Don’t buy mattresses that pollute your bedroom with toxic chemicals.
Most mattresses on the market are full of chemicals that can pollute your bedroom air and harm your body. This includes polyurethane foam that can emit volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, harmful chemicals that can cause respiratory irritation or other health problems; flame retardant chemicals linked to cancer, hormone disruption and adverse effects on the immune system; and PVC or vinyl covers that can damage developing reproductive systems.
If possible, choose a mattress made with at least 95 percent organic content, which could include cotton, wool or natural latex.
Look for Global Organic Textile Standard, or GOTS, certification. To receive GOTS certification, the mattress cannot be made of polyurethane foam or contain a number of hazardous chemicals. Look for the Global Organic Latex Standard, or GOLS certification for organic latex.
If you are interested in a latex-based mattress, choose one with 100 percent natural latex.
Latex is a renewable material made from rubber tree sap, and unlike polyurethane, latex is less likely to emit high levels of VOCs. It is also highly resistant to mold and dust mites, and is more durable than petroleum-based foam. Natural latex mattresses are increasingly easy to find at reasonable prices.
Choose a mattress with no added flame retardant chemicals.
Ask the retailer or manufacturer if its mattresses have these added chemicals. Wool and polylactic acid, or PLA, are good alternatives to chemical flame retardants. Ask the same questions for foam futons, sleeping mats, pillows and mattress toppers, which have been found to contain chlorinated Tris, a flame retardant chemical that is a known neurotoxin and carcinogen.
If you decide to buy a polyurethane or memory foam mattress, look for one that is low-VOC certified by an independent certification body like Oeko-Tex Standard 100 or Greenguard Gold.
Avoid scented mattresses, toppers and bedding, and products with added chemical antimicrobial treatments.
Look for mattresses that do not use glue, or that use water-based glues between the foam layers of the mattress.
Solvent-based glues can emit harmful VOCs.
Avoid mattresses or covers made of PVC or vinyl, which are sources of phthalates–chemicals that affect the reproductive system.
Instead, add accident protection with a waterproof mattress cover made of polyurethane laminate, or PUL, fabric or polyethylene.
Use a zippered dust-proof pillow and mattress cover to avoid dust mites.
Choose one made of a tightly woven fabric, like cotton, instead of PVC or vinyl. Launder bedding frequently in hot water.
Types of Mattress Foams
Polyurethane foam is used in most mattresses on the market. But polyurethane is made from petroleum chemicals that can emit VOCs—harmful chemicals that can cause respiratory irritation or other health problems. Some polyurethane mattresses are worse than others in terms of VOC emissions, so if you’re going this route, shop around and ask if the foam has been tested for VOCs.
Memory foam is another type of polyurethane foam with chemicals added to give it special conforming properties. Like polyurethane foams, it varies widely in quality and VOC emissions.
Plant-based foam is typically produced with a small percentage of soybean oil or castor oil mixed with petroleum chemicals. It is often marketed as “environmentally friendly,” but plant-based foams emit VOCs just like polyurethane foam.
Latex foam can be a healthier choice compared to polyurethane foam. Natural latex is a renewable material gathered from the sap of a rubber tree. Unlike polyurethane, latex is less likely to emit high levels of VOCs. It is also highly resistant to mold and dust mites, and is more durable than petroleum-based foam. Look for a product that has 100 percent natural latex. Some mattresses are made from synthetic latex, which can emit VOCs. Avoid products with a blend natural and synthetic latex. Be sure to ask how much latex is actually used in the mattress and whether it is from natural sources.
Polyethylene foam can contain fewer contaminants compared to polyurethane foam. It can be made from petroleum-based or bio-based ingredients, so ask the manufacturer about the source of the ingredients and relevant contaminant test results.
Unfortunately, most foam crib mattresses on the market emit large amounts of VOCs, have added toxic flame retardant chemicals, include a variety of fragrance chemicals, and use PVC or vinyl covers that contain phthalates–which can disrupt baby’s hormones and may be linked to asthma.
The best option is to buy an organic crib mattress free of harmful chemicals and materials. Look for the GOTS certification when choosing a product.
If an organic option is not possible, look for a crib mattress with:
Wool or polylactic acid to provide flame resistance, instead of added chemical flame retardants;
A natural fiber cover, like cotton or wool, or a waterproof barrier made of PUL fabric, also known as polyurethane laminate, or polyethylene—not PVC or vinyl;
No antibacterial additives or added fragrances; and
A low-VOC certification like Oeko-Tex Standard 100 or Greenguard Gold.
Once you’ve bought a mattress, bring it home and let it air out outside before the baby is born. This will give it extra time to release any VOCs and limit your infant’s exposure to these chemicals.
Dust mites live and multiply in warm, humid places, making mattresses and bedding an ideal environment. People with dust mite allergies tend to suffer fewer symptoms when they make a concerted effort to control their household exposures. Use a zippered dust-proof pillow and mattress cover made from tightly woven fabric, like cotton, to avoid dust mites.