If you’re shopping for a kids’ mattress, 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 on a mattress, and during that time they are exposed to the chemical off-gassing that most mattresses produce.
Kids are vulnerable to toxic mattresses for these reasons:
They spend a lot of time sleeping
Kids can spend between 7 – 12 hours a day on a mattress, depending on their age. During this time, they breathe in off-gassing and absorb to 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.
Bedtime is for Regeneration and Recovery
While sleeping, our 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, made from petroleum with toxic chemical additives. It breaks down into small particles which can become airborne over time. According to manufacturer material safety data sheets, potential health effects can include cardiac arrhythmias, breathlessness, chest discomfort, irritation of mucous membranes, headache, coughing, asthma-like allergic reaction, dizziness, weakness, fatigue, nausea, blurred vision, and reduced pulmonary function.
Memory foam mattresses contain even more potentially harmful chemicals – to make the foam malleable.
Fire Retardant Chemicals or Barriers
Since mattress manufacturers are required to meet federal flammability regulations, they add fire retardant chemicals or barriers that can be toxic, including PBDEs, brominated or chlorinated fire retardants, antimony, modacrylic, polyacrylonitrile, boric acid and many other chemicals. Some of these chemicals have recently been banned, but have been replaced with chemicals that can be just as toxic.
Older Mattresses can be Toxic too!
Since the chemicals never completely dissipate, older mattresses 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
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 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 sap of the rubber tree plant. If you are going to use latex, make sure it’s all natural latex and stay away from chemical/natural latex blends.
Keep in mind that natural latex/rubber can be allergenic, and some allergists recommend that babies and young children avoid latex. The FDA will not allow a product containing latex (particularly natural latex) to be labeled as “hypoallergenic.”
Wool is also used in organic mattresses, but wool can also have allergenic properties. So be cautious with wool if your child has allergies.
Eco Foam, Bio Foam or Soy Foam – Beware
Mattresses are now being 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% genetically-engineered soybean oil 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.
GOTS and GREENGUARD Certifications
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 have been 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.
It’s also might be good if the mattress has passed GREENGUARD standards. Unfortunately, GREENGUARD standards have recently been downgraded, and now there are questionable and known toxic mattresses qualifying for their lower standards. You will need to do some additional checking with some of the GREENGUARD approved mattress manufacturers. There are small amounts of certain chemical off-gassing allowed by GREENGUARD, depending on the level of certification.
GREENGUARD Select is the highest standard. Naturpedic is the only GREENGUARD Select certified company that has had their kids and baby mattresses pass with zero emissions for formaldehyde, aldehydes, and phthalates.
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, natural alternatives to chemical fire retardants that will pass flammability standards. Some manufacturers use wool since wool is a fiber with flame resistant properties. There are companies that use only pure wool for this purpose. But be aware that some companies use wool with chemical treatments added to boost the wool’s fire resistance.
PLA fiber (made from plant starch) is also flame resistant. It’s non-toxic, hypoallergenic, and performs well in the wash. PLA fiber provides a soft and comfortable feel, wicks away moisture, and resists body impressions. If a mattress contains PLA, make sure it is free of GMOs.
Waterproof and Dust Mite Proof Your Mattress
Waterproofing is important for a toddler or preschool age child, since they can wet the bed and ruin the mattress. Moisture in a mattress will allow mold, mildew and bacteria to grow, making it very unhealthy for kids. In addition, dust mite allergies can be problematic for kids and dust mites love to live in mattresses.
Some mattresses for kids have nylon, damask or polyurethane coverings. Nylon or damask are not really waterproof – just water resistant – and usually contain a polyurethane backing or a coating similar to Teflon®. There are a lot of questionable synthetic chemicals involved in these coverings. They also can contain added fire retardants and antibacterial chemical treatments that can be toxic.
The only way to fully waterproof a mattress is with plastic. Low density, food grade polyethylene is the safest waterproof and dust mite proof material available. Look for a polyethylene covering and avoid coverings made from vinyl or other plastics.
Or you can protect your non-waterproof mattress with a waterproof pad. But be careful – most waterproof mattress pads on the market contain toxic chemicals and can off-gas. Particularly toxic are vinyl pads or cotton pads with vinyl backings. The only waterproof pad that we know of that is tested and confirmed to not off-gas is the Naturepedic organic cotton waterproof mattress pad.
Wool is water resistant, but not waterproof. Some people buy wool puddle pads to block the wetness, but if there is a lot of wetness, it will go through a wool puddle pad and ruin the mattress.
What does Healthy Child Recommend?
We’ve searched for the safest and healthiest kids mattresses and we recommend the following: