When you spend almost a third of your life lying on a mattress that supports your body and your health, it better be comfortable AND safe. Your mattress harbors a silent and sinister world of 7 health hazards that, depending on your sensitivity to chemicals, could be making you slowly sick. You can’t see them. You can’t smell them. You can’t hear them. But they ARE lurking there. Find out more about the impact these invisible nasties can have.
Unlike some products like drugs, mattresses are not part of regulated industry, despite containing slew of chemicals. That means that mattress manufacturers don’t have to reveal the specific chemicals they treat a mattress with before sending it to the mattress store where an unsuspecting shopper, like you, purchases it, assuming it’s safe.
Why Should You Be Worried?
Why is mattress safety a concern? You’re relentlessly bombarded with chemicals each day – in the products you use to clean your home, personal care products, air fresheners, plastic containers, and pollutants in the air you breathe and water you drink. The last thing you need are chemicals in the mattress you sleep on, especially when you think about the amount of time you spend on one.
Let’s start with the outside of your humble mattress.
What few people realize is many of the mattresses you buy are manufactured with chemicals and then treated with flame retardant chemicals afterwards.
All mattresses are required by law to be treated with a flame retardant, a type of chemical that protects the mattress from igniting should it encounter a spark. Based on federal law, mattresses must be able to tolerate a flame for a certain period of time. Since the material mattresses are made from is flammable, they’re treated to make them less likely to go up in flames.
Flame retardants in mattresses may contain one of several chemicals. Some of these include decabromodiphenyl oxide, boric acid, and antimony. Decabromodiphenyl oxide and antimony are suspected carcinogens, meaning they’re believed to cause cancer and boric acid is linked with reproductive problems.
One type of flame retardant called Pentabde has already been banned for use in mattresses due to concerns about its health risks. Research has linked this flame retardant to liver, thyroid, and nervous system problems. Mattresses manufactured before 2004 may still contain this chemical. If you have an older mattress, it may have been treated with this agent.
A brand new study carried out by researchers at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health showed women with higher levels of flame retardant chemicals in their bloodstream are at greater risk for thyroid problems. As researchers point out, these chemicals build up in fatty tissue and interfere with the function of various hormones, including thyroid hormone.
According Dr Mercola
Dr Mercola’s article goes onto say that in 2013, the Chicago Tribune reported the following based on an investigative series titled”Playing With Fire”:
Watch the trailer to a revealing HBO documentary here called Toxic Hot Seat. This documentary was based on the Chicago Tribune‘s investigation.
The Foam Inside Your Mattress
There are 3 types of foam:
- Flexible polyurethane foam
- Visco-elastic or memory foam
- Latex rubber foam.
Polyurethane foam toxicity
Polyurethane foam is a very common product found in your home.
These days, most mattresses are constructed from flexible polyurethane foam.You also find this plastic-like polymer underneath rugs and carpeting in your home. It can also be found within the wall cavities of your home as insulation.
The problem with the chemicals in polyurethane foam is they’re petroleum-based and petroleum-based products are not only unhealthy but volatile. In fact, they’re referred to as volatile organic compounds or VOC’s because they can release gases into the air. The concern here is that when you lie on the mattress you breathe these chemicals in, often without being aware of it.
Is Memory foam toxic?
Another popular source material for mattresses these days is memory foam, a material that conforms to your body when you lie down on it and bounces back to its original shape when you stand up. Despite its popularity, it suffers the same problem other mattress components do – it’s made with petroleum-based chemicals.
The New Mattress Odor
When you first get a mattress, you may notice it has an odor, the so-called “new mattress odor.”
That odor is volatile organic compounds being released. As they’re liberated, you breathe them in through your nose and mouth and they move more deeply into your lungs and finally into your bloodstream.
Some of the chemicals released by petroleum products can cause breathing problems and neurological problems, including dizziness and headache. These chemicals are known to cause harm in an industrial setting. Why would you want them in your home?
Long-term exposure is the issue
Mattress manufacturers will tell you that these chemicals are released in such low amounts that they’re unlikely to cause health problems.
Even low-level release of petroleum-based chemicals can have a health impact after years of exposure. After all, your mattress is a fixture in your home for 10 years (at least) and you sleep on it every night. That’s a lot of exposure over a lifetime!
As with flame-proofing chemicals, mattress manufacturers have their own “formulas” for the chemicals they use in polyurethane foam and they’re under no obligation to tell you what it is. What you’re sleeping on is their secret and it could represent a toxic harmful cocktail for your health.
Here’s what Lauren from Empowered Sustenance said about her toxic mattress making her sick:
Just like Lauren, there’s a growing number of people who believe their mattress is making them sick. Some people, after getting a new mattress, develop symptoms consistent with an allergic reaction or an asthma attack – watery eyes, headache, nasal stuffiness, sneezing, skin irritation, wheezing, nausea, dizziness, or other symptoms. Although it’s hard to prove these symptoms stem from the mattress they’re sleeping on, in many cases, the symptoms began after getting a new mattress and noticing the new mattress smell followed by the onset of symptoms.
