The Best Organic Crib Mattress is Safe and Non-Toxic for Your Baby

Untitled designToxic Chemicals in Baby Crib Mattresses

Jane Sheppard
Copyright 2015 Healthy Child

Common materials in crib, bassinet, cradle and porta-crib mattresses may be harmful and even potentially life threatening to your baby. The majority of mattress manufacturers use toxic, unsafe materials. Many parents who are aware of this issue buy an organic baby crib mattress. Organic is definitely important, but the main thing to determine is whether the mattress is truly non-toxic. Even organic mattresses can contain unsafe materials.

Your baby’s mattress is likely to be the most prevalent toxic exposure, since it’s up-close, extensive, and long-term. Babies sleep on a mattress for 10-14 hours or more a day during their most fragile developmental years, lying directly on the mattress, breathing in and absorbing chemical off-gassing.

When it comes to your baby, there is no safe level of exposure.

Extensive Research

I have thoroughly investigated the safety and toxicity of baby crib mattresses to find the best and safest organic crib mattress.  I wrote the following report to help you distinguish facts from the mountains of misinformation and choose the best organic crib mattress for your baby.

My conclusion from this extensive research is that the Naturepedic No-Compromise Organic Crib Mattress is the only genuinely non-toxic waterproof organic crib mattress available in the U.S.

The following report will tell you:

  • Why you should never put your baby to sleep on a crib mattress with common materials and components
  • Why a waterproof crib mattress is essential
  • Why Naturepedic is the safest and best crib mattress you can buy


Crib Mattress Toxicity: How to Find the Safest Options

What’s in a Typical Crib or Baby Mattress?

Filling Material

Polyurethane foam is the filling material used in most baby mattresses. It is made from petroleum and is highly flammable. Depending on how it’s processed, polyurethane foam may contain various chemical additives, including formaldehyde, benzene, toluene, and other well established toxic chemicals.

Waterproof Covering – Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC) with Phthalates)

Most crib mattresses have a vinyl covering for waterproofing purposes. Vinyl (polyvinyl chloride or PVC) is considered to be one of the most toxic and environmentally unfriendly plastics in use today. Vinyl chloride, an intermediate component in the manufacturing of PVC, is a combination of petroleum and chlorine, and is a known human carcinogen.

Since PVC is a hard plastic, chemical plasticizers must be added to make it into a soft and flexible covering. These plasticizers (the most commonly used are phthalates) make up 30%-40% of the weight of the vinyl surface of a crib mattress. They are not bound to the vinyl and leach out or off-gas into the surrounding air.

Babies breathe in plasticizers and absorb them through their skin. Health effects associated with chemical plasticizers include:

  • reproductive harm
  • asthma
  • early onset of puberty
  • cancer
  • kidney and liver damage

It’s important to know that although certain phthalates have been banned in the US, alternatives now being used (including legal phthalate variants) are not tested and might be just as toxic. It may take years of additional research before safety can be determined. It appears that only three forms of phthalates are currently banned for mattresses, so it is legal for manufacturers to substitute with the non-banned phthalates. There is still a phthalate (DnHP), classified as a reproductive toxicant, allowed for use in mattresses.

No one really knows what level of additives in vinyl is safe for babies. So when you see a product description with “non-toxic vinyl” or “phthalate-free vinyl”, you need to understand that it’s probably far from non-toxic.

Strict Flammability Standards

Mattresses made with polyurethane foam and PVC are highly flammable and will burn quickly if ignited. When these mattresses burn, extremely hazardous gases are formed and released into the air. Because of this, the U.S. government requires all mattress manufacturers to meet strict flammability standards. Ironically, most do this by adding more toxic chemicals.

Polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) are the primary fire retardant chemicals used in mattresses for decades. These chemicals break down and leach out into the surrounding air. Research has shown that microscopic particles from fire retardant chemicals contaminate household dust.

Babies are exposed to fire retardants in 3 ways:

1) Breathing the air while sleeping on the mattress

2) Absorbing the chemicals through their skin

3) Household dust (babies pick up dust while crawling. Dust sticks to their hands and go into their mouths. Babies also chew on toys and other items that contain dust.)

