UPDATED: October 2015
(First, read my disclosure page.)
When I was pregnant for the first time, we decided to upgrade to a king-sized bed in anticipation of co-sleeping with our newborn.
Of course, I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t agonize and research before making any purchase…and there was plenty to agonize over when it came to finding a safe mattress!
At the time of this writing, I have a 2-year-old and a 6-year-old, both of whom still spend a lot of time in our bed, and I’m so glad I feel comfortable with (and comfortable on!) the mattress we chose (a Savvy Rest for us, followed by White Lotus for the boys).
Read on for more on why mattress materials matter, and to learn which mattresses companies are the Good Stuff. Whether you are looking for a crib mattress for a newborn or to upgrade your own bed, we’ve done the research for you and will help you avoid the Sneaky Stuff. (If you want to skip to the bottom line, scroll down to the Good Stuff tab).
I often tell my private consulting clients that their mattress is the very first thing they should upgrade when detoxing their homes. This is particularly true when it comes to a crib mattress. The reason I feel so strongly about sleeping on a non-toxic mattress? Well, for one thing, babies and kids spend a lot of time sleeping, and even busy, night-owl grownups spend at least 25% of their time in bed. Moreover, there is evidence that your immune system works hardest at night, so it seems reasonable to have your sleep environment be as clean as possible. Unfortunately, mattresses are loaded with noxious chemicals, including:
- Various petrochemicals. Indeed, MOST of what makes up a conventional mattress are petroleum-based.
- Plastics or vinyls.
- Flame retardant chemicals (although there is good news on this front–more on that in a minute).
This chemical cocktail releases VOCs (volatile organic compounds), which are linked to a host of health problems, from respiratory irritation to cancer, and are particularly potent if you purchase a brand new mattress.
A Myth About Off-Gassing
Many of my clients think that their mattresses are okay if they are old because they have “already off-gassed.” Unfortunately, this is not true in the case of foam mattresses. In fact, as the foam degrades, more PBDEs (hormone-disrupting flame retardants) may be released.
Crib mattresses are often covered in vinyl for waterproofing, which often contains phthalates. In 2009, Congress passed a law that forbids the use of three types of phthalates in products for young children, including mattresses. Of course, other plasticizers are likely used in place of phthalates, and they may be just as bad.
Mattresses are required by the Consumer Product Safety Commission to meet flammability laws, which means most treated with flame retardant chemicals and/or materials. These will typically be one of the following:
- Polybrominated diphenyl ethers. PBDEs are associated with hormone disruption, hyperactivity, and neurodevelopmental delays, including lowered IQ . The European Union has banned the use of PBDEs in electronic devices. Studies show that children in the United States have higher levels of PBDEs than adults do. Oh, and here’s the kicker: they don’t even work very well at stopping fires.
- Firemaster 550. This nasty chemical cocktail is made with bis(2-ethylhexyl) tetrabromophthalate (TBPH). Yes, you saw that word in there: phthalate. TBPH is nearly idential to DEHP, the phthalate banned in children’s products (including mattresses!!) due to evidence of carcinogenicity and developmental toxicity.
- Chlorinated tris. This is the notorious chemical that was removed from children’s pajamas in the 1970s because it was shown to cause cancer.
Great news came in 2014: New flammability standards can be met WITHOUT the use of these toxic chemicals. The new law does not ban the use of the chemicals; it just renders them unnecessary. For now, we don’t know for sure which companies are still using treated foam and which have switched over to safer materials. One clue: Look for the TB117-2013 label on new mattresses, which suggests that the item meets the standards without fire retardants.
Why Coils May Be Bad Stuff
Most mattresses contain spring coils in the box spring and within a mattress. From a toxicity perspective, steel coil springs are pretty inert and safe. But from an electromagnetic perspective, these springs may present problems. Dr. Douglas Fields, of the National Institute of Child Health & Human Development, said this in a Scientific American article:
“…as we sleep on our coil-spring mattresses, we are in effect sleeping on an antenna that amplifies the intensity of the broadcast FM/TV radiation. Asleep on these antennas, our bodies are exposed to the amplified electromagnetic radiation for a third of our life spans. As we slumber on a metal coil-spring mattress, a wave of electromagnetic radiation envelops our bodies so that the maximum strength of the field develops 75 centimeters above the mattress in the middle of our bodies.”
