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How & Why to Get a Truly Natural Mattress: When organic isn’t enough


A truly healthy, green mattress might be the most important investment you make in your home. Certainly, it is in your child’s bedroom.

healthy mattress

Why get a truly natural mattress?

Because conventional mattresses are toxic and the toxins they release (and continue to release throughout their entire life) have been found in the blood of newborn babies as well as in adults. The most common of these chemicals include heavy metals (which are known neurotoxins), formaldehyde (known to cause cancer in humans, asthma at very low doses, and there is no known safe level), and chemical flame retardants (known and suspected neurotoxins. The chemical flame retardant Tris is known to even effect a child’s DNA.)

Your baby will spend far more time sleeping — face pressed against his crib mattress and sheets — than awake. Investing in a truly green option is worth it for your growing child. It is also worth it for you, as the chemicals released from mattresses are known to cause trouble even in adults (see above, those nasty sounding effects aren’t nice in grown ups either). There have been anecdotal reports from mattress chemicals causing all sorts of complaints such as joint pain, night sweats, and depression. (If you want to feel good about your own natural mattress choice go read a few of these here.) As well, many of the chemicals released from mattresses will end up in a mother’s body and be stored in her fatty tissues where they can be passed on to the child during pregnancy and breastfeeding.

 

What’s so bad in conventional mattresses?

Polyurethane foam makes up the majority of mattresses and is made from petroleum. It typically contains and off-gases various industrial solvents, such as toluene, benzene, and formaldehyde. Polyurethane foam is highly combustible and so it is almost always treated with a chemical flame retardant. Many of these chemical flame retardants don’t stay in the mattress, couch, or change table pad. Like a wild toddler, they are hard to contain, and end up in household dust. They continue to be released throughout the life of the material. Thus, mattresses don’t get safer over time. In fact, some studies suggest that mattresses get significantly yuckier as they age, because they can also accumulate dust mites, bacteria, and mould.

The vinyl (PVC) that encases most crib mattresses contains traces of both lead and phthalates and is considered one of the worst plastics for the environment and for children. It helps keep the inner mattress “dry” if a baby leaks, but it can also hide mould, mildew, and dust mites. I think mattresses, like buildings, are less toxic and less likely to harbour mould if they can breathe. PVC is also flammable, so chemical fire retardants, often containing traces of arsenic, antimony, and phosphorus, get applied to the mattress cover.

 

How to find a truly natural mattress

When mattress shopping look for a truly natural mattress made from natural rubber, cotton, and/ or wool (and without any chemical flame retardants) for you and your children. Finding a truly natural mattress will take all of your green mama sleuthing skills because greenwashing is rampant in the mattress industry. The terms “organic” and “natural” are not regulated in this industry and thus can be meaningless when it comes to finding a healthy mattress. Indeed, a company can use organic cotton but still use harmful chemical flame retardants and polyurethane foam. Do your research to find out what’s really inside. Remember, you want a mattress WITHOUT any added chemical flame retardants.

  • Ask and ask again to verify that the mattress you want is made WITHOUT any added chemical flame retardants. (You can ask to see the material and data safety sheets to see what IS inside the mattress.) You can also ask them how they are meeting government flammability standards without those chemicals (you want them to say they are using cotton and/or wool for this. These are more expensive, but natural ways to ensure your mattress isn’t flammable. If your bed is made from truly all-natural latex, cotton, wool, or horse-hair these are all natural materials that are FAR less flammable than foam which is a petroleum product.)
  • Avoid waterproof coverings, especially if made from PVC. Instead, get a wool or all-cotton “puddle-pad”/mattress protector and untreated, organic cotton sheets. If your baby sleeps in a Pack ’N Play or portable crib on a regular basis, replace the typical foam and vinyl mattress with a natural alternative.
  • Remember, an old conventional mattress is not any safer than a new mattress and may actually be associated with an increased risk of SIDS.
  • Be skeptical of additives that sound green, but aren’t proven to be. For instance, “soy foam” is just polyurethane-based foam with a touch of soy added to make it sound greener than it is.

What are my favourite mattresses (that I’ve actually used) & what if you can’t afford one?

During my first pregnancy, I slept on a really cheap, totally toxic mattress for my entire first pregnancy. I was so uncomfortable, miserable, and sleep deprived after having my first baby that I sold nearly everything we owned and used the money to buy a really luxurious, natural Hastens mattress. At that time, in Chicago, it was the only natural mattress I could actually try out and I was sold. All we could afford (if you can ever really afford a mattress that is approximately $7,000) was the simplest option and in hindsight it really hasn’t been quite soft enough for my needs. But it is my treasured possession. (I live in terror of bedbugs because I can’t imagine anything more horrible than having to throw out or chemically treat this truly immaculately natural mattress). On top, we have been fortunate to have wonderful natural pillows (you get that you can’t have a toxic pillow after you know about toxic mattresses, right?) My two favourites are the Obasan all-wool pillow and the Contour, Natural Latex pillow from InBed Organics.

While my daughter was tiny, we made do with homemade mattresses in a little wooden cradle. (Learn how to make your own mattress.) And, then, for her first crib mattress we used a seven-year-old, hand-me-down crib and a new, all-natural, organic spring mattress (I believe by Sleeptek). When she graduated to a “big girl” bed we were back to not being able to afford a real bed. For a while we made do with blow-up camping mattresses and wool blankets and then we graduated to a 100% cotton (futon) mattress made by Dream Designs. This, with additional layers of wool toppers, worked great for a long time, but then she started complaining it was too hard. We got an Essentia Natural Latex Tatami mattress to review and she has been in heaven ever since. Indeed, now we all try to climb into her bed as it is the most comfortable of all our mattresses. This is a memory foam (but made with truly natural latex) mattress and it is truly very comfortable–a completely different feel than other mattresses I have slept upon. I thought we might like it, however, because natural latex are among my favourite pillows.  (Read the official review.) I’m sure now that my youngest daughter has seen her sister score this mattress, she will want an upgrade from the futon soon, so there will be more mattress reviewing to do soon.

Check out the review section to see what I’ve tried recently.

Learn more about how to green your bedroom or nursery in the Green Mama book or by Asking the Green Mama a question. And, of course, don’t forget to sign up for our truly awesome newsletter for regular doses of good advice (or  just a little inspiration).



One response to “How & Why to Get a Truly Natural Mattress: When organic isn’t enough”

  1. […] toxic conventional mattresses are – take a peek at the excellent research done by The Green Mama https://thegreenmama.com/blog/natural-mattress-101/.%5D. But I knew from previous experience that the cost for these mattresses was prohibitive (like […]