Is Latex Safe?
Latex mattresses come in three varieties:
- Natural – made from the sap of the rubber tree;
- Synthetic – sourced from petroleum; and
- Blended – a combination of natural latex plus synthetic latex) variety.
Therefore, the option that could be more hazardous to your health are mattresses made with synthetic latex or blended latex.
Some manufacturers also treat their mattresses with melamine resin, a plastic-like chemical that gives off formaldehyde. This has been linked to cancer. Laboratory animals exposed to formaldehyde develop cancer at a higher rate and experts believe formaldehyde is harmful to humans too.
People sensitive to formaldehyde can develop signs of lung and throat irritation, itchy eyes, or skin irritation when exposed to it.
Phthalates In Crib Mattresses
Crib mattresses for babies have many of the same problems as adult mattresses – and more. Unlike adult mattresses, they’re often encased in vinyl to make them waterproof. The problem with vinyl is it contains chemicals called phthalates.
Phthalates are quite volatile and readily enter the air. That’s problematic since phthalates are linked with disruption of hormones. Plus, in animal studies, they’re linked with damage to organs such as the kidneys, liver, and lungs as well as reproductive organs. To make matters worse, they’re correlated with cancer in animals as well as infertility. It’s particularly important to avoid phthalates if you’re pregnant since these chemicals can cross the placental barrier and reach the developing fetus.
Chances are you’re already getting exposure to phthalates since they’re found in a variety of products most people use every day, including air fresheners, personal care products, children’s toys, food packaging, shower curtains, pipes, wallpaper, and even perfume. Exposure to phthalates may have more serious consequences in kids than in adults since their organs are smaller and their cells are replicating more rapidly. With so many phthalates already in the environment, your child doesn’t need a mattress with phthalates. In fact, the European Union banned phthalates in cosmetics in 2003 due to concerns about safety.
Some of the possible chemicals that could be in a mattress are methyl benzene, acetone, methylene dianiline(MDA), and vinilideine chloride. Those chemical names sound pretty foreboding, don’t they?
Some are suspected of causing cancer while others cause skin or eye irritation or are potentially toxic to organs like your liver and thyroid.
Age of a Mattress
Some people feel comforted by the fact that their mattress is older. They reason that their trusty, old mattress has had enough time to release all of the toxic gases. Not necessarily.
As the foam in the mattress ages, the components can break down and release even more gases. So, an older mattress is no protection against toxic gas release and may be even riskier.
In addition, older mattresses may have been manufactured with chemicals that have since been banned, like Pentabde.
Who’s Most at Risk From The Hazards in Mattresses?
Those people with allergies, chemical sensitivities, and respiratory problems.
At highest risk for health problems due to mattress toxins is children.
Children, particularly infants, have smaller airways, lungs, and an immature immune system and organs, making them more susceptible to the toxic effects of chemicals. A British researcher, Barry Richardson, and a chemist, Dr. T. James Sprott, based on their studies, believe sudden infant death syndrome, or SIDS, is linked with the release of toxic gases from baby mattresses. The gases are actually produced by tiny microorganisms called fungi.
When fungi are exposed to chemicals in the mattress, either flame retardants or chemicals used to make the polyurethane foam itself, they produce unhealthy gases. When babies breathe in these gases, it attacks their nervous system in a way that triggers sudden death. Having babies sleep on their back reduces the risk of SIDS. That may be because their nose and lungs are less exposed to mattress gases when they’re sleeping when their head is facing away from the mattress. Once people started wrapping mattresses in a sheet of polyethylene to reduce gas dispersal, the rate of SIDS dropped by almost 50% in New Zealand. The so-called toxic gas theory of SIDS is unproven but a number of experts believe it’s a factor in SIDs.
3 Tips To Minimize The Health Hazards In Your New Mattress
After reading about the 7 health hazards that could be lurking in your mattress, I’m assuming you want to buy a new one. So this section looks at how you can be a savvy shopper and know the choices you have to minimize those health hazards. Even having a few of the following elements in your mattress will minimize your exposure to harmful hazards over the 10-year lifespan of your new mattress.
Tip #1 – Look for mattresses made with more natural vs. synthetic materials
Whilst this list isn’t extensive, it’s a good place to start.
Mattresses made with wool are naturally flame resistant so that means you avoid those nasty flame retardant chemicals. Organic vs. non-organic wool is your choice. If you’re keen on organic, you may seek out mattresses filled with Pure Grow Wool. Pure Grow Wool is an initiative from 50 ranchers in the Sonoma Valley who got together to ensure their wool as pure as possible: cleaned, scrubbed (with no chemicals) and created with no dyes, bleaches, formaldehyde or cruelty to animals.
100% natural latex is another option, made with pure sap from the rubber tree. This will not contain petroleum-based chemicals or styrene, and are therefore less hazardous to your health.