There have been very few studies done to further examine this issue, but if electro-magnetic fields concern you, sleeping on something that has no springs should be something to consider.
Now that you know some of what can make a mattress toxic, I’d like to tell you about some of the materials and certifications that you DO want in and on your mattress. They include:
- Organic wool (untreated) is naturally flame and mildew/dust mite resistant.
- 100% natural latex (made from rubber trees) is safer than latex blends, which may contain petroleum-based polyurethane. Synthetic latex is usually made from styrene, a human carcinogen.
- Organic cotton (grown in untreated soil, without pesticides) can be used for batting or mattress wrapping.
- Trusted certifications, such as GreenGuard, Oeko-Tex, and GOTS, mean that some ingredients in the mattress have been vetted by organizations committed to improving air quality, which means a safer sleeping surface for you. However…
Beware of Sneaky Certifications!
Here’s how to tell what’s legit when it comes to certifications. There are three basic types of certifications:
- First-party certifications are made by the company that produces the product. One such example is NAOMI (National Association of Organic Mattress Industry), which was created by Pure Rest Organics. Obviously, this is not a legitimate certification.
- Second-party certifications are made by trade associations; the certification is to ensure eligibility of products. CertiPUR–which was “developed by members of the global foam industry”–is one such example. While it does certify that mattresses that are not treated with PBDEs, it still indicates a polyurethane mattress.
- Third-party certifications are generated by nonprofits or government bodies with no financial prerogative. Third-party certifications include GreenGuard, Oeko-Tex, Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS), and organic agricultural standards. Such certifications are the ones you should be looking for, but they each mean slightly different things. When it comes to mattresses, I think Oeko-Tex 100 is the most solid certification.
The Good Stuff
Savvy Rest is the mattress we bought when I was pregnant, and we have been very satisfied. The latex used by Savvy Rest is 100% natural, and other materials used include certified organic wool (which serves as flame retardant) and cotton. Note that the Dunlop latex is organic, while the Talalay is not.
Savvy Rest mattresses have various natural certifications, including Oeko-Tex. (It’s important to note that these certifications are for specific materials within the mattress, rather than the mattress itself.)
Savvy Baby is Savvy Rest’s line of crib mattresses, which are (obviously) free of flame retardants and made of organic latex, organic cotton, and organic wool.
Bad Stuff About Savvy Rest
These beds aren’t cheap, especially when compared to conventional mattresses. The process of picking the right mattress can feel complicated when you’re choosing your Savvy Rest mattress, despite great customer service. Like most other mattress brands, Savvy uses some proprietary materials and processes in the manufacturing of their mattresses, and we know that chemicals are needed to convert latex into foam. I am satisfied with Savvy’s certifications and independent testing, and do not believe these mattresses introduce toxins into the home.
How to Get a Savvy Rest Mattress
Visit Savvy Rest’s website to see their wide array of mattresses and learn more about all the materials they use. Our king-sized mattress cost around $3,500, but prices depend on which model you choose in addition to the size you want. We now sell Savvy Baby mattresses in our online store.
We field a ton of questions about Essentia from people who love memory foam and want a safer option. Standard memory foam (made of petroleum derivatives) is decidedly toxic, I’ve long suspected Essentia of being Sneaky stuff. After researching Essentia thoroughly for a recent client, I came away (still reluctantly!) recommending them as Good Stuff, although I do still have a few small reservations. They use a proprietary flame retardant in their foam, which involves Kevlar–a material that is not remotely natural, but which appears to be non-toxic, based on current research available. Kevlar is a type of plastic, however, and you probably know I don’t love plastic, period!
I spoke to the people at Essentia, and they sent me the independent testing results for their mattresses—I saw no red flags and everything checked out as non-toxic. They also have a number of certifications, some of which are more legit than others. There is always chance that sneaky manufacturers might hide things under the “trade secret” laws, but I didn’t learn anything from Essentia that suggests that they are doing so. I personally will continue to buy our mattresses from manufacturers who use wool as a flame retardant, but if you want a memory foam mattress, this is far and away your best bet!
