Where To Buy A Chemical Free, Non-Toxic Mattress
We spend about 33% of our lives on our mattresses, with our throat and lungs in very close proximity to our bedding surface- literally inches. Before the advent of synthetic, petroleum based materials that are widely used in mattress production, mattresses were made from natural materials, like cotton, hemp, straw, wool, and horse hair. Dust and mites were likely the biggest problem owning a medieval mattress.
Since the 1960’s, though, most mattresses have been largely made using polyurethane foam, a petroleum-based material that releases, or “off gasses” volatile organic compounds that can create respiratory problems, dermatological reactions, watering of eyes, inflammation, and other conditions.
Formaldehyde, which is a common ingredient in adhesives used to laminate layers together in many foam mattresses, has been linked to asthma, allergies, and lung, nose, and throat cancers.
Chemicals used in fire barriers, which are required by federal law to be built into all mattresses, can be highly dangerous, though most companies have begun to utilize barrier fabrics which are reasonably non-toxic, since the ingredients, which include boric acid and silica, are used in a dry barrier format which does not come in contact with human skin.
Horrific chemicals, such as PBDE’s, or polybrominated diphenyl ether, were used in some mattresses before 2004, when it was finally phased out. (PBDE’s are known to be toxic to the liver, thyroid, and nervous system.) Does that mean that companies are crystal clear and very transparent about chemicals used as afire barriers? Perhaps not.
Fairly recently, the Consumer Product Safety Commission began to require that all mattresses sold in the United States could withstand 30 minutes of continuous exposure to an open flame source, literally a blow torch directed at the mattress being tested, inches away.
Though mattress manufacturers are not using the PBDE materials any longer, it’s still difficult to figure out exactly what compounds are used from company to company. Big players, such as Simmons, Sealy, and Tempur-Pedic won’t discuss their flame-retardant formulas, because they are considered proprietary secrets.
A Simmons press release describes their innovative fire barrier program as a “proprietary blend of char-forming, intumescing, flame-resistant components.” Does that sound a little like a big fire extinguisher filled with foggy and smokey chemicals and fumes?
Tempur-Pedic® says that its mattress line “consistently meet all safety standards.” Ryan Trainer, executive vice president of the International Sleep Products Association, an industry group, 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 we discussed—as well as more noxious fire-resistant materials such as modacrylic fiber which contains antimony oxide, a known carcinogen, and melamine resin, which contains formaldehyde.
Largely because of industry peer pressure and consumer awareness, many companies are beginning to use materials that are either low emitting or zero emitting, when it comes to VOC (volatile organic compound) ingredients. Wool, for example, is a natural fire barrier used quite a bit by companies selling cleaner and greener mattresses, like our chemical free latex mattress recommendations shown below.
In 2005, Walter Bader, who had created a mattress company called Lifekind®, and had also written a book called toxic Bedrooms, sent several mattresses to a chemical analysis lab. One model, a memory foam mattress was found to be ventilating 61 chemicals, including benzene and naphthalene, which are carcinogenic.
The good news is, though, that is no proven risk from substances in mattresses, however, primarily because there is not direct contact with these materials, as you are lying on the outer piece of fabric.
That fabric is typically a cotton or cotton and synthetic fabric blend, and unless you are breathing in fumes from the interior of the mattress, it’s not likely a mattress is going to make you sick.
Also, there have not been any really good studies done to evaluate long term exposure to the aforementioned substances in mattresses.
Heather Stapleton, a Duke University chemist, says there’s just not enough data to determine chemicals in mattresses actually make you sick.
There are plenty of lab studies that show that many of the chemicals that make up the foam layers and fire barriers are indeed dangerous. The question is simply how much exposure we actually have to them.
There are plenty of really clean, green, and non-toxic mattress out there, too, including the latex mattresses we feature below. The latex mattress category continues to grow at a steady pace, and more and more consumers are seeking out mattresses made of organic natural latex, organic cotton batting, and organic wool.
If you like the feel of memory foam, perhaps built into a mattress that already has latex in it, there are cleaner forms of urethane foam, too, which is the primary component. Certain processes can reduce some of the chemicals used in memory foam and in other high density foams used at the bottom of many foam mattresses as support layers.
These specialized layers of foam often come with a certification by Certi-Pur®, a company that reviews and evaluates components used in bedding products.
When you buy products containing certified foam, the flexible polyurethane foam inside of a mattress meets CertiPUR-US® standards for content, emissions, and durability, and has been analyzed by independent, accredited testing laboratories. You can learn more about the Certi-Pur® process by clicking here.
Just so you know, you can get a prescription from your healthcare provider which will allow you to buy a mattress from most companies without the chemical fire barriers added, if you are chemically sensitive or have allergies. can order a mattress that doesn’t pass a flammability test.
These days, many mattress manufacturers have found a simple way to fireproof their beds: wrapping the entire mattress in an encasement that includes wool. They tend to be pricier, though, but not outrageously so.
If you are ordering online, simply chat with an agent, and ask about the process for buying a mattress with no chemical fire barrier, and find out if they offer the wool option.
Be Careful About So-Called Plant Based Foams Other Than Natural Latex
More frequently now than ever, consumers are beginning to understand that mattresses need to be clean, eco-friendly of as many petroleum distillates as possible. Some retailers and manufacturers are starting to use terminology such as “plant based foam” or “soy based foam”, inferring that their foam layers are largely comprised of plant based material.
The problem with these assertions is that there is not 100% plant based foam, because the technology to produce it is just not there yet.
The chemicals used in making extruded foam requires special petroleum based compounds that create the foaming action, creating the micro bubbles that expand the foam before it solidifies.
So-called plant based foams typically contain only small amounts fo plant oils, about 5-20%. The other 80-05% includes conventional polyurethane foam ingredients.
Even latex has to be carefully scrutinized. If you are shopping for a latex foam mattress, such as those shown below, you want to make sure you are getting botanically derived latex, that is liquid latex which is gathered by hands on plantations which can sustain Hevea brasiliensis trees, the sap of which is used to manufacture a true, all natural latex mattress core, or layer.
Synthetic latex is actually a substance called SBR, or styrene butadiene rubber, which is a volatile organic compound. Manufacturers prefer to use it because it is FAR less expensive than botanically derived natural latex.
Also, other petroleum based substances are used in the process when foaming SBR, also. Natural latex, when it is poured to be molded into solid form, is simply infused with fine air bubbles and then is quickly “steam cooked” to solidify it- a process called “The Dunlop Method”.
The Dunlop method is the purest technique to create a true, chemical free foam material for use in mattress production. SBR can cause the following medical problems:
Effects on the central nervous system (CNS)
Headache, fatigue, weakness, and depression
An increased risk of leukemia and lymphoma.
Other Petroleum Derived Substances Used In Mattress Construction
Vinyl is another petroleum based product that is often used in bedding as well, though not so much in the most popular brands found online and in retail stores. It is typically used as air chambers in certain brands of water beds, or as waterproofing material in the outer coverings or within the interior of the mattress.
Polyvinyl chloride (PVC or vinyl) is definitely the most toxic plastic for our health and the environment. Vinyl releases some of the most toxic chemicals on the planet that have been linked to cancer, birth defects and other serious diseases. Vinyl contains such toxic substances as Dioxin, phthalates, and heavy metals. Phthalates can :
Trigger asthma and allergies [Source]
Cause genital defects including male feminization [Source: National Research Council]
Alter child behavior [Source]
Cause birth defects
Harm developing brains