Learn about toxic mattress types for a healthier home.
If you have a spring or foam bed, chances are you sleep on a toxic mattress. The average person can spend 6-10 hours a day in bed, and we often expect that manufacturers make mattresses safe or at least benign. However, there are actually a wide range of chemicals and toxins present in modern mattresses that can pose significant short and long-term health risks. Keep reading to learn where these components come from and how to avoid getting a toxic mattress.
The issue of toxicity is not limited to one particular type of bed. Across the spectrum, from memory foam to coil mattresses, nearly all contain either petrochemicals, noxious adhesives, chemically treated fabrics, pesticides, chemical flame retardants, and more. Recent recalls of beds, including the mattresses made for baby’s cribs, have demonstrated just how dangerous and prevalent some of these chemicals can be. However, that’s only half the story as many potential toxins remain completely legal for us in the United States, and manufacturers are not typically required to disclose them chemical contents of their products.
There are significant differences between different mattress materials, the fire retardants that are used, and glue or adhesives used for layering. It is necessary to address each of these to fully understand the toxic mattress issue, and to learn how to choose a safe non toxic mattress.
Flame Retardants & Safety
Some of the problems surrounding toxic mattress concerns stem from Federal laws and requirements surrounding flammability. These laws were created with good intentions; however the manufacturers can use a variety of chemicals and materials to meet these guidelines and not all are safe. For example, PentaBDE (PBDE) proved one of the worst offenders and was voluntarily phased out in mattresses manufactured in the United States since 2004; however, very few of the major manufacturers like Simmons, Sealy, and Tempurpedic actually disclose what they use, claiming it as a “trade secret”. It is speculated that common flame retardant additives might include antimony oxide (carcinogen) or melamine resin (contains formaldehyde). Little research has been conducted into how these types of chemicals affect us, to what degree our bodies absorb them, and what consequences exposure will have down the road.
- Avoid brands who will not disclose how they achieve flame standards, as they are likely using potentially concerning chemicals.
- Avoid Antimony, Decabromodiphenyl Oxide, Melamine Resin, Boric Acid, Formeldahyde, Vinylidene Chloride, Brominated chemicals and other chemical additives.
- Formulations considered safest include wool covers and silica-treated rayon covers.
About Adhesives and Glues
While flame retardants remain a hot topic, of equal concern are the adhesives and glues used to manufacture many mattresses. Manufacturers often use glues to hold different layers together and keep fabrics in place. They can be found in memory foam beds, innerspring beds, and latex mattresses. Two different types may be used: solvent-based adhesives and water-based adhesives. While solvent-based formulations prove considerably worse, water-based adhesives still contain the same chemicals of concern.
Solvent-based adhesives can have upwards of 48 different toxic chemicals, ranging from acetone to lead to chlorofluorocarbons to halogens and more. Water-based adhesives are simply solvent-based glues diluted in water for spraying, so they still contain the same toxins. These chemicals emit what many recognize as a “new” smell, due to their release of Volatile Organic Compounds [VOCs] into the air. These VOCs have been linked with cancer, organ damage, and endocrine disruption and create a truly toxic mattress.
People who suffer from breathing problems including asthma and allergies should avoid breathing volatile organic compounds. These fumes pose a significant health hazard to adults and children, and there are several reports of people experiencing allergic-type reactions and respiratory discomfort with brand new mattresses, especially certain types of memory foam (see following section on mattress types). Pregnant women should be aware that the chemicals can be transferred to their baby. The long term effects of these chemicals are still unknown. It is known that at the very least they can cause a variety of cancers and decrease indoor air quality.
- Avoid all adhesives. These can be used in between mattress layers, in frames, and between fabrics and core materials.
- Water-based adhesives are not healthier or free of chemicals.
- Look for mattresses in which the layers can be pulled apart, and the cover removed.
Chemicals in Toxic Mattress Materials
In addition to the concerns regarding glue and fire retardants, the composition of the material used to create the mattress itself is also important. Knowing what exactly is in your mattress will help you determine the danger levels.
- Innerspring Mattresses: Typically contain poly foam (see memory foam below) in quilting and padding layers, nearly always contain adhesives.
- Traditional Memory Foam & Poly Foam: May contain around seven toxic chemicals (1,1,1,2 Tetrachoroethane, acetone, and dimethylformamide, Methyl benzene, Methylene dianiline, toluene-neoprene and Vinilideine chloride). Often contain adhesives between core and upper layers.
- Synthetic Latex: Typically contains around five non-toxic chemicals (2-chloro-1–3-butadiene, diphenyl diisocyanate, metallic oxides, Phenol-melamine resins, sulfur, Tellerium). May or may not contain adhesives. May or may contain polyurethane fillers.
- Natural Latex: May have around six non-toxic chemicals (acrylate resins, diphenyl diisocyanate, Phenol-melamine resins, Phenol-urea, Polyvinyl acetate and waxes styrene- butadiene copolymer) in addition to the natural hevea milk, fats, and water. May or may not contain adhesives.
Information from reports by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, Water based Adhesives Technology Review and Aerias – Air Quality Sciences.
Are There Any Non Toxic Mattress Types?
According to the reports we found, synthetic and natural latex foams appear to offer the safest bet when it comes to choosing a non toxic mattress. Here are a few helpful guidelines for choosing the healthiest bed:
- Synthetic latex contains fewer chemicals than memory foam, though it is often blended with a relative, polyurethane. To ensure you get the best mattress, look for 100% natural latex. Avoid beds with latex over poly-foam or springs, as these will almost always contain toxic chemicals and adhesives.
- Only latex liquid can currently be certified organic in the U.S. The finished foam and mattress cannot be. If a mattress brand tells you their latex foam is certified organic, question the validity of their claims.
- However, cover materials like cotton can be certified organic and an organic cotton cover will eliminate pesticides and other chemicals from your bed. Make sure the product has organic certification from a recognized body.
- Look for Oeko-Tex 100 certification. This means the product has been certified to be free of harmful chemicals.
- Look for mattresses that utilize wool or rayon covers as fire barriers rather than chemicals.
Our Non Toxic Mattress Recommendation
Based on the above criteria, we recommend Astrabeds’ 100% natural Talalay latex mattresses. These do not contain any harmful chemical additives, feature organic cotton covers, wool fire barriers, and unglued layers. They are also Oeko-Tex certified. Prices start around $1199, and beds come in multiple firmnesses and heights.
We are exposed to so many toxic chemicals on a day to day basis, and the last place we want to find them is in our beds. Taking the time to research what goes in to your home will offer you peace of mind and sweeter dreams. Use these tips while shopping to choose a safe non toxic mattress.