PBDE exposure is linked to numerous adverse health effects, including:

  • immune suppression
  • hormone disruption
  • developmental delays
  • learning and memory problems
  • behavior changes
  • cancer

Some states have banned certain brominated fire retardants, but these have been replaced by other PBDEs or other chemicals that may be just as toxic. Manufacturers are not required to test these chemicals for the effects on health and there is very little data available to show safety.

All Mattresses Must be Flame Resistant

You can’t purchase a mattress in the US that does not pass fire-proofing laws, unless you have a prescription from a licensed physician. This goes for all mattresses – baby, child and adult – and includes organic mattresses. So if you bought a mattress without a doctor’s prescription (even 20 years ago), it contains some type of fire retardant materials. If you bought a mattress, including a crib mattress, more than a few years ago, it most likely contains pentaBDE, a banned form of PBDEs.

Because of the huge public outcry against PBDEs (particularly pentaBDE), and because California has already banned it, mattress manufacturers are moving away from PBDEs.

However, they still need to meet the government flammability standards, and their mattresses are still filled with petroleum-based polyurethane foam or so-called “soybean foam”, which remains highly flammable. So they are merely replacing these PBDE chemicals with other fire retardants, whether as additives or as barriers. In general, the mattress manufacturers do not reveal the actual specific chemicals that are used to meet the government flammability regulations, and this is perfectly legal being that the law doesn’t care how a mattress meets the standard or what chemicals are used, but only that the flammability standard is met.

A common flame retardant now being used is chlorinated Tris (TDCPP), which has been found to change the DNA of people exposed and is listed as a carcinogen. This is the same fire retardant chemical that was removed from children’s flame retardant pajamas back in the late 70s because it was suspected of causing cancer. But it wasn’t formally banned, just voluntarily removed so now it’s in couches and mattresses! It is absorbed through the skin – that’s why it was removed from children’s sleepwear. It’s also now in the household dust of most homes.

Mattresses and Crib Death (SIDS)

Several scientists claim that toxic gases released from crib mattresses, when breathed or absorbed by a sleeping baby, can cause crib death or sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). These claims have not been scientifically proven, nor have they been disproven, and there is urgent need for more research.

A 100% successful crib death prevention campaign has been happening in New Zealand for the past two decades. Midwives and other healthcare professionals throughout New Zealand advise parents to wrap the mattress to block toxic gases from exposing the baby. During this time, there has not been a single SIDS death reported among the many (estimated over 200,000) New Zealand babies who have slept on mattresses wrapped in a specially formulated cover. The SIDS rate in NZ has dropped dramatically since this mattress-wrapping campaign began. This is usually attributed to putting babies on their backs to sleep. This makes sense since babies sleeping face up are not exposed to as much toxic gas as those sleeping with their faces in the mattress.

It’s my opinion that there is enough evidence to warrant taking a precautionary approach. The following article contains more information on the crib death issue:

Crib Death Cause

Learn why more research is not being done:

Are Toxic Gases in Crib Mattresses Causing SIDS?

Alternatives for Healthy Organic Baby Crib Mattresses

Most people assume that if a mattress is organic, then it must also be non-toxic and safe. This is not necessarily true. There are organic crib mattresses on the market that contain organic cotton as the filling, but the outer covering is vinyl or some other type of harmful material. In addition, fire retardants and other various chemicals may be added to the cotton or to the outer covering. It is important to check with the manufacturer and inquire about all the materials used. Organic is definitely important when choosing a mattress, but the main thing to look for is whether the mattress is non-toxic and safe for your baby.

Your baby’s  mattress must be organic AND non-toxic.

How to Know if a Mattress is Really Organic

Let’s clarify what it means to be organic. When referring to agricultural products (regardless of whether edible, like apples and tomatoes, or non-edible, like cotton), organic refers to the way that the products are grown, raised, and processed. Only the fiber used in a mattress, such as cotton or wool, can be considered organic per the agricultural standards since these are agricultural products. Other materials in a mattress, such as a plastic covering or innersprings are not agricultural, therefore cannot be organic.

