What Is a Non-Toxic Mattress?
Today, most of us are aware of the multitude of potentially harmful chemicals found in the foods you eat, the personal care products you put on our body, and other items in your home. One much-used product where icky chemicals may also lurk? Your mattress.
One way to ensure you're not exposing yourself to hazardous chemicals while you sleep is to buy a non-toxic mattress—that is, one that's free of harmful chemicals.
Non-toxic mattresses also typically have fewer allergens—and they're often even more durable and comfortable because of the quality of materials they contain.
Non-toxic mattresses are also better for the environment. Since the materials used to make them are free of harmful chemicals, their production process doesn't do as much damage to soil and water. Environmentally conscious mattress manufacturers also typically implement recycling programs and find ways to use recycled components in their mattresses, such as springs made of recycled steel.
To find a high-quality non-toxic mattress, you have to know exactly what to look for. Here's how to find the best non-toxic mattress for you.
Types of non-toxic mattress materials
From latex to organic cotton to natural thistle, here are the most common materials you'll find inside a non-toxic mattress.
Organic cotton is grown without chemical insecticides or synthetic fertilizers.
You'll find organic cotton in the mattress cover and padding in the top layer of a non-toxic mattress. Organic cotton is better for your health and the environment than conventional cotton.
According to the Organic Trade Association, conventional cotton production accounts for as much as 25% of global pesticide use. Organic cotton, on the other hand, is grown without chemical insecticides or synthetic fertilizers. That means less chance of skin irritation in people with sensitive skin and less damage to the soil and local water systems.
The process of growing organic cotton is better for workers too, as their exposure to toxic chemicals is minimized.
Memory foam mattresses are notorious for their off-gassing, the term for what happens when volatile organic compounds (VOCs) leak out of upholstery materials and mattress foams and into the air you breathe.
If you want a non-toxic memory foam mattress, look for memory foam that uses plant-based ingredients, like soybean and corn oil, in place of some of the standard petroleum-based derivatives. This type of memory foam is lower in VOCs and free of formaldehyde and heavy metals.
Natural latex is made from the sap of rubber trees that has been molded into foam.
Considering a latex mattress? To ensure it's non-toxic, choose one made from 100% natural latex. Natural latex is made from the sap of rubber trees that has been molded into foam.
Synthetic latex, on the other hand, is made from petroleum-based ingredients and may release toxic chemicals into the air that are responsible for that unpleasant “new mattress" smell and can cause problems in people with allergies or other sensitivities.
All mattresses produced after 2007 are required to contain flame retardants. The problem is, many manufacturers use chemical flame retardants that are known to be detrimental to your health.
Fortunately, non-toxic options exist. One non-toxic flame retardant is natural thistle, which is made mainly from wood pulp and bonded with a small amount of polyester.
This is another non-toxic flame retardant. Beyond being natural, wool is also antibacterial, antimicrobial, resistant to dust mites, and hypoallergenic.
Our Best Non-Toxic Mattresses
Best non-toxic mattress
The easiest way to ensure you're getting the best non-toxic mattress is to find one that has reliable third-party certifications. If a mattress is certified to be free of harmful chemicals, you can have confidence your purchase is good for you and the planet.
Some of the best third-party mattress certifications to look for include:
Foams that are certified by CertiPUR-US are guaranteed to be low in volatile organic compounds (VOCs), so they won't off-gas in your home. They're also guaranteed to be free of ozone depleters, certain chemical flame retardants, formaldehyde, mercury, lead, and other heavy metals, and phthalates.
Materials like foam, latex, and cotton that carry the OEKO-TEX Standard 100 seal have been tested to ensure they're free of toxic chemicals.
Mattresses with GreenGuard certification are tested for VOC emissions and adhere to the organization's strict emissions standards.
Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS)
To receive GOTS certification, all chemicals, including dyes, in a material (such as cotton) must be evaluated and meet basic requirements on toxicity. The material must also be made with at least 95% organic fibers and meet certain environmental criteria.
Global Organic Latex Standard (GOLS)
Latex holding the GOLS symbol must contain more than 95% certified raw organic material. It must also adhere to GOLS limits on harmful chemicals, fillers, and emissions.
Cradle to Cradle
A textile with the Cradle to Cradle Certified seal has to meet the standards in five sustainability categories: material health, material reuse, renewable energy and carbon management, water stewardship, and social fairness.
Fair Trade Certified factories are monitored and assessed regularly to ensure workers' safety, and they also have policies in place that allow workers to use their voice to negotiate with management or address a grievance. Raw materials, like cotton, are also traced from their origin to their destination to make sure Fair Trade standards are upheld every step of the way—that means waste is minimized during production and dangerous pollutants and chemicals aren't used during the manufacturing process.
More Great Non-Toxic Mattresses from Saatva
Chemicals to watch out for
Finally, when searching for a non-toxic mattress, there are certain chemicals you'll want to avoid.
Polyurethane foam is a petroleum-based foam that is used in many mattresses. It's known to emit VOCs into the air, resulting in off-gassing. This can irritate people with asthma and other respiratory conditions or sensitivities. The most common petrochemicals are ethylene, propylene, butadiene, benzene, toluene, and xylene.
Chemical fire retardants
To comply with safety regulations established by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, all mattresses need to contain flame retardants to be able to withstand 30 minutes of exposure to an open flame.
Unfortunately, some chemicals used as flame retardants can be bad for your health when they build up in your body. Specifically, halogenated flame retardants (a.k.a. organohalogen flame retardants), which contain chlorine or bromine bonded to carbon, and organophosphorous flame retardants, which contain phosphorus bonded to carbon, are associated with endocrine disruption, immunotoxicity, and negative effects on child development.
To stay on the safe side, buy a mattress made in the U.S., as these are subject to stricter safety regulations than mattresses made in many other countries.
Other chemical flame retardants are called polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), which have been banned in the United States since 2005.
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), PBDEs have been linked to thyroid disruption and neuro-developmental toxicity in rats and mice. The EPA also notes that traces of PBDEs have been found in human tissue, blood, and breast milk.
If you're still sleeping on a foam mattress that was purchased before PBDEs were banned, and it has a ripped cover or foam that's misshapen or breaking down, the Washington State Department of Health advises replacing it.
How good is your mattress for the planet? Here, find out what goes into making an eco-friendly mattress.