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How To Buy A Non-Toxic Mattress (And An Inexpensive Alternative)

Affiliate Disclosure | in Everything Else | by | with 109 Comments

Hey mamas! Boy did you have questions after I posted on a possible link between sheepskins, mattresses and SIDS. Today I’ve compiled the most common ones in Q&A form. If you’re going to skim, make sure to check out question #6 for a confession about what I put my babies to sleep on. Hope you find it helpful!

Question #1: What Should I Look For In A Mattress?

There are sooo many things to consider, so let’s start with some mattress shopping basics and work our way from there, okay?

How To Get Around Toxic Fire Retardents

All mattresses are required by law to contain fire-retardent materials unless you receive a prescription from a doctor. Unfortunately, the cheapest and most common way to make mattresses fire-retardent is to douse them in toxic chemicals. Fortunately, there are a few alternatives:

“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” (source).

Unfortunately, as we discussed in the post on sheepskins and SIDS, naturally occurring elements in sheepskin (and therefore wool) are thought by some to create toxic sleeping conditions. Though I can’t say this definitively, I believe organic wool may be different. More on what I discovered about “naturally occurring” chemicals in wool later in this post.

Other workarounds include using hydrated silica or boric acid. I think the hydrated silica is fine, but I personally would avoid the boric acid. It’s a great natural way to deal with roaches, but it’s still roach killer!

Misleading “Natural” & “Organic” Product Labels

According to this article, “Just because a mattress is called organic does not mean that it’s non-toxic. It really depends on all the materials used. A mattress can be called organic if it contains any organic component such as an organic cotton filling or even just an organic cotton surface fabric. Some organic mattresses have organic cotton filling with a vinyl covering. These may be called organic mattresses, but because of the vinyl covering (and most likely chemical fire retardants), these mattresses are obviously not all that healthy. It’s important to check into all materials used, and it can be difficult to get full disclosure from the retailers or the manufacturer.” Here are a few other factors to consider:

#1: Wool covers are water-resistant but not 100% waterproof…

Which means that if there is cotton layer underneath the wool it could get wet and mildew. To get around this, either go with a naturally hypo-allergenic, anti-microbial and dust mite resistant natural latex mattress or consider an organic mattress with a waterproof layer made of low density, food-grade polyethylene.

“Environmental scientists agree that low density, food-grade polyethylene is the safest plastic available for waterproofing a crib mattress. It has a simple molecular structure and does not contain phthalates or other unsafe additives. Unlike the production of vinyl, dioxins and other toxic chemicals are not released into the environment during production of low density polyethylene . . . Strict independent testing confirms there are no phthalates or any toxic chemicals in this polyethylene.”(source)

#2: Natural rubber (latex) **may** contain proteins that are allergenic…

To some people and could theoretically cause anaphylactic shock. This company says that “As of yet, there have NOT been any reported cases of allergies to Pure Natural Latex (or Pure Natural Rubber) and the general incidence of latex allergy is low, less than 1% of the U.S. population. People that are allergic to latex are normally allergic to the type of latex used in making latex gloves (workers who wear latex gloves most of the day have a risk of less than 10%) which is closed cell structure latex.”

They also offer to send you a free test kit if you are considering a purchase. Also, it’s important to know “there is no such thing as 100% pure natural rubber latex. In order to make the natural rubber into a foam block, there has to be some chemical processing. Some natural latex does come close to pure, but there are many mattresses out there that are called natural latex that really are a blend of natural rubber and toxic chemicals. So if you want a latex mattress for your baby, you need to dig deep to find one that is as pure as possible.” (source)

Got it? NO????

That’s okay! Let’s start over.

First, check out company ratings in this buying guide (thank you Renee K for sharing this resource!). Though it’s specifically geared toward crib mattresses many of the companies reviewed also have adult-sized mattresses available. Once you’ve decided on a couple you’re interested, check them against the tips above to see if any red flags come up.

A few comments about the buying guide’s recommendations: Though boric acid is considered by some to have a low toxicity rating, I’m just not comfortable with using roach killer as a waterproofing agent. Also, antimony is listed as a “chemical of concern’ but arsenic and phosphorous are not. I would double check with manufacturers on whether they contain these two compounds before making a final decision on a purchase. Finally, I would avoid any mattresses that have un-waterproofed organic cotton rather than wool/latex as the surface material. It’s just too easy for it to accidentally get wet and mildew. Removable cotton pads/wool pads that can be washed are fine.