If cotton is organic, it is grown without the use of toxic pesticides and fertilizers. This is important because cotton is a highly sprayed crop and the residues from pesticides can remain in the cotton fiber. Plus organic cotton goes a long way to protect the health of our environment.

When wool is organic, the sheep are fed only organic food and raised without synthetic hormones and pesticides. Organic wool producers are also required to comply with ethical management practices that support the health of the animal and the environment. Additionally, the wool is cleaned and processed without the use of toxic chemicals.

The USDA National Organic Program (NOP) has created strict standards for producing and processing agricultural products to be sold as organic in the US. In order to ensure that these standards are being met, the NOP has accredited about 50 organizations throughout the world as organic certifiers. When agricultural producers want their products to be labeled as organic, they must adopt certain practices for three years and then go through a certification process with one of these NOP certifiers.

A mattress itself is not an agricultural product and therefore cannot be certified as organic by the USDA National Organic Program. However, standards have been developed to give consumers assurance of finished products (like shirts, jackets, and mattresses) made with organic fibers and textiles. These standards, called the Global Organic Textile Standards (GOTS), have become the recognized organic textile processing standards for mattresses. The standards require that all 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 stringent non-toxic standards. With a mattress, we’re concerned with the finished product AND all the individual materials within the mattress. Although there are many GOTS approved certifiers throughout the world, the largest certifier in the US is Oregon Tilth Certified Organic (OTCO).

What is GREENGUARD Certification?

GREENGUARD is a third party certification program with product emission standards. The GREENGUARD Select standard used to be the most stringent testing available – so strict that only one crib mattress company was certified with the GREENGUARD Select certification (Naturepedic). Unfortunately, GREENGUARD was recently bought by Underwriters Laboratories (UL) and they discontinued the stringent Select certification. The current “Gold standard” is much lower, to the point that practically any mattress company can achieve a GREENGUARD Gold certification, including those that contain polyurethane foam and fire retardant chemicals. It’s unfortunate that GREENGUARD Gold certification has become meaningless.

Are Eco-Friendly or Plant-Based Mattresses Healthy?

In recent years so-called green, eco-friendly, or plant-based mattresses have come on to the market. You may see them labeled with descriptions such as Eco Foam, Bio Foam, or Soybean Foam. What most of these manufacturers do is replace a small percentage of the polyurethane foam with plant-based ingredients. It looks great to call it “eco-friendly” or “green” but many of these mattresses are far from healthy or non-toxic. Soybean foam is usually polyurethane foam with 12-17% soybean oil mixed in. It’s at least 80% petroleum/chemical based and highly flammable so it needs fire retardant chemicals to comply with the laws. Any company can refer to their mattresses as “green”, “healthy”, or “eco-friendly” since there are no laws or guidelines that say they can’t. Don’t be fooled by this green-washing. You may be getting a load of toxic chemicals and off-gassing with these mattresses.

Some crib mattresses have surface fabrics made from “bamboo”. This sounds good, too, until you check into the manufacturing process. Strong chemical solvents might be used in the processing of bamboo resulting in a cellulose fiber similar to rayon. “Bamboo” mattress coverings are usually a synthetic fabric with not much of the bamboo plant in the finished product.

Filling Material

Organic cotton is the perfect filling material for a baby mattress since it is natural, non-toxic, firm and breathable. Cotton will not burst into flames (like polyurethane foam) or release toxic fumes when ignited.

Wool is also commonly used in mattresses and bedding since it is naturally fire resistant, does not provide a favorable environment for dust mites, and handles moisture well. Wool is an excellent bedding material for many reasons. However, wool can be allergenic and you don’t know if your baby will be allergic to wool. It may be true that most allergies to wool are actually chemical sensitivities to the chemicals used in processing wool. But people, including babies, can be allergic specifically to the natural animal fiber. It’s difficult to know in advance about a baby’s allergies and allergies can develop over time.

