Is the Toxicity of your Kids Beds a Concern?
How to Choose a Safe Non Toxic Organic Mattress
If you’re shopping for kids beds, price and comfort may be your top priorities. But have you thought about the toxicity of a typical mattress? Kids spend a lot of time in their beds, and during that time they are exposed to the chemical off-gassing that most mattresses produce.
Kids are vulnerable to the chemical exposure from mattresses for these reasons:
They spend a lot of time sleeping
Kids can spend between 7 – 12 hours every day on a mattress. During this time, they breathe in chemical off gassing and absorb toxins through their skin. It’s an up-close, long-term exposure.
Their fragile systems are developing
Children’s respiratory, neurological, reproductive, and immune systems are in the early stages of development. This makes them more vulnerable to toxic chemicals. Of particular concern is brain development. Low level chemical exposure during the critical period of brain development can cause more harm than high doses later in life.
They cannot easily detoxify
When exposed, they cannot easily detoxify and excrete these toxins, since their elimination systems are still developing.
Bedtime is for Regeneration and Recovery
While sleeping, children’s bodies need to recover from the stress of the day. The cells regenerate and the immune system attempts to remove toxins. It’s difficult to do this while breathing and absorbing more toxic chemicals from the mattress.
What’s in a Typical Kids Mattress?
Polyurethane foam is the most common mattress filling, and this is made from petroleum with various chemical additives. Since foam is flammable, flame retardants are either added to the foam or used in a barrier around the foam. Toluene diisocyanate and methylene diphenyl diisocynate are isocyanates usually used as primary building blocks of foam and mixed with water and polyols. Toluene is a known carcinogen and exposure to isocyanates can irritate mucous membranes and cause asthma, respiratory disease, skin inflammation, and chemical sensitivity.
Foam breaks down over time into small particles, which can become airborne. Multiple VOC emissions have been identified in foam mattresses that can be inhaled and absorbed into the body. Memory foam mattresses contain even more potentially harmful chemicals – to make the foam malleable.
Think carefully before buying foam mattresses for your kids’ beds. Many kids (and adults) are sensitive to these chemicals and can end up getting very sick. If that happens, you’re stuck with an expensive mattress that you can’t return.
Fire Retardant Chemicals or Barriers
Since mattress manufacturers are required to meet government flammability regulations, they add fire retardant chemicals or barriers that can be toxic, including brominated, chlorinated, organohalogen flame retardants, antimony, modacrylic, polyacrylonitrile, boric acid and many other chemicals. PBDEs have recently been banned, but have been replaced with chemicals that can be just as toxic.
Some flame retardants are not heavily bound and can migrate from the mattress into the air and into household dust. They then become stored in our bodies and children are most at risk.
Flame retardants have been scientifically linked to these health issues:
- lower IQ
- thyroid dysfunction
- altered sexual development
- early onset of puberty
- developmental issues
Consumers are in the dark about what chemicals are used in the mattresses they are buying. Formulations are considered trade secrets and not disclosed. Even when the company says “no added flame retardants” it does not mean there are no flame retardants in the barriers they use. They might say “no added flame retardants” because they didn’t add them, but the flame retardants were likely already added by the manufacturer of the barrier or fabric they used in making the mattress. Since polyurethane foam is highly flammable, chemicals must be used so the mattress can pass government fire standards.
Another issue with mattresses are the glues or adhesives used. In particular, if the mattress (even organic/green mattresses) contains individually encased coils, they are all connected with glues that may be toxic. A lot of glue can go into a mattress with individually encased coils. To date, the only manufacturer we know that heat seals all the encased coils is Naturepedic. Naturepedic does not use any glues or adhesives anywhere in any of their mattresses.
Older Mattresses can be Toxic too!
Since the chemicals never completely dissipate, older mattresses may continue to off gas even though they no longer contain the chemical smell. There is evidence that common bacteria and fungus in re-used, older mattresses can generate a higher concentration of toxic gases than new mattresses.
Alternatives to Toxic Mattresses
Your kids don’t have to sleep on poison! Fortunately, mattresses made with natural organic materials are now available. Many of these mattresses meet or exceed flammability regulations with safe, non-toxic materials.
Here are some things you need to know to choose a safe mattress for kids:
Choose an Organic Mattress with Non-Toxic Materials for your Kids Beds
Yes, an organic kids mattress is definitely important, but it’s even more important that ALL the materials used are non toxic and there are no harmful fire retardants or barriers.
Cotton is firm and breathable. 100% certified organic cotton is a perfect filling for a child’s mattress. It’s also the best covering or surface ticking material, especially when it’s quilted.
Natural latex can also be a safe material, depending on how it’s made. Latex comes from the milky substance of the rubber tree plant. If you are going to use latex, make sure it’s all natural latex, preferably organic, and stay away from chemical/natural latex blends. If you can find GOLS certified organic latex, you know you are getting the purest natural latex available.
Wool is also used in organic mattresses. Wool is a safe, non-toxic material when it’s organic or processed according to organic standards.
Eco Foam, Bio Foam or Soy Foam – Beware
Some mattresses are marketed as green, eco-friendly, or plant-based with descriptions such as Eco Foam, Bio Foam, or Soy Foam. Beware of these since the manufacturers replace only a very small percentage of the polyurethane foam with plant-based ingredients. For instance, soy foam is usually polyurethane foam with 10-20% soybean oil (GMO) mixed in.
These mattresses are mostly polyurethane foam, which is highly flammable, so they also need fire retardant chemicals to comply with the flammability laws. Don’t be fooled by this green-washing. You’re still getting a load of toxic chemicals and off-gassing with many of these so-called eco mattresses.
It’s important to check into all materials used, and it can be difficult to get full disclosure from the retailers or the manufacturer. Look for organic mattress and bedding companies who are GOTS certified. The Global Organic Textile Standards (GOTS) are the leading organic textile processing standards for mattresses. The standards require that fiber and fabrics used within a mattress, with limited exceptions, must be made from National Organic Program (NOP) certified materials and processed in accordance with the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS). All other components (such as innersprings, fire protection, etc.) must meet strict non-toxic standards.
A common practice is to borrow a GOTS logo from a supplier. The mattress manufacturer might use an organic fabric from a supplier that is GOTS certified. But if the mattress manufacturer is not certified, and they simply use GOTS certified cotton, then this is not a certified organic product and it may contain toxic components.
Non Toxic Natural Fire Protection
Always ask the manufacturer or retailer for complete details about what they use to pass fire standards. Retailers cannot legally sell mattresses without fire protection, unless you have a doctor’s prescription for a chemical-free mattress.
There are safe alternatives to chemical fire retardants that will allow a mattress to pass flammability standards. Some manufacturers use wool since it has flame resistant properties. There are companies that use only pure wool for this purpose, but some companies use wool with chemical treatments added to boost the wool’s fire resistance.
PLA fiber (made from plant starch) is flame resistant and a safe alternative. PLA fiber is non-toxic, hypoallergenic, and performs well in the wash. Make sure the PLA is free of GMOs.
What does Healthy Child Recommend?
We’ve searched for the safest and healthiest kids mattresses and we recommend the following:
To learn more: Options in Choosing an Organic Kids Mattress