Speaking of removable moisture-absorbing covers, this is the most ridiculously cheap and easy option available just cover with a cotton sheet and you’re done! If you’re not familiar with wool, it has historically been used as a diaper cover because it is very antimicrobial. Unlike sheepskins, which should be washed only rarely, I’d go ahead and wash these often even though they won’t last as long to prevent the development of S. Brevicaulis. Wool requires special care when it come to washing, but if you follow these instructions you should be fine (make sure to put them in the dryer or hot sun to prevent mildew).

Note: Firm mattresses are typically recommended for babies, especially if they are being placed on their tummy to sleep because a soft mattress could interfere with breathing. Wool puddle pads and other pads are considered fine by most, but I’d personally make sure it’s not too “cushy” in there!

Question #2: I Can’t Invest In A New Mattress Right Now. Is There A More Affordable Option Available?

Yes, you can wrap your current mattress (or your baby’s crib mattress) in a low density, food-grade polyethylene cover (commonly called the Babesafe cover). It’s fairly inexpensive, and as I mentioned earlier “food-grade polyethylene is the safest plastic available for waterproofing a crib mattress [or other mattress]. It has a simple molecular structure and does not contain phthalates or other unsafe additives. Unlike the production of vinyl, dioxins and other toxic chemicals are not released into the environment during production of low density polyethylene . . . Strict independent testing confirms there are no phthalates or any toxic chemicals in this polyethylene.” (source). It’s also really easy to use:

Downsides: According to reports it’s pretty noisy, so if you’re the type to sneak out of bed after your littles fall asleep (like Daddypotamus and I do every night) be warned! Also, keep in mind that polyethylene is not breathable – you’ll probably want to add a washable cotton mattress pad over the cover if it’s going on an adult bed. A cotton sheet is all that is recommended for crib bedding so that the sleeping surface is firm rather than squishy).

Where to buy: You can Google “low density, food-grade polyethylene mattress cover” to find the best prices on the crib versions, but the only manufacturer of adult-sized covers I am aware of can be found here.

Question #3: If I can’t afford a new non-toxic mattress should I replace my old one with a conventional mattress?

I probably wouldn’t. Though it’s less likely to contain fungus and bacteria, the “new” smell it comes with means it’s off-gassing tons of chemicals into the air. I’d just wrap my old mattress and start saving for a better one down the road.

Question #4: Why Do Lambskins Contain Arsenic, Antimony and Phophorous?

I thought it was kind of odd that sheepskins would naturally contain such toxic ingredients so I looked into it. Surprise surprise! They are actually dipped in a slew of chemicals including arsenic to control ticks and fleas.

“The majority of former sheep dips investigated to date are contaminated with persistent dip chemicals at levels that are hazardous to humans, livestock and the environment. Arsenic and the organochlorine pesticide dieldrin are the two main contaminants found at sheep dips sites.

Other organochlorine pesticides that have been found at sheep dips sites in New Zealand are lindane, DDT, aldrin and endrin. Long term exposure to organochlorine pesticides can affect the central nervous system and can cause liver damage in humans and animals. Arsenic is a known human carcinogen and is very toxic to humans and animals” (Source: Sheep Dip Factsheet).

I haven’t yet been able to confirm this regarding antimony and phosphorous, but I wouldn’t be surprised if excessive levels are really contaminants from industrial practices.

Question #5: So, is there something we can do to kill out the S. Brevicaulis fungus?

I’m no lover of things like Lysol, but it does kill out a ton of different things like this. What is out there that parents can safely use on their mattresses to control S. Brevicaulis?

Unfortunately, it appears that this fungus likes to eat chemicals so it’s possible that anything you spray on it will just feed it :( The good news is that mattress wrapping does seem to be very effective at dealing with gasses right on the sleeping surface.

Question #6: So what about co-sleeping?

My son has peed on our mattress before (a couple times) but we have an allergen cover now. How serious do you think this toxic mattress issue is?

I slept with both of my babies on a chemical-laden memory foam mattress that Daddypotamus and I purchased before we knew better, and most of my friends did the same. Personally, I think toxic mattresses are most likely to have an effect if other factors are present – a vaccine reaction, serious illness, underdeveloped neurology with respect to breathing patterns, etc.

