Mattresses

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Most adults spend as much as a third of their lives sleeping on a mattress. Our extended and close physical contact with mattresses only increases the importance of ensuring that mattress materials are safe. Unfortunately, the materials used in conventional mattresses present distinct health and environmental risks.[1]

  • Foam. Polyurethane foam is derived from petroleum and typically used in innerspring mattresses. Memory foam mattresses are usually made of polyurethane foam with additional toxic chemicals that increase viscosity and density. For example, memory foam commonly contains methylenedianiline, which has been deemed possibly carcinogenic based on animal studies.[2] Polyurethane and memory foam may also contain chemical fire retardants, some of which have been linked to diabetes, neurodevelopmental problems (e.g., lower IQ), and cancer.[3] Chemical emissions are particularly potent in the foam used in infant crib mattresses.[4]
  • Latex. Most latex mattresses are made of synthetic latex or a mix of synthetic and natural latex. Whereas natural latex is derived by tapping rubber trees, synthetic latex is manufactured from petroleum byproducts, styrene and butadiene. Synthetic latex mattresses have not been demonstrated to be toxic, but the use of petrochemicals in this case unnecessarily increases demand for fossil fuels and thus indirectly affects global warming. Moreover, serious health concerns do arise for those who are exposed to styrene and butadiene during the manufacturing process, wherein exposure has been linked to higher rates of lympho-hematopoietic cancers.[5] Finally, although latex is enclosed within a fabric casing and nearly all latex proteins are washed out of latex mattresses during the manufacturing process [6], people with existing latex allergies should avoid latex mattresses. There are no known cases of latex mattresses causing latex allergies.
  • Air and water mattress bladders. Air mattress and waterbed bladders are typically made of polyvinyl chloride (PVC or vinyl). Vinyl, additives used to soften vinyl (called phthalates), and chemicals released during the life cycle of vinyl (such as Dioxins) enter our bodies through inhalation, ingestion, and skin absorption. Dioxins rank among the 10 most dangerous industrial chemicals in the world and have been associated with problems of the immune system, nervous system, endocrine system, and reproductive system.[7]
  • Fabrics. The most common fabrics used in mattresses include polyester, cotton, and wool. While generally considered safe, polyester is a non-renewable synthetic fiber made from a petrochemical called ethylene. The production of polyester can thus reinforce our dependency on oil (unless polyester is recycled). Natural fibers are not necessarily better than polyester if they undergo conventional production. For example, a multitude of pesticides is used to grow conventional cotton, many of which the EPA recognizes as possible, likely, or known human carcinogens.[8] Trichloroethylene is a common solvent used to clean wool and has been identified as a carcinogen in animals and humans.[9]
  • Adhesives. Manufacturers commonly use adhesives to bond mattress parts and layers. Of greatest concern are solvent-based adhesives that contain toxic chemicals, many of which have been formally recognized as carcinogens, hormone disruptors, and neurotoxins.[10] Workers in mattress factories are most at risk of solvent-related health problems through direct inhalation. However, customers of new solvent-laden mattresses may also be exposed to these toxins as they are released into the environment over time, a process known as “off-gassing.”[10]

Safer Alternatives

We searched for manufacturers that meet rigorous toxin-free standards for innerspring, memory foam, latex, and air/water mattresses. Safer alternatives exist in most cases, but they are frequently more expensive than the chemical-laden counterparts. Mattress companies typically permit an in-home trial for a limited time (e.g., 90 days), though it’s best to try out a selected mattress at a store before purchasing it online.

Minimum Standards

  1. Oeko-Tex 100 or Greenguard Gold certification, which verifies low chemical emissions and compliance with other toxicity standards
  2. OCS100 organic content certification, GOTS certification (Global Organic Textile Standard) or other organic certification, which verifies use of organic fabrics (e.g., cotton, wool)
  3. No chemical fire retardants
  4. No polyurethane foam
  5. GOLS (Global Organic Latex Standard), Eco Institut, or EuroLatex ECO-Standard certified 100% natural latex foam (when applicable)
  6. No solvent-based adhesives

Additional Ideal Standards

A few companies met additional standards that demonstrated an extraordinary commitment to creating socially and environmentally responsible practices.

  1. FSC certification (Forest Stewardship Council) for wood foundations (when applicable)
  2. Certified B Corporation, which verifies positive social and environmental business performance
  3. EPA Green Power Partner, which verifies efforts to increase the use of renewable energy
  4. Public support for non-profit organizations seeking stronger chemical regulations
  5. Employee ownership
  6. Recycling program for used mattresses
  7. Community engagement

 

Coil/Innerspring Mattresses

When purchasing an innerspring mattress, opt for natural latex foam or micro-coils instead of polyurethane. Three companies met our toxin-free standards: Naturepedic, Organicpedic, and Sovn.

