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Sleep Tight, Don't Let the Toxic Chemicals Bite

Ahhh…a good night’s sleep. Is there anything better? Waking up and feeling refreshed. Studies show its easier to maintain a healthy weight when you get enough sleep. You function, work, and drive better with more sleep. The benefits of a good night’s sleep are countless. How many of you actually feel like you are getting a good night’s sleep?

We actually spend 1/3 of our lives in bed. We should be getting at least 8 hours of sleep a night. That is a lot of time on your mattress. What are you laying on? What are you breathing in all night, every night, month after month, year after year?

I am sure when you went mattress shopping, your goal was to find a mattress that was comfortable. But did you ever think about its other health implications?

Did you know that most mattresses are loaded with toxic chemicals? These toxic chemicals not only off-gas when you first get your mattress but as the materials degrade, they continue to off-gas toxic chemicals (VOC”S or volatile organic compounds). So just “airing your mattress out” for a few days when you first buy it isn’t going to help. Furthermore, many of these chemicals are absorbed every night into our bodies and can build up in our bodies overtime (toxic body burden). They have been found in urine, breast milk, blood and more.

What is in my mattress?

We may not be able to fully answer that question because like many industries, mattress manufactures are not required to disclose the materials or chemicals they use in mattresses. Mattresses don’t have ingredient labels. Manufacturers are not required to prove a chemicals safety or its health effects before using it in a mattress.

Flame Retardants

What we do know is that starting July 2007 (2005 for California), all mattresses (including crib) are required to be flame retardant. In order to comply with this, most mattresses are laden with toxic flame retardant chemicals. (The law: 16 CFR 1632

While the law was started with good intentions, to prevent mattress fire deaths, it has not worked. The flame retardants cause more harm than good. As the products burn, they melt into plastic which can stick to burns. Furthermore, flame retardants release toxic gasses, produce more carbon monoxide and smoke; this makes a fire even deadlier.

The products don’t even prevent fire deaths because they don’t actually work and research into flame retardants is based on bogus science created by the chemical industry themselves or in the very least, manipulated by the chemical industry. Are you surprised that we are seeing major conflicts of interest in the big chemical industry, AGAIN?

In 2012, The Chicago Tribune did an investigative series about the fake science behind flame retardants. Read the investigative story here:

You can also check out this video from U.S. Senator Dick Durbin who spoke on the Unites States Senate floor regarding toxic chemicals found in everyday household products and furnishings. His speech was based on the investigation done by the Chicago Tribune series (see link above) “which uncovered flawed testing, products that don't work, unscrupulous "experts," shoddy science and stalled government reform”.

What are the most commonly used flame-retardant chemicals in mattresses?

Boric Acid-better known as roach killer. Besides killing roaches, it is a known human reproductive and developmental toxin as well as respiratory and skin irritant.

PBDE (PentaBDE) -production on this chemical terminated in 2004 due to increased concern over its toxicity. However, it may be in your mattress if you bought it prior to 2004. When foam in mattresses containing PBDE breakdown, even more of the chemical is released. PBDE is an endocrine disrupting chemical. It is linked to fertility issues, developmental issues, cancers, and is toxic to the liver, kidneys and nervous system. Many companies have replaced PBDE with organophosphates which also have a known link to breast cancer and other health concerns.

Antimony-Antimony a heavy metal similar to arsenic. Antimony is highly toxic and is a known carcinogen. Antimony is found in modacrylic fiber.

According to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) a safe level of antimony cannot be determined: “In their Jan-06 Risk Assessment the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) shows the average adult will absorb a daily dose of .802 mg of antimony, .081 mg boric acid, and .073 mg DBDPO (Deca) from flame proof mattresses every night. Five-year-old children will absorb .5 mg antimony every night, 63 times more poison than the EPA says is safe. Younger children were not studied. On cancer risks of antimony even the CPSC admits: “The cancer effects are cumulative. Every exposure contributes to the overall lifetime risk of developing cancer.”