Latex (natural rubber) is also used as a crib mattress filling. Shopping for a latex crib mattress can be complicated since even natural latex can contain questionable chemicals added during processing. In addition, natural latex contains proteins that can be highly allergenic and known to cause anaphylactic shock. This is very rare, but you just don’t know if your baby will be allergic to natural latex.

Surface Material (Covering)

It’s important to buy a baby mattress that is waterproof. Babies can generate a lot of wetness while they sleep, and this wetness can cause mold, mildew, fungi or bacteria to grow in the mattress. Since mold and fungi can be a health hazard for a baby, it’s crucial to not allow moisture to get into the surface of a crib mattress. A non-toxic plastic waterproof covering is essential to eliminate wetness and dust mites from a mattress. Plastic is currently the only viable way to make a mattress waterproof.  But not all plastics are the same. Some are quite toxic and environmental unfriendly (as in vinyl) while others are non-toxic and more environmentally safe. It’s imperative that the plastic be non-toxic.

Food-Grade Polyethylene

Environmental scientists agree that low density, food-grade polyethylene is the safest plastic available. It has a simple molecular structure and does not contain phthalates or other unsafe additives. Unlike the production of vinyl, dioxins and other toxic chemicals are not released into the environment during production of low density polyethylene. This is the material used for the mattress covers designed to prevent SIDS in the crib death prevention campaign in NZ.

Wool is Not Waterproof

Since wool is moisture-resistant and dries quickly, wool puddle pads are sometimes used with mattresses that are not waterproof. But you can’t count on wool puddle pads to waterproof a mattress. If there is a lot of wetness from a baby or child, it can go through to damage the mattress and create mold and mildew problems. Using two layered wool puddle pads in a baby or child’s sleeping environment will probably prevent leakage.

Fire Protection

As mentioned before, the U.S. government requires mattress manufacturers and retailers to obtain a doctor’s prescription from a customer before selling a mattress that does not meet federal fire safety standards. The prescription must be from a physician licensed in your state that says “this patient requires a chemical-free mattress”. This can be written by any licensed physician, including medical doctors (MD), osteopaths (DO) and chiropractors (DC). However, there are now mattresses that pass fire standards without toxic materials that can be sold without a prescription.

How Do Organic Mattresses Pass Fire Standards?

Many organic mattresses contain chemical fire retardants. Yet they are called “organic” simply because the cotton filling is organic cotton. In stores or on websites, it may say “free of fire retardants” or “PBDE-free”, but the truth is that there has to be something that is allowing it to pass the fire testing. The manufacturers may have replaced the PBDE chemicals with other non-tested fire retardants. It’s difficult to get this information out of retailers or manufacturers since most do not reveal the specific chemicals used.

Wool is fire-resistant, and is the most common fire protection used in natural, organic crib mattresses. If a wool-wrapped mattress has been tested and approved to meet flammability standards, the manufacturer is able to sell it without obtaining a prescription. There are companies that use only pure wool for this purpose. But be aware that some companies may use wool with chemical treatments added to boost the wool’s fire resistance.

Borate powder (boric acid) is also used to make mattresses fire resistant. Most mattresses treated with borate powder meet Federal flammability standards and do not require a doctor’s prescription. There is conflicting information regarding the safety of using borate powder in mattresses. Since it is an insecticide and is potentially toxic, I would avoid borate powder.

Allergenic Materials

When considering where your baby sleeps, a precautionary approach regarding allergies is reasonable. It may be best to avoid baby mattress materials with allergenic properties. This includes latex and wool. According to the FDA, a product containing latex cannot be labeled as “hypoallergenic.” Wool contains lanolin and certain alcohols known to have allergenic properties. Some types of wool may contain chemical treatments that can also be allergenic.

Best Crib Mattress Options

Naturepedic is the only company that uses low density, food-grade polyethylene for the purpose of waterproofing and dust mite proofing. Strict independent testing confirms there are no phthalates or any toxic chemicals in this polyethylene.