Soaring Heart Natural Bedding Company
Truth be told, had I done all the research before I bought my mattress, I likely would have gone with a Soaring Heart mattress.
Soaring Heart Natural Bedding Company was quick to answer our questions about their mattresses, and they are among the most transparent companies I’ve ever dealt with. Based out of Seattle and in operation for almost 30 years, Soaring Heart hand-crafts most of their mattresses on site.
Soaring Heart makes two kinds of mattresses: organic innerspring and latex. The organic innerspring is made of 95% recycled steel and wool that is a blend of organic and non-organic, and has an organic cotton casing. (See above for one reason you may want to avoid an innerspring mattress). Soaring Hearts latex mattresses are made of 100% organic latex.
Soaring Heart mattresses contain no chemical fire retardants. They explained to me that “the latex passes the flame test by using a combination of a tightly woven, organic cotton fabric encasement and is then wrapped in organic felted wool.” Soaring Heart discloses the materials of all mattress components on its website, something that most companies do not do.
Bad Stuff About Soaring Heart
Soaring Heart previously used boric acid as a pest control in products that contain “conventional cotton batting.” Boric acid was phased out of Soaring Heart products and any mattress produced after October 2012 will not have been treated with this powder.
How to Get a Soaring Heart Mattress
You can now buy Soaring Heart mattresses through our online store, and they ship for anywhere in the U.S. Depending on the specific model you choose, as well as the size of your bed, these mattresses run from $1,500 to $3,850. Soaring Heart offers organic crib mattresses and dog beds, too, which are both also available in our store.
Naturepedic was founded by a grandfather named Barry when he could not find a non-toxic crib mattress for his grandson. Naturepedic mattresses are now used by over 150 hospitals in the United States.
Naturepedic mattresses are made of certified organic cotton and a steel innerspring. Naturpedic use no flame retardants of any kind. Naturepedic mattresses are less expensive than other natural mattresses, and Naturepedic has received many awards/certifications for their products, including GreenGuard.
Bad Stuff About Naturepedic
The waterproof options use food-grade polyethylene for their outer layer (it acts as a moisture and vapor barrier). I’m skeptical about the safety of all plastics, although this one seems about as good as it gets for those of you wanting a truly waterproof mattress.
How to Get a Naturepedic Mattress
Naturpedic mattresses are widely available, both online and in brick-and-mortar stores. Adult mattresses mostly run in the $2,000-range, an crib mattresses from $259 to $399. We now offer Naturepedic crib mattresses and children’s mattresses in our online store.
Vivetique makes various types of mattresses; some use innerspring and cotton and others are 100% natural latex. Vivetique mattresses are Oeko-Tex and the GOTS certified, and a truly safe option. However….
Bad Stuff About Vivetique
The company’s website has broken links and consistently navigates to the wrong page, and there are no prices listed on the website, which is a frustrating experience for the shopper. Even after multiple conversations with the president of Vivetique, Steve Carwile, we don’t have information on the price of their mattresses! Furthermore, one of our readers recently called us to relay a frustrating experience with Vivetique, although at she maintained that she felt this was the best mattress on the market.
How to Get a Vivetique
Call 800-365-6563 to find a dealer.
White Lotus provides a comprehensive, transparent website (complete with an ingredients page), and they sent along a big box of samples of all of their sumptuous natural materials. (Felix had a blast making beds for his stuffed animals out of the goodies.) Not all White Lotus mattresses qualify as Good Stuff, though, so make a note of the issues below. The ones that are good are very, very good, and I recently bought Felix a White Lotus futon for his bed.
White Lotus uses some really cool ingredients in their products:
- Kapok to stuff their mattresses. The “harvesting of the kapok pods provides jobs to indigenous people and helps maintain this vanishing ecosystem,” according to the White Lotus website.
- Wholesale green cotton, which is totally unprocessed once harvested from the bolls–no bleaches, dyes, or fungicides.
- Wool, which is 100% virgin lamb’s wool.
- Organic cotton.
- Organic buckwheat hulls (for pillows).
- 100% natural latex (from rubber tree).