Now that we know better we will do better, but if covers weren’t available and we couldn’t afford a new mattress I would still bedshare. Babies and their mothers are deeply linked in an emotional AND physiological sense, and I believe this connection reduces the risk of SIDS – more on why soon!

Photo credit 1, photo credit 2, photo credit 3, photo credit 4

 

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109 Responses to How To Buy A Non-Toxic Mattress (And An Inexpensive Alternative)

  1. Susi McMillan says:

    Hello Tara,

    suggestion for a toddler mattress… go with a Twin. That is a mattress which can move with the child once they go to university. We had one customer who knew already that his son will be very tall and he ordered the twin XL straight away.
    All the real 100% natural latex mattresses or also our certified organic latex mattresses have their price.
    You need the harvest from over 2.000 trees to make one good mattress.
    Make sure you look for dunlop for the mattress.
    I suggest medium firm density. Over the years, that is what people picked and were happy with.

    We represent inbed organic mattresses
    http://www.best-latex-mattress-reviews.com/comparision_chart.html
    Any questions…. contact us.

  2. Joey Ashley says:

    Hey Heather, Great article. I own a small organic mattress store in Raleigh NC (www.theorganicbedroom.com) We obviously specialize in organic as well as natural products. We feel as if the biggest enemies are polyurethane foams and chemical Flame Retardants although there are a lot of other things that should be examined. Having 4 kids myself the subject of children’s mattresses is something I have gone the extra mile to learn about. We also get the fact that for many people with Kids- price is a concern and we have gone the extra mile to offer a wide range of products. Should you readers ever have any questions or would like info feel free to have them reach out to me (joey@theorganicbedroom.com).

    Joey

  3. Clare says:

    I’ve only just become aware of this toxic mattress and especially toxic lambskin baby rug theory…many say proof is that SIDS increases with each additional child because the fungus builds up and in poor families because they by second-hand matresses, so my question is, why aren’t there more cases of SIDS in nurseries and with childminders (who also often buy second-hand)? Surely their mattresses are used by many different children over many years??? My thanks to anyone who can reply.

  4. Clare says:

    Sorry, another question from me!… your blog is great and has already answered so many questions for me but…relating to question 4 about how the chemicals get into sheepskins – if it’s only from the dipping, does that mean that “organic” sheepskins don’t contain the toxic chemicals?

  5. Mindy W says:

    Hi Heather,
    I think i’ve read this post about 10 times now…and I’m still trying to figure out what to do! I’m curious if you can expand on a statement at the very beginning of the post…”Other workarounds include using hydrated silica or boric acid. I think the hydrated silica is fine” I found a mattress producer (Johnathan Stevens, based out of Grand Rapids, MI) that claims to use silica filled rayon fiber as their flame retardant. They say it is chemical free and non-toxic. Would this qualify as what you are referring to in the above statement? And if so, would you think I’d still need a mattress wrap, or would my kids be safe from toxins/off-gassing with this mattress? I’m literally at my wits end with all this (and certainly can’t afford the organic options discussed above), so any help would be SO appreciated!! Thanks and God bless you for ALL you do for your readers!! :)

    • Heather says:

      Hi Mindy, if the mattress is truly non-toxic I personally wouldn’t feel compelled to add a wrap cover. That is, unless wetting the bed might be an issue for one of your little ones. I actually have a new, non-toxic bed scheduled for arrival this week which I will be reviewing in July, so if you haven’t made a decision by then you m might want to stop by for an update. Mine will be coming with a non-noisy, non-toxic cover to keep moisture out of the bed and extend it’s life.

      • Mindy W says:

        Thank you so much for your response, Heather! I’m feeling pretty good about the mattress after a conversation with the companies sales manager on the topic. I would still like to protect the mattresses from fluids (you never know with kids!) What should I look for in a waterproof mattress cover? What plastics are safe? Is there a specific one you could recommend? Any tips are GREATLY appreciated!! :) Thank you again, you are a blessing!! :)

      • Jennifer says:

        Oh, this is great news! My husband and I are expecting our 3rd and our queen size just seems too small when just two extra pile in there in the night! We are saving for a new organic mattress this Christmas. I am eager to find out your recommendation!!

