Conventional mattresses often contain polyurethane foam, a petroleum-based, nonrenewable, and highly flammable resource that requires ample chemical flame retardants. Take the U.S. for example, by law all mattresses must contain flame retardants to meet cigarette ignition and open-flame standards. While FR chemicals have saved lives, their health effects range from unknown to scary. Replacing conventional mattresses with organic versions that use safer flame-resistant materials like wool safeguards your health, and that of any little ones in the house—especially considering how much of our lives we spend in bed.
You can call the manufacturer to find out which FR chemical is in your current mattress, but they might not know. The most questionable, polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), are potentially carcinogenic, reproductive toxicants, and hormones disrupters. They’ve been banned in the European Union since 2002 and are slowly being phased out in other countries. Not enough research has been done on their replacements. PBDEs escape from mattresses and basically piggyback on dust particles in our homes. Other issues of concern with conventional mattresses include stain guards and mold inhibitors.
Unfortunately shopping for an organic mattress is a Wild West experience. It’s largely unregulated and greenwashing abounds. It’s also expensive. Consumers have to ask questions.
Find out what materials and FRs are being used. Avoid vinyl, petro-based foam, brominated FRs, pesticide residues (in natural cotton), optical brighteners, and formaldehyde.
Look for third-party certification of materials like organic cotton, wool, natural latex or rubber, and sustainable wood.
On a budget? Try an organic futon.