Note that you will need a doctor’s note to to buy some White Lotus mattresses since they are free of flame retardants. (The wool mattresses are an exception as wool is a natural flame retardant.)
When I decided to get Felix a new twin-sized mattress, I went with this White Lotus futon.
Bad Stuff About White Lotus
Avoid the Evergreen Foam used by White Lotus, which is a blend of “natural, oil-based foam” and conventional polyol, an alcohol used in the production of polyurethane. While off-gassing is heavily reduced and the environmental impact better than conventional foam, I don’t consider this truly natural, safe foam.
The cotton used in the White Lotus standard crib mattress is treated with borate powder (note that there are organic cotton options available without the borate powder, and you’ll need a doctor’s prescription for one of those).
How to Get a White Lotus Mattress
We now carry White Lotus mattresses in our online store! If you don’t see the model or size that you want, contact us and we will get it for you. Prices range from $1,100 to $2,490. Crib mattresses run from $470 to $825. Please note that we do not carry any White Lotus products with any of the questionable ingredients listed above–if you see it in our store, you know it’s free of borate, foam, and other synthetics.
Other Mattresses That May Be Good Stuff
This list of mattresses above should not be mistaken for a comprehensive roundup of every single safe mattress on the market. Here are some of the brands that you’ve asked us about that appear to be Good Stuff, but of which we have not done a thorough review, or which we have some concerns about, as indicated below.
- Bella Sera is a tiny company with some legitimate certifications. They seem like the Good Stuff!
- Coco-Mat uses all the right buzzwords to describe their mattresses (“non-toxic,” “sustainable,” etc.), but they are lacking somewhat in the certification department (although with digging we discovered they do carry the Oeko-Tex 100 certification). The big question mark for us is the “natural rubber” they use, which doesn’t have any certification. I think these mattresses are probably Good Stuff, but I am waiting for the company to send along more information on their certifications. Coco-Mats are expensive (up to $34,000), so here’s hoping they are legit!
- Hastens makes top-of-the-line natural mattresses with no foam, and they carry the Oeko-Tex Standard 100 certification. The price puts them out of range for most people: starting at $10,000, Hastens mattresses go up to a whopping $99,000! Hastens does use steel springs in their mattresses, which some folks would prefer to avoid for the reasons listed above.
- Natural Mat appears to be made of all the Good Stuff and none of the bad, but doesn’t come with any certifications.
- Nook crib mattresses fails to show any independent certification. It’s too bad because on the face of it, they seem like a good company making a good product, but our inability to verify their claims makes it impossible for us to recommend them. I am waiting to hear back from them with more details, but I also don’t love that their mattresses contain plastic (PETE, which is among the safer types of plastic, but plastic nonetheless!).
(Don’t forget to scroll up and click on the Bad Stuff and Sneaky Stuff tabs!)
The Bad Stuff
It’s safe to assume that all conventional mattresses contain petrochemicals and that most are treated with toxic flame retardants.
Tempurpedic mattresses are wildly popular…and wildly toxic. “Memory foam” is made of inexpensive polyurethane, and you’ll notice that a brand new Tempurpedic is smellier than most other mattresses–this is because it’s off-gassing more. The fire retardant used on Tempurpedics is NOT PBDE, but they do not disclose what it is. The Environmental Protection Agency has also raised concerns about emissions formed during the production of polyurethane foam products, which include methylene chloride and other hazardous chemicals.
The Sneaky Stuff
Casper mattresses contain a top latex layer that is Oeko-Tex certified, but I’m not crazy about the memory foam component (which is not certified and contains polyurethane). The flame retardants seem pretty safe: “A fire retardant knit sock covers the foam before the outer cover is placed on the mattress. The knit sock is made from a proprietary yarn with a silica core and a polyester/acrylic/nylon/rayon outer wrap…The knit sock is made without any toxic chemicals and each component is OEKO-TEX® certified.” However, the latex in the lower layers is not 100% natural but rather a blend. Readers who have purchased a Casper mattress have complained of the smell.