Other flame retardants: Melamine Resin (which contains formaldehyde), Silicon (Silica Glass, a known respiratory hazard and carcinogen), Decabromodiphenyl Oxide, and Ammonium Polyphosphate, Boron (pure boron is not necessarily toxic but many of its forms are toxic. It also not eco-friendly as boron extraction creates harmful waste), and Chlorinated Tris banned from use in children’s sleepwear in the 70’s due to its toxicity.

These flame retardants are all over our homes, not just our mattresses, they are in most of our furniture too. As the flame retardants off-gas, they are released into the air and settle as dust all over our homes. It is believed that 90% of Americans have these chemicals in their body, their toxic body burden.

Polyurethane Foam

Polyurethane foam is a petroleum-based material that releases volatile organic compounds (VOC’S) and is a known respiratory and skin irritant. Polyurethane foam is what most memory foam type mattresses are made from. It is also found in the layers of other types of mattresses as well as in furniture cushions and pillows.

What makes up polyurethane foam?

(Di)isocyanates (MDI or TDI) -The Occupational Health and Safety Administration states that the “health effects of isocyanate exposure include irritation of skin and mucous membranes, chest tightness, and difficult breathing. Isocyanates include compounds classified as potential human carcinogens and known to cause cancer in animals. The main effects of hazardous exposures are asthma and other lung problems, as well as irritation of the eyes, nose, throat, and skin.” While OHSA is referencing occupational exposure to these products (the manufacturing process creates more of a hazard to these chemicals); the chemicals in our products still off-gas the harmful chemicals, exposure occurs over a longer period of time albeit at a much lower dose.

Other chemicals that may be found in the foam that are a health concern: Polyols the petroleum derived ingredient), vinilideine chloride (an eye and skin irritant, possible carcinogen), methyl benzene (nervous system toxicity), acetone, formaldehyde, ethylene oxide, and methylene chloride (possible carcinogen).

And guess what? Polyurethane foams are highly flammable so they must have flame retardants.

So now what?

What to look for:

First, buyer beware. When I started my research, I saw many companies claiming to be natural, eco-friendly or no VOC. After a lot of phone calls and digging deeper, I found that 95% of these claims were not true. The Federal Trade Commission actually sued a few of these companies for making a no VOC claim that they could not stand behind. Furthermore, just because a mattress may claim to be eco-friendly does not mean it is also non-toxic to people.

Organic wool-wool is naturally flame retardant, mildew and dust mite resistant and is an amazing body heat regulator. In other words, you won’t get over heated on a mattress that has a wool topping. We even use wool comforters. Most wool mattresses are covered in an organic cotton (another item to look for in a safe mattress) so you don't have to worry about the itch factor.

Latex-I mentioned latex briefly above. Latex can be made using natural ingredients from rubber trees or it can be combined with polyurethane foam. Many companies

offer the combination foam as the natural rubber is more expensive. Latex comes in a few natural forms. Organic which is free of chemicals and pesticides and Natural which may have pesticides or some chemicals from processing or growing. While organic is clearly the best option, natural latex is still a better option than polyurethane foam. Look for 100% Dunlop or Talalay latex as these are the two natural latex products. Avoid latex if you have a latex allergy.

Springs/Coils-there has been some controversy as of late as to whether inner springs carry EMF through the mattress. I have found no evidence proving this and I spoke to an expert who stated his research showed that this does not occur. On a side note: keeping all electronics out of the bedroom is good idea anyway.

And because our children are still growing and developing, the toxic chemicals in mattresses can be even more harmful to them. Some of the mattress companies I recommend below also make safe, non-toxic, crib or children's mattresses as well.


During my research, I came across all sorts of certifications for mattresses. Some I had heard of before and others that were totally new to me. (I will be doing an “understanding labels” post in the near future). Here is what you need to know:

Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS): At least 95 percent of the mattress materials must be certified organic. Flame retardants and polyurethane are prohibited.

