Our world is full of toxins today – they are everywhere. Many parents are aware of this now and are trying to at least minimize the toxins inside their homes. Switching to green cleaning products, using zero VOC's paints, and changing from plastic food storage containers to glass are some of the ways that many of us parents have started to eliminate toxins in our homes. However, one household item in particular that has probably been overlooked is your mattress.
There are a number of reasons why conventional mattresses are very toxic and could even be causing health problems. Here are the top 4 reasons:
#1 – Flame Retardants
As of July 1, 2007, all U.S. mattresses are required to be flame retardant. As a result, manufacturers are coating them with highly toxic flame-retardant chemicals like polybrominated diphenyl ether (PBDE), Boric acid, a toxic respiratory irritant used to kill roaches, antimony, a metal that may be more toxic than mercury and formaldehyde, a known carcinogen. What is even worse is that this does NOT have to be disclosed in any way.
PBDEs are certainly not something we want emitting from a mattress on which we spend 1/3 of our lifetime. They have already been outlawed in Canada and Europe. This toxin builds up in your body over time, and what you absorb or inhale does not go away. This is very concerning because of the health problems PBDE is associated with such as brain and reproductive damage, decreased sperm quality, thyroid problems and even cancer at high levels.
The Consumer Product Safety Commission has studied chemically treated mattresses and found that the chemicals do, in fact, leech from the mattress. A person sleeping on a chemically treated mattress will absorb .8 mg of antimony every night, an amount that is 27 times more than the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says is safe.
#2 – Formaldehyde
Formaldehyde is often part of the flame retardants in mattresses and it is also used in the adhesives that hold together different pieces of the mattresses. This is a potentially toxic substance and has been linked to asthma, allergies, and lung, nose, and throat cancers.
#3 – Pesticides
Non-organic cotton is grown with pesticides. In fact, cotton uses more insecticide than any other single crop. These pesticides are causing illness too. In a 2002 study of pesticide illnesses in California, cotton ranked third among California crops for total number of worker illnesses caused by pesticides. If these chemicals are causing worker illness we probably don't want to be breathing in its emissions all night long.
#4 – Polyurethane
Since the 1960s, most mattresses have been made of polyurethane foam. Polyurethane is a petroleum-based material that emits volatile organic compounds that can cause respiratory problems and skin irritation. This is the material that most conventional memory foam mattresses are primarily made from and it is also part of the padding in coil mattresses.
How can we avoid these toxins?
This is overwhelming, I know. I get sick to my stomach every time I look at this information. These things apply to most mattresses that are sold today but there are some alternatives.
Natural Latex Mattress
Natural Latex is a safe alternative to the popular polyurethane memory foam mattresses. 100% Natural latex begins as a liquid, extracted by ‘tapping' live rubber trees that grow in tropical climates around the world. This process is just like tapping a Maple tree for the natural sap; trees are not harmed and they provide a sustainable resource for natural latex. The liquid is then washed carefully and whipped into a latex foam material and formed into the layers of a natural latex mattress. The best quality natural latex mattresses are then wrapped in organic cotton and wool. The wool layer gives the fire retardant protection that is needed to meet the standards for fire protection because wool is naturally fire retardant.
I have done a lot of research for natural latex mattress options. Many of the options available are very expensive or don't have all of the quality standards that I am looking for in a mattress. Plushbeds.com has a high-quality natural latex mattress called the Botanical Bliss Collection which is made of 100% natural latex, organic cotton, and Joma New Zealand wool. I personally own a set of their natural latex pillows which I absolutely love (read my review here) and I also own a mattress from Plush Beds.
Organic Cotton & Wool Coil Mattress
Some people really prefer the traditional coil mattresses over latex. A few safe and chemical free options do exist. If you are shopping for this type of mattress look for one that is made of organic cotton and/or wool. Some non-toxic coil mattresses are made of organic cotton and have a wool wrapping (for its natural fire retardant properties) and some of them are 100% wool. When researching options for coil mattresses be sure to ask if there are any other chemicals in the mattress such as any possible adhesives that hold the parts together.
These type of mattresses are not easy to find and often (but not always) require a prescription from a Doctor or a Chiropractor. There are a number of online retailers that offer organic coil mattresses. I personally own an organic cotton and wool crib mattress for my children that I purchased online from EcoChoices.
Being aware of these toxins is not easy because once you know about this it's impossible to go back. Most likely you'll never want to buy a conventional mattress again. When this information first came across my computer screen I wanted to immediately throw out every mattress in my house and replace them – but I was not financially able to do so. The important thing is that you now know how to make an informed mattress purchase. Take this slow, try not to stress out about it (I know it's hard not to), and just replace the mattresses in your home one by one.