A third of our lives are spent asleep, yet many people don’t know the full contents of their mattress. If they did, they might lose some shut-eye. As a complex product, mattresses go through many manufacturing processes that expose them to a wide array of chemicals. However, some options are Eco-friendly and made from sustainable materials. Finding them requires knowing the contents of the mattress and the certifications that show it has met requirements for safety and sustainability.

Chemical Flame Retardants

The foams used in polyfoam and memory foam mattresses are often derived from petrochemicals. Plant-based foams use plant oils rather than petrochemicals, but they do have to go through a significant manufacturing process. To meet flammability standards, these foams have to be treated with chemical flame retardants.

The most harmful flame retardants include polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), which have been linked to liver, thyroid, and neurodevelopmental problems. Other mattresses may contain propylene oxide, TDI, and toluene, a potent neurotoxin. Some mattresses contain antimony and boric acid which don’t fully bind and are released into the air over time as it breaks down. Many manufacturers do not disclose which flame retardants they use, which presents a problem for those who want to protect themselves from the effects of these harmful chemicals.

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Additionally, the Consumer Product Safety Commission’s recent warning urges consumers to avoid products containing organohalogen flame retardants (OFRs).

These toxic chemicals are found in mattresses and upholstered furniture. These flame retardants are semivolatile and can seep out of the mattresses and into household dust, entering the lungs and causing reproductive and neurological problems, as well as cancer.

Despite their documented effects on human health, these substances have yet to banned. Since manufacturers are not required to list these chemicals or label their products with warnings, consumers are left in the dark about the hazards of OFRs. Their earliest predecessor, PCBs, were banned in 1977. In fact, PCBs were pushed by Big Tobacco in the 1970s as a way to combat the rate of mattresses igniting in flames due to unattended cigarettes.

Until manufacturers are transparent with their processes and take steps to eliminate these dangerous chemicals, consumers are at risk.

Safer Alternatives

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Finding a safe alternative can be difficult because few regulations or standards govern toxicity in the mattress industry. A “green” mattress claim may apply to only one part of the mattress or manufacturing process. However, some Eco-friendly options avoid the use of chemicals as much as possible.

Natural latex mattresses are Eco-friendly and made from the sap of the rubber tree, making it a sustainable resource. Depending on which manufacturing process is used, a natural latex mattress can contain as much as 95 percent organic latex or as little as 30 percent. Even a latex mattress that is 95 percent organic will have some synthetic latex, which is derived from petrochemicals, in the remaining five percent.

Whether you’re looking at a natural latex mattress or an innerspring, you should also look for certifications to help you get more information about the manufacturing process and contents of the mattress.

Look for these Certifications:

  • Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS):  To receive a GOTS certification, a mattress must be made with at least 95 percent certified organic materials. The remaining 5 percent cannot contain certain materials like polyfoam or formaldehyde. All organic fibers including raw materials and their derivatives are examined before certification is given.

  • Global Organic Latex Standard (GOLS): GOLS is similar to GOTS except it only examines latex products. The latex must be 95 percent organically produced to receive a GOLS certification. However, there are no restrictions for the remaining 5 percent of the mattress. A natural latex mattress can receive both a GOTS and a GOLS certification.

  • GreenGuard and GreenGuard Gold: Both the GreenGuard and GreenGuard Gold certifications evaluate finished mattresses for VOC (volatile organic compound) emissions, although GreenGuard Gold has a stricter set of standards.

  • OEKO-TEX Standard 100: A combination of 18 independent research and testing institutes in Europe and Japan give the OKEO-TEX Standard 100 certification. It tests products to be sure they do not exceed limits of chemical emissions including those given off by VOCs, formaldehyde, PBDEs, and other flame retardants.

  • OEKO-TEX Made in Green: From the same organization as the Standard 100 certification, this certification assures that sustainable processes are used to make a product.

There are many other certifications available. When deciding on a mattress, make sure you know what the certification means and what part of the mattress it applies to.

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