You buy organic foods, you avoid exposure to cigarette smoke and you may even use natural household cleaners, but are you sleeping on a non-toxic mattress? Many people don’t even think about their bedding when it comes to their health, but chemicals in mattresses can be a significant source of toxic exposure.
We spend as much as one-third of our life sleeping, and those chemicals have been associated with a host of health issues, including fertility problems, hormone imbalance, and allergies. As renowned physician and alternative medicine proponent Dr. Mercola explained, your mattress could be making you sick.
Why? Many are filled with toxic chemicals, but in most cases, there’s really no way to know what’s in your mattress because mattress manufacturers aren’t required to tell you. They don’t have to label or disclose in any way which chemicals their mattresses contain, and because the are required by U.S. law to be highly flame retardant (meaning even if they’re exposed to a blowtorch they won’t ignite), most contain flame-retardant chemicals.
If your mattress was produced before 2004, it might contain polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), which according to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), exposure could lead to a host of adverse health effects. Just some of those effects include decreased sperm count, thyroid hormone disruption, hearing deficits, behavioral changes, fetal malformations and cancer. Exposure during infancy and childhood, they report, leads to “more significant harm” and much lower levels as compared to adults.
Other flame retardant chemicals
Even if your mattress was made after PBDEs were banned in 2004, the chemicals used to replace them are often just as bad. They’ve been associated with serious health risks such as birth defects, behavioral problems, hormone disruptions, reduced IQ scored, neurodevelopmental delays and some types of cancer, similar to the scary adverse effects that come with PBDEs.
Flame retardant chemicals have been identified as one of 17 “high priority” chemical groups that should be avoided to lower the risk of breast cancer. As Mother Jones reports, “Since the mid – to late ’60s, most mattresses have been made of polyurethane foam.”
Polyurethane foam is a petroleum-based material that emits volatile organic compounds that can lead to respiratory problems and skin irritation. Formaldehyde, used to make one of the adhesives that hold mattresses together, can cause asthma, allergies, and lung, nose, and throat cancers. Many mattresses also contain cotton pesticides and flame-retardant chemicals, which can cause cancer and nervous-system disorders.
All of these chemicals are also known to “leak” out over time. They also begin to migrate through the house, and collect in dust, which is why, according to Dr. Mercola, “an estimated 90 percent of Americans have some level of flame-retardant chemicals in their bodies, and the chemicals are also known to accumulate in breast milk.”
Flame retardant doesn’t necessarily mean fire-proof or less fatal
Ironically, if a mattress that’s been doused with flame retardants catches fire, which it can, it gives off higher levels of carbon monoxide, soot, and smoke than it would if it hadn’t been treated – and those things are actually more likely to kill someone in a fire than getting burned. That means that a mattress with flame-retardant chemicals can make a fire even more deadly.
Mercola adds that while fire-related deaths have dropped in recent decades, that’s not related to the use of flame-retardant chemicals, but because of newer construction codes, sprinkler systems, fire alarms, and self-extinguishing cigarettes.
So, not only do they defeat their own purpose, they can contribute to serious health problems, and due damage to the environment as well.
But the manufacturer says its safe
Think you’re safe because the manufacturer of your mattress claims their products to be? Unfortunately, that’s often not the case.
Mother Jones also notes: “Major manufacturers such as Simmons, Sealy, and Tempur-Pedic won’t divulge their flame-retardant formulas, which are considered trade secrets …A best guess at what’s in today’s mattresses comes from Ryan Trainer, … [president] of the International Sleep Products Association, an industry group.
He says, “Most companies use ‘various types of barrier fabrics’ such as cotton treated with boric acid or rayon treated with silica — both relatively benign chemicals — as well as fire-resistant materials such as modacrylic fiber (which contains antimony oxide, a carcinogen) and melamine resin (which contains formaldehyde).”
How to know what to look for in a non-toxic mattress
Unfortunately, all mattresses are required by law to contain fire-retardant materials, but there is an exception. If you’re sensitive to chemicals, you can ask a licensed healthcare provider to write a prescription for a chemical-free mattress, which you can then order without flame retardants from certain retailers.
There are other options too.
“Some organic mattresses pass fire standards by using wool since wool is a fiber with natural fire retardant properties. There are companies that use only pure wool for this purpose. But be aware that some companies use wool with chemical treatments added to boost the wool’s fire resistance,” notes Healthy Child.
When looking for a non-toxic mattress, be aware that not all are created equal, and some may have have the same issues as a conventional mattress. Most organic mattresses are made in one of the following ways:
- Organic, chemical free wool- Wool is naturally flame retardant and also resistant to mold and bacteria. It is often used as a cloth diaper cover because of its ability to repel water.