None of the Naturepedic baby or crib mattresses contain any wool or latex. They use certified organic cotton as the filling material. There is no polyurethane foam in their mattresses. With Naturepedic’s innovative design, the mattresses passes all Federal and State flammability standards without the use of any fire retardant chemicals or barriers. They use organic cotton fabric, organic cotton fiber and PLA fiber (made from plant starch).

All Naturepedic baby and crib mattresses are GOTS certified. They are certified to the GOTS standard by Oregon Tilth Certified Organic (OTCO) and Control Union (CU). All Naturepedic mattresses passed independent testing by the strictest GREENGUARD Select standard.

In a Naturepedic mattress, there are no flame retardants or flame retardant barriers, no perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs), no antibacterial treatments or biocides, no glues or adhesives, no allergens, and no GMO cotton or other GMO fibers.

For parents who do not want the waterproof plastic covering, Naturepedic also offers a non-waterproof quilted organic cotton crib mattress with a certified organic cotton covering.

See Healthy Child Organic Baby Mattresses (bassinet, cradle, porta-crib)

See our organic baby crib mattresses


Copyright 2015 Healthy Child

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  1. Ruth says

    Thank you for all your research. I noticed you sell the Naturepedic waterproof crib mattress protector, which contains polyurethane. I’d like to better understand why you recommend this product given your concerns about polyurethane.

    • Jane Sheppard says

      Ruth, that is really a great question. It’s important to understand there is a big difference between polyurethane plastic and polyurethane foam. Different chemicals and additives are used to make the foam.

      The only way to fully waterproof a mattress is to use plastic. Determining the safety of a plastic waterproof pad depends on how the plastic is manufactured and what chemicals are used. Polyethylene works great in the mattresses, but since mattress pads are put in the washer and dryer, the polyethylene would break down from the heat so can’t be used in this case. So Naturepedic uses a specially formulated polyurethane plastic (not foam) that is proven to not leach harmful chemicals. It is made from the same grade material as is required for food contact applications. This is a very thin film that is encased in organic cotton.

      We are confident that the Naturepedic Organic Cotton Waterproof mattress pad is safe, and it is the only waterproof pad that we know of that is GOTS and GreenGuard Select certified.


    • Stefanie says

      I was wondering about the polyurethane foam. My daughter’s crib mattress is made from 92% urethane foam 8%rayon. It was a gift and I only recently became aware of these chemical issues with food, clothes, and mattresses it’s enough to drive you batty! Is polyurethane and urethane the same? I’ve been researching like crazy and I see you recommend mattresses with greenguard safety certification. I’m perplexed because her mattress has the greenguard certfication and certi-pur-us certification. It says clean air inside and outside. Its the Ever True Elite mattress made by Cologate. I read another article the other day that states greenguard is a third party and that they recieve no benefit in giving there stamp of approval to a company. So long story short, is my mattress safe or not? It has the stamp of approval but has urethane foam and rayon. I’m so confused any help would be so great because I really don’t understand this stuff. It’s so troubling that I can’t even rely on organic as the best option. I’m a new mon, she’s only 4 months and I’m trying my hardesr to find her the best, but its so hard with all the information to know what is what. Thoughts? Thanks

      • Jane Sheppard says

        Unfortunately, GreenGuard has changed over the years. The very basic standard used to be GREENGUARD “Air Quality” Standard, and then they added the “Children & Schools” standard which was a bit more stringent. Then they realized they needed something even more stringent, so they created the “Select” standard, which was strictest possible. Only a few manufacturers (across the board) were certified to this standard. Naturepedic was the only crib mattress manufacturer that was certified to the Select standard.

        Unfortunately, I’ve learned that GREENGUARD was recently bought by Underwriters Laboratories (UL), and everything has changed. UL has a different philosophy (business model) than the original GREENGUARD. UL is not interested in only a few companies meeting a standard. They want standards that virtually everyone can easily achieve – and pay the fees! So they discontinued the Select standard and created the Gold standard, which is very basic. So pretty much any mattress manufacturer (including those who use vinyl, polyurethane foam, and flame retardants) can now achieve GREENGUARD Gold certification by paying the fees. Makes it pretty meaningless at this point. I looked at the mattress you’re asking about and it has memory foam, and I would definitely be concerned about that. That would have never passed the GREENGUARD Select certification.