Naturepedic

  • Greenguard Gold certification
  • GOLS (Global Organic Latex Standard) certified 100% natural latex foam
  • OCS100 organic content certification
  • GOTS certification (Global Organic Textile Standard)
  • FSC certification (Forest Stewardship Council) for wood foundations
  • No chemical fire retardants
  • No polyurethane foam
  • No adhesives
  • EPA Green Power Partner (purchases renewable energy credits for 100% of electricity)
  • Publicly supports non-profit organizations seeking stronger chemical regulations

Organicpedic

  • Greenguard Gold certification
  • Oeko-Tex Tex 100
  • GOLS (Global Organic Latex Standard) certified 100% natural latex foam
  • GOTS certification (Global Organic Textile Standard)
  • No chemical fire retardants
  • No polyurethane foam
  • No solvent-based adhesives

Sovn

  • Oeko-Tex 100 certification
  • Eco Institut certified 100% natural latex foam
  • GOTS certification (Global Organic Textile Standard)
  • FSC certification (Forest Stewardship Council) for wood foundations
  • No chemical fire retardants
  • No polyurethane foam
  • No solvent-based adhesives

IKEA

If the prices for the above innerspring mattress brands are beyond your budget, we recommend IKEA’s “natural materials” mattress as a low-cost alternative that meets some of our criteria.[11] This mattress is currently called the SULTAN HEGGEDAL.

  • Nearly 100% natural fabrics (but not organic)
  • 85% natural latex
  • 41% of wood in IKEA products is FSC certified
  • No chemical fire retardants
  • No polyurethane foam
  • Demonstrated commitment to using renewable energy
  • Community engagement (donated $114 million to alleviate child poverty in 2014)

 

Memory Foam Mattresses

When purchasing a memory foam mattress, select natural latex foam or other plant-based foam instead of polyurethane. Note that less that 15% of ingredients in many “bio-foam” options are in fact plant-based. One company met our toxin-free standards: Essentia.

Essentia

  • Oeko-Tex Tex 100 certification
  • EuroLatex ECO-Standard certified 100% natural latex foam
  • GOTS certification (Global Organic Textile Standard)
  • No chemical fire retardants
  • No polyurethane foam
  • Greenguard Gold certified water-based adhesives

 

Latex Mattresses

When purchasing a latex mattress, select 100% natural latex instead of synthetic latex. Note that manufacturers are allowed to use the “natural” label if the mattress is at least 30% natural. Natural latex is dust-mite resistant, hypo-allergenic, anti-microbial, and bio-degradable. Four companies met very high toxin-free standards: CozyPure, Naturepedic, Savvy Rest, and Sovn.

CozyPure

  • Oeko-Tex 100 certification
  • GOLS (Global Organic Latex Standard) certified 100% natural latex foam
  • EuroLatex ECO-Standard certified
  • OCS100 organic content certification
  • FSC certification (Forest Stewardship Council) for wood foundations
  • No chemical fire retardants
  • No polyurethane foam
  • No adhesives
  • EPA Green Power Partner (factory uses 100% renewable energy)

Naturepedic

  • Greenguard Gold certification
  • GOLS (Global Organic Latex Standard) certified 100% natural latex foam
  • OCS100 organic content certification
  • GOTS certification (Global Organic Textile Standard)
  • FSC certification (Forest Stewardship Council) for wood foundations
  • No chemical fire retardants
  • No polyurethane foam
  • No adhesives
  • EPA Green Power Partner (purchases renewable energy credits for 100% of electricity)
  • Publicly supports non-profit organizations seeking stronger chemical regulations

Savvy Rest

  • Oeko-Tex 100 certification
  • Greenguard Gold certification
  • Eco Institut certified 100% natural latex foam
  • GOTS certification (Global Organic Textile Standard)
  • FSC certification (Forest Stewardship Council) for wood foundations
  • No chemical fire retardants
  • No polyurethane foam
  • No adhesives
  • Certified B Corporation (verified socially responsible)
  • EPA Green Power Partner (purchases renewable energy credits for 100% of electricity)
  • Employee ownership
  • Recycling program for used mattresses
  • Community engagement (donates pillows to domestic violence shelters)

Sovn

  • Oeko-Tex 100 certification
  • Eco Institut certified 100% natural latex foam
  • GOTS certification (Global Organic Textile Standard)
  • FSC certification (Forest Stewardship Council) for wood foundations
  • No chemical fire retardants
  • No polyurethane foam
  • No solvent-based adhesives

IKEA

If the prices for the above latex mattress brands are beyond your budget, we recommend IKEA’s “natural latex” mattress as a low-cost alternative that meets some of our criteria.[12] This mattress is currently called the MORGONGÅVA.

  • 100% cotton and wool fabric (but not organic)
  • 85% natural latex
  • 41% of wood in IKEA products is FSC certified
  • No chemical fire retardants
  • No polyurethane foam
  • Demonstrated commitment to using renewable energy
  • Community engagement (donated $114 million to alleviate child poverty in 2014)

 

Air Mattresses and Waterbeds

When purchasing an air mattress or waterbed, select natural latex air chambers or bladders instead of vinyl. Also, select latex foam instead of polyurethane. No companies currently meet our toxin-free standards.