing fleece altogether, opt for natural fibers. If you own fleece, adopt a few maintenance behaviors that will help reduce the release of microplastics. We’ll highlight some of those tips below.
Material Type - Filler
Polypropylene (PP) pellets are the most common insert in weighted blankets. These are small round plastic pellets (think Beanie Baby guts, though slightly different plastic) that contour to the body making the blanket filling comfy and soothing to the nervous system. Sourcing and producing PP is where the majority of the impact occurs. In fact, one study looking at the entire life cycle of PP from cradle-to-grave shows that 91% of the environmental impact happens in the production phase, compared to 3% in the use-phase and 6% in the end-of-life phase, and has a global warming potential (over 100 years) of 60 - meaning that one ton of emissions from PP is equivalent to emitting 60 tons of carbon dioxide. Clearly, the impact of PP happens before it ever reaches consumers. So, what can we do about it? Read product descriptions to see if the plastic pellets are made with post-consumer recycled (PCR) resin, and use your purchasing power to opt for this alternative. Because producers don’t have to source virgin polypropylene plastic, using PCR resin enables the manufacturer to make the same quality product with a smaller environmental impact.
Some blankets have small microbeads made of glass. The glass versus plastic debate is a juicy one, with many studies showing that plastic is less environmentally harmful than glass. It may seem odd since glass is made from naturally derived material, but due to its weight and the natural gas used to heat the furnaces that melt the material, glass is super energy intensive to produce. On the other hand, the weight of glass bead filling means less blanket filling is needed to have the same weighted effect. While PP plastic can be recycled, it’s usually ‘down-cycled’ to a lower quality plastic while glass is infinitely recyclable. The most important thing to remember is that when comparing such different materials, there are trade-offs and situational conditions that are hugely influenced by each user’s treatment of the material, which affects the lifespan of a product. We know, nuances are headaches, but they’re the key to understanding what the best option is for you and your needs.
Steel beads paint a similar picture to glass – less filler is required to achieve a weighted feel and is infinitely recyclable without any change in quality. Recent projections also show a pretty big reduction in the energy required to produce steel, which we’ll take as a win!
When we’re in a bind or overwhelmed by greenwashy-messaging, certifications can help us make choices that keep the environment and social good in mind. Here are some certifications to look out for on weighted blankets.
GOTS is a certification for textiles made of organic materials. To get this certification, a product must contain at least 70% organic materials and meet all of the ecological and social well-being criteria outlined by the certifying agency. This includes, but is not limited to, workplace safety, wage gap assessments, wastewater treatment, and limitations on conventional fiber products.
Remember what we said about superwash wool? Well, GOTS has a certified process that doesn’t involve using a resin coating. We found a list of traditional superwash alternatives that use this process, so if you can get your hands on some and it’s within your price point, that’s a great place to start!
This certification offers six different certifications that determine thresholds for human and planetary health in different industries. These standards – while they focus on different materials – all involve the avoidance of harmful substances and the identification of responsible production facilities.
Fair Trade Certified™is the global brand of the nonprofit organization, Fair Trade USA, which works on the ground with suppliers to ensure that people making certified products work in safe conditions, protect the environment, and earn additional money to empower their communities. The Fair Trade Cotton Standard specifically ensures these principles are applied to cotton production.
Maintenance and Disposal
The best way to reduce the impact caused by creating products like blankets, is to make them last as long as possible. If making a new purchase, opt for natural fibers. If you currently have or need to purchase non-natural fibers, follow these tips to extend the life cycle.
- Try to avoid washing fleece unless really necessary. Try spot-treating first before throwing it in the washer!
- If washing is necessary, avoid hot water and add a microfiber filter or filter bag to the load to reduce shedding microplastics.
- Air dry when done washing, especially for blankets with steel bead filler.
- Flannel can be dried if needed, but don’t let it sit around - the fibers can dry out easily which reduces the integrity and useful life of the blanket.
- Use a front-load washer. The Patagonia study shows that synthetic jackets laundered in top-load washing machines shed approximately seven times as many microfibers as the same jacket in front-load washers.
- Donation before disposal!
A FEW TAKEAWAYS
Unless your needs require a heavy filling, consider a no-fill weighted blanket. If filler is a requirement, remember that PP plastic beads are less intensive to produce than other materials, but are downcycled in quality while glass and steel are infinitely recyclable. When it comes to the blanket material itself, go for a natural fiber like cotton or wool, and if maintaining wool flannel feels unmanageable, stick with 100% organic cotton flannel.
COMMON QUESTIONS WE GET
What is the most sustainable weighted blanket?
All variables considered, we like the no-filler, natural fiber cotton blankets that have certifications like OEKO-TEX. Check out our Top Products page to browse what we consider to be the best options.
Does a weighted blanket have to be filled?
Nope! Unless your specific needs are best met with filler, choosing a woven cotton blanket usually does the trick. Opt for the blanket that will serve you over the long-run and apply our maintenance tips to make sure all of the resources that went into its creation get the longest use possible!
How much should my blanket weigh?
The general rule of thumb is that the blanket should be about 10% of your body weight. Someone weighing 200 lbs should look for a 20 lb. blanket. Try to stick to these boundaries and remember, less material means less resource use.