      • Jane Sheppard says

        Stefanie, here are some more thoughts, which hopefully answer your questions:

        Urethane and polyurethane are the same when it comes to mattress filling. GREENGUARD does not prohibit polyurethane foam in its Gold certification program. GREENGUARD Gold also does not prohibit flame retardants, vinyl, phthalates (except for the few that were banned, there are many more), and many other chemicals. GREENGUARD charges a fee for its certification. CertiPUR-US is a certification program provided by the Polyurethane Foam Association for polyurethane foam, which means that the mattress definitely contains polyurethane foam.

  2. says


    Very informative indeed. What worries me when using food grade plastic on an existing mattress to stop the toxic smells is whether there’s any chance of suffocation because of the plastic. I was thinking of sewing a cotton cover after covering the mattress with plastic. I still feel that it will limit the baby’s breathing. Is my concern justified?


    • Jane Sheppard says

      There is no worry about suffocation with the polyethylene covering on the Naturepedic baby and crib mattresses since it’s a thick plastic that is completely attached to the mattress. There is no way that covering can be dislodged or bunched up. However, it sounds like you are talking about covering your mattress with plastic yourself. I don’t recommend that unless you are using a BabeSafe mattress cover that is designed specifically for this purpose and you explicitly follow the directions to make certain you wrap it correctly. Covering your baby’s mattress yourself with any other type of plastic IS a suffocation risk and is not safe. And yes, a 100% cotton mattress pad is a good idea to make the surface more breathable and to absorb the normal wetness that a baby can generate. We have organic cotton mattress pads available here that are sized correctly and that won’t bunch up.

    • Jane Sheppard says

      Hi Jenny, those covers are not organic and they are not designed to protect against toxic off gassing. They are not made of the correct material. And it’s difficult to know if they will increase any off gassing without checking more deeply into the manufacturing and materials. Here is an article on how to protect your larger mattresses from off gassing:

      • Katie says

        Hi Jane!!
        Love this article and all of its information, thank you!! It’s gone a long way in trying to convince my husband to spend the extra money on organic 🙂
        my one question is that the actual tag on the naturepedic organic classic 150 mattress reads:
        all new material consisting of

        blended cotton batting 80%

        polyethylene foam 20%

        innerspring unit

        I thought it was supposed to be 100% cotton except for the polyethylene plastic for the waterproof covering? I know you said polyethylene plastic is okay but not foam … Now I’m worried the mattress contains the stuff you said was bad!! Can you shed any light on this?
        Thanks for your help!! Katie

        • Jane Sheppard says

          Hi Katie,

          Sorry the law tags are so confusing! The government law label rules require specific wording that unfortunately does not represent what’s really in the product. It’s really crazy, but the manufacturers’ hands are tied – they have to comply.

          The Law Label rules do not allow for the term “cotton” by itself, and the word “organic” is not permitted on a Law Label.  “Organic Cotton” or “Organic Wool” or “Organic Latex”, etc. is illegal terminology on a Law Label. Crazy, but true.

          It’s the polyurethane foam that you need to be concerned about, not polyethylene. They are completely different. Polyethylene “foam” does not involve a chemical process.  It involves heating and flash cooling the polyethylene so it forms closed cells with air in the cells. The law label rules require it to be called foam.

          • Katie says

            Thank you SO much for the response!! Don’t you just “love” the odd rules they have sometimes?! They just seem to cause more confusion lol

            Now that I read your response I feel so silly…the words are completely different!! Can we blame it on mommy brain and first time mom jitters?!

            I feel so much better having read your response…thank you for explaining everything and helping to calm this first time mom’s worries 🙂 Knowing that the mattress is indeed safe, we will ALL sleep better tonight…no pun intended 😉



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