“Sneaky” isn’t really the best word to describe Keetsa mattresses, but I’m putting them here since so many retailers advertise Keetsa as “natural” or “green.” The company is, in fact, pretty transparent, and clearly states that “Keetsa’s mission is to deliver a comfortable, affordable and durable mattress in an eco-friendly manner. We are not producing organic or natural mattresses. By replacing some of the petroleum product with cedar oil and introducing green tea extract into the mixture, we have created a foam that is less toxic and has a less-offensive odor than traditional foam. We also utilize sustainable materials, such as bamboo, in our cover materials.”
The Sealy Naturalis mattress has an organic cotton layer; unfortunately, it is surrounded by a vinyl cover.
Colgate crib mattresses claims to be made of “the finest non-toxic materials in the marketplace.” In reality, Colgate mattresses contain vinyl and polyurethane.
IntelliBED claims to be non-toxic, and is heavily promoted by natural parenting blogger Mommypotamus (for the record, I usually agree with her assessments and love her recipes). The only certification they have received is the dubious CertiPUR, and Mommypotamus says they use a “green fire blocker,” but the company hasn’t gotten back to me on what this is. They claim that they use a soy-based foam, but companies can make this claim when the mattress contains only a small percentage of soy foam (the rest being petroleum-derived polyurethane), and IntelliBED gives no specifics about their foam. Mommypotamus has this to say: “Based on my research, I believe the materials used by intelliBED are inert, aka non-toxic/non-offgassing. Though generally I prefer to use natural materials I feel there are some very unique benefits to intelliGEL regarding sleep quality, and for me that played a factor in my purchase decision.” I respect her decision, but my recommendation is to go with one of the mattresses recommended under the Good Stuff.
Moonlight Slumber set off an alarm for me right off with their bogus certification: “Green Safety Shield” is their own certification, and is not third (or even second!) party. They do have testing that shows no VOCs from their mattresses, but that’s only one issue of concern. I’m more worried about their “Visco foam,” whatever that is! They do have a CertiPUR certification program, but this is from a polyurethane industry group. Finally, their flame retardant is proprietary, although they claim it’s natural and free of chemicals.
Natura World mattresses may contain (depending on the model you select) boric acid and fiberglass flame retardants, petroleum-derived latex (as in, not the kind from rubber trees), and nanoparticle. The organic model may be safe, but I don’t have enough information at this point to know for sure.
Maybe Ikea mattresses shouldn’t be considered Sneaky since they don’t make any real claims about being non-toxic, but people keep asking us if they are Good Stuff now that they are advertised as free of flame retardant chemicals. It seems Ikea does avoid the worst traditional fire-retardants, but the flame retardants they do use are a trade secret. November 2016 Update: Ikea’s latex mattresses are the only ones that do not contain any flame retardants, but even these contain fire retardants around the zipper.
Don’t Be Fooled By:
- Natural latex. Petroleum comes from the earth, so petroleum-based mattresses can be “natural.” A “natural latex mattress” may only contain only 50% natural latex and may be blended with polyurethane foam and treated with VOCs. Look for mattresses that specify that they are made from 100% natural latex.
- “All-natural wool” or “pure wool” or “eco-wool.” Unless wool is certified organic, it is likely processed conventionally, with a variety of chemicals. You may or may not be okay with this (I feel that the flame retardants are more concerning). In some cases, a wool producer may not bother with organic certification, despite organic practices–but you’d need to do further research to confirm that this is the case.
- Biofoam. Soy or plant foam is still made of mostly polyurethane; biofoam mattresses typically contain less than 20% plant material.
- Certifications. Oftentimes, these certifications apply only to certain parts of the mattress, not necessarily the mattress as a whole. In some cases the mattress company creates its own certification. (See above section under “Beware of Sneaky Certifications!”)
Less Expensive Ways to Sleep Safely
If you want to co-sleep but don’t want to buy a new mattress, consider futons as an alternative to expensive mattresses. They are much more comfortable than they were in your childhood, and I love the ones by White Lotus and Soaring Heart in particular. Note that conventional or Sneaky futons will be loaded with all the same scary chemicals as mattresses, so you’ll have to do your homework for these as well.
And if you’re really adventurous…
Make your own mattress. Get some tips from Lynn Cimino, who sells starter kits of organic materials on Etsy. She also has a blog called the “Make Your Own Mattress Forum.”
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