Global Organic Latex Standard (GOLS): Applies to latex mattress and ensures only organic latex is used.

Oeko-Tex: This label sets limits on the emission of toxic chemicals such as formaldehyde and volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Chemical flame retardants, colorants and allergenic dyes are prohibited.

Greenguard and Greenguard Gold: The completed mattress must be tested by a third party for specific emission limits of formaldehyde and other VOCs based on government and industry standards (this is where I have the issue-what are their industry or government standards?). Gold is a stricter standard.

Non-GMO Verified-yes, you may find this label with your mattress. It means it is not made with genetically modified organisms.

Organic Content Standard 100 (OCS100): this program ensures proper tracking of organic material from its source to the finished product.

Formaldehyde Free Verified: the product meets the Underwriters Laboratories (UL) Environment Certification Program formaldehyde-free standard. UL develops a variety of standards to measure and validate performance, environmental health and sustainability.

GOTS, GOLS and okeo-tex are also great certifications to look for when purchasing furniture or even car seats. Mattresses should have one or more of these certifications.

CertiPUR-US: Is the most common label but it is also industry created. It applies only to polyurethane foam (which you should avoid anyway) and prohibits certain substances, such as PBDE. Testing is required for formaldehyde and other toxins. This label does not hold as much weight for me as GOTS or GOLS.

Keep in mind that the certifications do not necessarily cover every part of the mattress. Just as Certipure only refers to polyurethane foam, GOLS only applies to Latex. The only thing organic or even safe on a mattress may be the organic cotton cover. So, while the certifications are helpful, it is important to know every layer of the mattress.

Mattress Options:

We went with a Naturpedic Mattress (also the crib mattress we chose). We all love it!! It is incredibly comfortable an the fabrics are soft yet supportive. I feel great knowing I am sleeping on a non-toxic mattress. And since we co-sleep with or 3-year-old, it gives me even greater piece of mind that she is sleeping on a safe mattress.

Naturepedic is a family owned company in Chagrin Falls, Ohio. All of the mattresses are organic, non-toxic and have more certifications for their safety than I even listed above. This company has won more awards for its mattresses and sustainable business practices than any other mattress company I found. To top it off, they were some of the nicest and most helpful people I spoke to when doing my research. Probably because they have a product to be extremely proud of and have nothing to hide.

I went with an organic latex, encased coil combination (If you have a latex allergy, you have the option of one without latex). The mattress was shipped to my home and I put it together by myself in under 30 minutes. Their website clearly explains every part of the mattress, all of their certifications and awards and the numerous styles of mattresses. They are a totally transparent company because they have nothing to hide. They are not inexpensive but they are worth it! I highly recommend testing them out first as they have many combinations of layers that can change the level of plushness/firmness. Queen and King size options can choose different levels of firmness for each side. I went with firm coils and plush latex. You can check their website for stores in your area that carry naturepedic.

Still having trouble sleeping? We all use a magnesium lotion before bed. Most Americans are deficient in magnesium. Magnesium absorbs better through the skin. We rub a small amount of this amazing cream on our legs every night before bed. And this one is of course totally non-toxic and safe.

A great way to remove more VOC's and toxins (remember the off- gassing that settles in the air and dust around your home?) from your home is to purchase a really good air purifier. The Iqair air purifiers are some of the best on the market today. They have whole house systems as well as units that can be moved around from room to room.

These are my top picks for safest mattresses on the market: (In no particular order)

Not Non-toxic but (in my opinion), better than your average memory foam, sleep number, sealy or serta etc.

#Naturpedic #Essentia #SavvyRest #Flobeds #Zenhaven #Avocado #SleepingOrganic #Saatva #TuftNeedle #PurpleMattress #LoomLeaf #NestBedding #Casper #Intellibed #Mattress #Sleep #Earthley #Latex #PolyurethaneFoam #Wool