- Organic, chemical free cotton
- Organic, chemical free latex
To throw a wrench into this somewhat confusing mess, you should also know that some terms, like “natural,” mean virtually nothing, while other labels like “organic,” may be misleading as it could mean that only some of the mattress materials are organic.
When looking for the best, truly non-toxic mattress, it should contain a number of certifications, as the purest often combines multiple safety standards to ensure both your safety and comfort
A mattress needn’t have only one of the certifications above. The best and purest mattresses on the market may combine multiple safety standards, giving you the ultimate in safety and comfort. For example, it may be labeled “Greenguard,” which means that the finished mattress must be tested for specific emission limits of formaldehyde and other VOCs, or “Greenguard Gold,” which is the same as Greenguard, only with even tighter emission limits. Organic Content Standard refers to the percentage of certified-organic materials in the mattress and ensures proper tracking of organic cotton from its source to the finished product. If it’s labeled only “organic,” only parts of it have to be organic, other parts may contain harmful chemicals.
Top 3 Non-Toxic Mattress Brands
Having to consider all of that can make buying a non-toxic mattress rather overwhelming, so we’ve put together some of the top brands to help make that process a bit easier.
Naturopedic is a brand that makes organic luxury mattresses that have been certified by Organic Tilth Certified Organic (OTCO) and Control Union (CU). Most include a blend of metal coils along with a top in either cotton or latex. All of its products, including its organic mattresses are made with certified organic materials that are non-toxic, yet fire-resistant, created for safety, health and comfort.
Rather than chemicals, Naturopedic uses materials like organic cotton, potato starch plant-based non-GMO PLA batting, organic cotton batting and steel innersprings rather than memory foam. These materials, instead of bursting into flames with a very high heat release, tend to smolder, which means Naturopedic products meet all Federal and State flammability standards without the need for any fire retardant chemicals.
Plushbeds offers one of the most extensive selections of organic mattresses available today. Each one is GreenGuard certified, made in the U.S. and protected with an eco-fire barrier that uses a stretch knit fabric. The company also offers a range of natural pillows and bedding toppers, along with a 100-day trial period. If you decide to keep it, you’ll get a 25-year warranty.
The queen-size option of the brand’s 8″ Medium Firm Eco Bliss Hybrid Latex Mattress sells from this page on Amazon currently, while its Botanical Bliss is available here. It features quilted organic cotton along with 100% natural ARPICO latex and 100% natural Joma wool, which serves as a fire barrier as well as a temperature regulator.
Tuft & Needle
Tuft & Needle is one of the highest rated non-toxic mattress brands on the market, and it was founded just a few years ago, in 2013 by Silicon Valley engineers who say they were fed up with the general lack of consumer focus, high prices and confusion of the mattress industry. The company’s mattresses are all made in the U.S. and are more affordable than most as they’re made from synthetic foam. Before you gasp, it also has the CertiPur label, which means it is certified to contain no harmful chemicals, heavy metals, PBDEs, phthalates, formaldehyde or carcinogens.
It also guarantees that it has low VOCs, to ensure indoor air quality.
Tuft & Needle’s mattresses are made of only two layers of foam, which means just one layer of glue is needed to hold them together, and that glue is made of rubber and water). The glue is also independently GreenGuard certified for low VOCs. The mattress cover is a high-performance tactel fabric which is a soft, breathable blend of rayon and polyester. It is tested and certified by OEKO-TEX to be free from chemical residues, phthalates, and heavy metals.
The mattresses also includes a chemical-free, TB-117 compliant fire barrier. This is a fabric blend that fits closely to the mattress like a sock, underneath the cover, and is made up of a blend of mostly rayon, with small amounts of polyester and fine-grained silica. The silica is inserted into the fiber and does not make contact with the skin. The “fire sock” serves as the ideal substitute for those dangerous chemical fire-retardants.
The queen-size Tuft & Needle mattress is without a doubt the most affordable of our selections from this page on Amazon, a relative bargain for enjoying many nights of non-toxic sleep. With nearly 6,300 reviews, it’s the highest rated non-toxic mattress on the site, earning a 90%+ (at time of writing) 5 star rating, and Amazon offers a 30-day trial so you can test it out before committing 100%. If you decide you love it as so many others have, you’ll get a 10-year warranty. It’s also said to offer “universal comfort,” meaning it’s not too soft, or too firm. Most purchasers seem to agree.