Buy mattresses made with cotton because it’s a less flammable material. To minimize the hazards in your mattress, the cotton should organic. That way it is free of pesticides, bleaches and other chemicals used in the growing and processing of that cotton.
Have you heard of Eco Foam, Bio Foam, or Soybean Foam? You can find memory foam mattresses that instead of containing 100% petroleum oil, it contains a mix of petroleum oil and oils sourced from natural plants. But don’t be fooled, even though Soybean foam can contain up to 17-20% of soybean oil, remember most of the remaining oil is still made from harmful crude oil.
You can find mattresses made without formaldehyde like the 12 inch Queen-sized Zinus Memory Foam Mattress infused with green tea. Green tea? Don’t laugh. The green tea infusion acts as an antioxidant, so your mattress is crisp and fresh.
Organic mattresses not only minimize the toxins associated with latex, cotton and wool but they may also contain other plant extracts with antimicrobial properties.
Tip #2 – Ask questions so you are aware of what chemical toxins are in the mattresses being sold to you
C’mon this is your long term health we’re talking here so you need to ask some difficult questions!!! Approach the mattress manufacturer or the retailer.
The main question to ask is “Do they use flame retardants and formaldehyde?” If the person you’re speaking with does not know the answer, (like a customer service representative), ask to speak with their supervisor or the owner of the company. If there’s some hesitation or they tell you the answer, move on, because they probably do use flame retardants and formaldehyde.
Getting an answer you’re happy with may be a long shot. But try anyway! Manufacturers often use a proprietary blend of several chemicals to treat their mattresses. Some manufacturers won’t readily divulge their “secret” formulas. When you speak with them, be mindful that they may argue that there’s no firm evidence that these chemicals pose a health risk, but some of the studies we’ve covered in this article, suggests otherwise.
At the My Green Mattress company, you can speak with the owner Tim Masters directly. Soon after his daughter Emily was born, Tim sought out a mattress to alleviate his daughter’s eczema and allergies. He couldn’t find something suitable, so he started up My Green Mattress. You can check out my review of their most popular mattress, the Pure Echo, here.
Another big question “Is this mattress certified as natural or organic?” Ask for proof of that certification (see Tip 3).
Tip #3 – Seek out committed manufacturers that subject their mattresses to scrutiny by independent third parties to obtain credible certifications
In summary, the certifications that could impact your buying decision are shown in Table 1.
All the mattresses we review here at Better Bed Solutions have the CertiPUR-US certification. That’s because, for me, that is the minimum standard to avoid some basic chemicals that could be toxic for your health. This site only reviews mattresses that, at a minimum, have a CertiPUR certification. These mattresses include the Ultimate Dreams Latex DreamFoam Mattress, the 12 inch Queen-sized Zinus Memory Foam Mattress infused with green tea and the Bamboo Gel 11 and Gel 13 inch Memory Foam Brentwood Mattress .
Your Next Actions
Know what you want
The extent to which your new mattress is hazard-free will really on what you want and how much you can afford. You may want and can afford a 100% toxin-free mattress, That is excellent news. However, if your pocket doesn’t stretch that far, think about what you are willing to compromise. Remember, the objective is to minimize hazards in mattresses that are harmful to your health – even if you reduce those hazards by 10%, that’s a step in the right direction.
2. Ask your licensed physician for help
If you feel passionate about minimizing the harmful chemicals when buying a new mattress, your licensed physician can help. Armed with a doctor’s prescription for a toxin-free mattress, certain retailers can order a mattress without flame retardants for you. According to the Healthy Child:
The Healthy Child said that from late 2015, mattresses were available that passed fire standards that did not contain toxic materials. Take a look at these mattresses:
3. Do your research
Only you know your preferences and your budget, so do your research. There is so much information available online: look through reviews and complaints.
Have your questions ready.
Can’t Afford A New Mattress?
Green Lifestyle Mag Australia recommends you cover your current mattress If you can’t afford a new mattress…
As you can see, your mattress may consist of a cocktail of unhealthy chemicals.
When you think about the chemicals used to make the foam in your mattress, the phthalates from vinyl, and the flame retardants, you’re getting a lot of exposure to harmful chemicals each time you lie down. After all, you’re spending a third of your time with your head resting on a mattress.
Many people focus on “detoxing” their body by juicing, but what about the environment you live in and the mattress you sleep on? When you sleep your face and body are in direct contact with a mattress that releases chemicals for hours at a time. Maybe it’s time to give your mattress a second look.
I hope you received some value from this article. May the zzzz be with you!
Environmental Working Group. “Infants’ Exposure To Toxic Fire Retardant Linked To Baby Items”
American Cancer Society. “What is Formaldehyde?”
CBS Boston. “I-Team: Consumers Believe Mattresses Made Them Sick”
John R. Lee M.D. “SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) and Baby Mattresses”
British Medical Journal, 2002;325:1007 (2 November).
Archives of Environmental Health, Jan-Feb 2000.
Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. “Exposure to Common Flame Retardant Chemicals May Increase Thyroid Problems in Women”