How Toxic is Your Mattress?

We spend 1/3 of our lives in bed, but how can we sleep safely when there are tons of toxic chemicals used in mattresses and bedding? Most mattress companies have their materials loaded with volatile organic compounds (VOCs). A very toxic flame retardant, PDBE, alters thyroid hormone metabolism and is linked to low birth weight in babies. Its use in mattresses was banned in 2005, but if your mattress is older than this, it likely contains it. Today's conventional mattresses are treated with other types of toxic organophosphate fire retardants. Walter Bader, the author of Sleep Safe in a Toxic World, states that the average conventional mattress contains more toxic chemicals than a 50-gallon drum of oil, including formaldehyde, benzene, and toluene. A 2009 article in the New York Times pointed out that polyurethane foam, a primary component of traditional mattresses, is made from petroleum.

Mary Cordaro, a healthy building and interiors consultant for decades, recommends using only natural latex, organic cotton, and natural, chemical-free wool in mattresses. Walter Bader reminds us to avoid propaganda perpetuated by mattress retailers claiming to be “chemical free.” When shopping for an organic mattress, ignore the "green" or "eco" ratings.  They are unregulated and therefore likely false claims. Oeko-Tex is an independent third-party rating company whereby mattress companies can voluntarily have their product rated. The only rating that is meaningful in the world of mattresses is "organic."

Greater awareness of the importance of a non-toxic sleep environment has given rise to several companies committed to making organic mattresses. Walter Bader co-founded Lifekind, which makes organic bedding and pillows in addition to mattresses. Other online sources are My Green Mattress and Sleep EZ. In the Los Angeles area, check out Living Green in Culver City.  Essentia in Santa Monica claims to be non-toxic, but some research suggests they are making false claims.  For a checklist on how to choose a healthy mattress, click here.

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