  6. Mindy W says:

    PS I mean a “traditional” mattress cover…obviously I know you recommend the wraps you link to! I was hoping to be able to use a traditional style waterproof mattress cover that wouldn’t be quite so noisy and one that I can wash! Thanks! :)

  7. Mindy W says:

    I’m wondering if you think this would be a good option? It’s made of polyethylene, like the wraps. Though I’m not sure the difference between this and low density food grade polyethylene? Thanks again :)
    http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00DSLCMZY/ref=wl_it_dp_o_pC_S_ttl?_encoding=UTF8&colid=389FG32IX4HJW&coliid=I10FM2SBD67IQD&psc=1

  8. Organic Mattresses: Why We Switched says:

    […] This article has some great information and references for avoiding chemicals in mattresses and bedding. […]

  9. Julie says:

    Hi Heather!
    Did you write a review for the bed that you bought in June? May I ask which one you ended up buying? I’m trying to find a safe option for my husband and me…and I might buy a new infant bed or wrap the one we have. I’d love to know what brand/model of bed you think is safe! Thanks in advance!!

    • Tara says:

      I’ve been wanting to know the same thing, Heather! Would love to hear about your new mattress and what you might recommend for a toddler/child bed.

  10. 6 Natural Sleep Aids For Children » Grab Green Blog says:

    […] Over the past few years we’ve heard more and more about the chemicals used in mattresses, like petroleum, flame retardants and plastics. As a result these treated mattresses have been linked to allergies, chronic illnesses and insomnia. If your kids are having trouble sleeping, it may be time to switch to a non-toxic mattress. Need more help? We love this mattress shopping guide from Mommypotamus. […]

  11. William P. Mitchell says:

    You’ve taught me a lot with your guide. Thanks for the useful links.

  12. My Favorite Non-Toxic Mattress - MommypotamusMommypotamus | says:

    […] when I wrote about my ideal mattress criteria, I was mostly looking for a non-toxic solution. When I finally found one I wanted to try, […]

  13. Lauren says:

    Hi all, I purchased a mattress today from The Futon Shop (www.thefutonshop.com) and I’m thrilled so I wanted to share my find. They are a San Francisco based company, and have a farm to bed motto and the mattresses are made in the USA! They have a wide variety of options, and I found a futon mattress for daily use that is 100% organic and chemical-free that was under $650 for a queen size! There website seemed too good to be true, so I went to the Sacramento show room and everything the salesman talked about mirrored this post, including his own opinions on ‘natural’ retardants like borate, and the soy-based options they sell. I think the showrooms are only in Caliornia, but they ship nationwide. My bed will arrive next weekend, and I’m so happy to not inhale chemicals anymore while we sleep :) Thanks for your post, Mommypotamus!

  14. heather says:

    Hello! I apologize if this has already been asked and answered :) If you recommend a mattress pad for an adult bed, would you opt for an organic one? Also, if I get the polyethylene mattress cover, then a mattress pad, then cover it with sheet, will that be too hot? I’m concerned because i know baby being too hot is a risk factor for SIDS. Want to do the best with this knowledge I’ve gratefully learned from you :) Would love your opinion!

  15. Princess says:

    Hi Heather! Thank you for this great blog entry! I just have to share this site where I get the best organic baby bedding for my kids, http://www.organichomelifestyle.com
    The brand carries several crib pads, mattress pads, sheets, etc that are all organically handcrafted and non toxic! The products are just amazing, I share it to my family and friends.

  16. Jennifer says:

    I am curious if anyone has found a 100% organic cotton mattress pad/topper that also is 100% cotton fill? Let me just say that this has been very hard to find….and I have been searching like crazy. We purchased 5 mil polyethelene covers for our son’s twin bed and for our king bed and a Halo 5 mil cover for our daughters crib. Now, I’m looking for cotton toppers to reduce noise and add breathability for sleeping comfort.

    HELP please!

  17. Kerri says:

    I am curious on your thoughts of purchasing a new mattress for my 3yo and then buying this wrap you recommend in the post. My question is–Would you recommend any brand/type of mattress over the others? (such as: regular spring, pillowtop, memory foam, or a particular brand name?) I am looking to get her a full size so she can grow into it.She is currently in her toddler converted crib bed. I would love to buy a non-toxic mattress and love the company you went with– but we just cannot afford it. She is currently in her toddler converted crib bed. Thank you so much what you do!

  18. Christina says:

    Where did you excellent post on SIDS & vaccines go?

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