Waterproof Mattress Protector – What’s Safe and What to Avoid

Waterproof Mattress Protectors

A waterproof mattress protector is essential to protect your mattress from urine, spit-up, sweat and other bodily fluids that are part of life.  Wet or damp mattresses provide a perfect environment for bacteria, mold, mildew and fungi, which can lead to a toxic sleep environment.

Plus, wetness can ruin your mattress!

Currently, the only way to get complete waterproof protection for a mattress is with a plastic lining or membrane in a cover or protector pad. But it’s important that you choose the right plastic, as not all plastics are the same. In fact, most can be quite toxic.

Most waterproof mattress protectors you find will be made of one of these plastics:

  • vinyl/PVC
  • polyurethane

Vinyl/PVC –Avoid it completely

Vinyl is dangerous on two levels. First PVC (polyvinyl chloride) is a known human carcinogen. Second, the plasticizers that are used to soften the hard PVC plastic and make it flexible enough to use as mattress protectors or pads are phthalates. Every day we learn more about how toxic phthalates (and  phthalate variants) are, especially to babies’ and children’s small, developing bodies.

Phthalates make up 30%-40% of the weight of the vinyl surface, and have been linked to:

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

Even more alarming, they are weakly bound to the vinyl and leach or off-gas into the surrounding air, to be breathed in.

What about “non-toxic” or “phthalate-free” vinyl?

Due to the clear science that indicates phthalates are a health risk, several types of phthalates have been banned in the US. But manufacturers are always coming up with new variants, some only slightly different, that are legal and not tested for safety.

Until all of these variants are tested (if that ever happens), it’s better to avoid “non-toxic” and “phthalate-free” vinyl or PVC.  No one really knows what level and type of plasticizers or additives in vinyl is safe, especially for children.

PEVA/EVA – Caution Needed

You may see products made with PEVA (Polyethylene vinyl acetate) or EVA (Ethylene vinyl acetate) touted as less-toxic than PVC. Although these types of vinyl are free of chlorine, they still may contain chemicals that are better avoided.

Polyurethane – Can be safe but do your research

Polyurethane on its own can be relatively safe, depending on how it’s formulated. It can be formulated with added chemicals or solvents. Polyurethane foam, for example is highly toxic due to additives to make it into a foam. You definitely want to avoid mattresses made with polyurethane foam, but the plastic is a different story. If you see a waterproof mattress protector made with polyurethane plastic, you’ll need to dig deeper to determine its safety. It’s difficult to know if a plastic is off-gassing, but sometimes the toxic smell will give it away.

Some other materials and factors to consider

Polyethylene – Safe but unsuitable for mattress pads

If you want to be sure that you are buying a safe, non-toxic waterproof mattress, polyethylene is the way to go. Unfortunately, it’s not ideal for mattress pads that need to be washed frequently. Precisely because it is a benign plastic, it does not hold up wash after wash. It’s rare to find a polyethylene waterproof mattress protector on the market and if you do, don’t expect it to last long.

Coating – not worth the risk

Some mattress pads are marketed as anti-microbial, antibacterial and/or anti-mildew. Usually this means the pad has an extra coating of something that’s potentially toxic. If you wash the pad when needed, coating is unnecessary. Better to avoid inviting other chemicals into your bed.

Wool Puddle Pads – a natural option but not entirely waterproof

Although wool is a great natural material, a wool puddle pad has its downsides.

First, you need to consider the allergenic properties of wool. And wool is not waterproof. Wool can dry very quickly once it gets wet, but it is not actually waterproof. A wool puddle pad may, in fact, allow a significant amount of moisture to reach the mattress. Even a small amount of moisture can ruin a mattress or grow mold and mildew, creating an unhealthy environment for sleep.

If you do go with wool, you might want to use two wool puddle pads covered by an additional cotton pad. The cotton layer will absorb a good amount of the moisture so the wool pads can protect the mattress.

What do we recommend for a guaranteed non-toxic, 100% waterproof mattress protector?

Naturepedic Organic Cotton Waterproof Mattress Pad

The Naturepedic Organic Cotton Waterproof Mattress Pad is completely waterproof, confirmed non-toxic, and hypo-allergenic. Made with an ultra-thin film of polyurethane plastic (2% of the product) completely surrounded by two layers of organic cotton, it can withstand even the worst nighttime accidents while still allowing the material to breathe. There’s no plastic chemical odor and the organic cotton provides a non-sweaty sleep surface. The Naturepedic waterproof protector pads are of the highest quality, and easy to machine wash and dry.

The polyurethane plastic film that Naturepedic uses has no toxic chemical additives. It does not leach chemicals or off-gas into your sleeping environment. This has been tested and confirmed through Greenguard SELECT certification – the most stringent Greenguard standards. At Healthy Child, we trust Naturepedic because we know they are committed to safe materials.

As I searched everything out there on the market, I can definitely say you can’t find a safer waterproof mattress protector than this for your family’s sleep environment.


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  1. says

    I bought a latex mattress and I have been sick ever since and Please is there anything you have to cover a double latex mattress so the fumes will stop coming to me as i can’t afford a new mattress PLEASE HELP.
    Blessings Melissa.

  2. Joan Hemington says

    I bought a new mattress this week, just a sprung mattress than you turn regularly, I by a new cheap one every 2 yrs, because in the past I bought an expensive memory foam Matress & after a while it burnt my skin wherever I lay on it..with my new mattress I bought a mattress topper, I had it on for 2 nights, the second night in the middle of winter my skin where I laid on it burnt like hell, the whole room & me stunk of rubber.
    There’s polypropylene in the mattress topper, could this be causing the burning?
    Joan Hemington

    • Jane Sheppard McMillan says

      Joan, I’m sorry to hear about your skin burning, that must be terrible. Polypropylene is one of the “better” plastics, so I don’t know if that’s the issue. It might be that your topper is coated with some sort of antimicrobial or other chemical. Difficult to know when ingredients are not specified. You may want to go with an organic wool, cotton or latex topper without any plastic or coatings.

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