Thanks to growing consumer awareness, many of us are trying to limit our exposure to chemicals in consumer products. We are buying more organic foods and checking food labels for preservatives. We care about the chemicals in our cleaning agents and avoid plastic bottles with BPA. We are also starting to scrutinize a product most of us spend 8 hours a day in contact with: our mattress.
Determining what your mattress is made of is a good idea. It will help you determine what kind of mattress is right for you. Most conventional, large-scale mattress manufacturers use synthetic fabrics and foams in their products. They also add a number of other non-natural components—chemicals with highly toxic content. Chemical agents can be found in nearly every component of a modern, name-brand mattress.
The Truth About Common Mattress Materials
The following is basic information about commonly used mattress materials:
- In Your Mattress: Polyurethane foam is frequently used as a cushioning material in mattresses. Memory foam is also made out of polyurethane.
- Chemical Profile: Polyurethane is a petroleum-based product made by combining the chemicals Polyol and Toluene Diisocyanate (TDI). TDI is an aromatic hydrocarbon, so called because it emits a strong, noxious odor. TDI is classified as a Volatile Organic Compound, or VOC. These compounds off-gas and can impact your health.
- Health Impact: TDI fumes are known to cause asthma and other reactions such as headaches, nausea, dizziness, and fatigue. This chemical has also been shown to disrupt the the immune and nervous systems. Read more about VOCs on the EPA’s website, and TDI in the book MDI and TDI: Safety, Health, and the Environment.
- In Your Mattress: As of July 1, 2007, the Consumer Product Safety Commission enacted a new standard for mattress flammability: all mattresses must be able to withstand 30 minutes of open flame without exceeding 200 kilowatts of heat. What they didn’t specify was how to meet the standard. Until quite recently, many fire retardants were made with PBDE’s (polybrominated diphenyl ethers). Many manufacturers have since stopped using PBDE’s to meet fire retardancy standards. However, a PBDE-free mattress doesn’t mean it's chemical-free. There are many other questionable chemical agents still used to make fire retardants.
- Chemical Profile: PDBE’s come in three different types: deca-, penta-, and octa-. They are named for the number of bromides they contain, which detach to quench fire. Because penta- and octa- PDBE’s accumulate in the bodies of animals and humans, the State of California banned the use of both beginning on January 1, 2008. PBDE’s of the deca- variety have proven nearly benign in lab settings, but in sunlight they break down into penta- and tetra- forms of PBDE’s, which accumulate within organisms and biomagnify.
- Health Impact: PBDE’s are biomagnetic, meaning the toxins they release accumulate in a food chain. They can be inhaled via dust, passed from mother to child in utero, and ingested by infants via breast milk. PBDE’s have been shown to impair brain development, lead to birth defects, suppress the immune system, and cause cancer.
Glues and Adhesives
- In Your Mattress: Many mattresses are assembled using large amounts of adhesive agents. Manufacturers use glue to secure one layer to the next and to attach the mattress cover to the internal components.
- Chemical Profile: Mattress glues are filled with chemicals. Three of the most common include methylene, chloride, and benzene—both carcinogens—as well as formaldehyde.
- Health Impact: The chemical fumes emitted by the glues used in mattresses have been linked to asthma, allergies, and skin irritation, as well as lung, nose, and throat cancers.
Other mediums that embed chemicals into your mattress include:
- Synthetic fabrics, like polyester and acrylic
- Pigments, dyes, and bleaches
- Foam fillers, extenders, and diluents
- Pesticides and fungicides in natural fabrics like cotton or wool via ingestion (such as sheep eating pesticide-treated grass) or pest control spray (cotton)
As consumer advocate and home toxicity authority Debra Lynn Dadd writes, “We have a higher exposure to toxic chemicals in our beds than anywhere else.” To make matters more difficult for consumers, the majority of high-profile mattress companies won’t reveal the chemical content of their mattresses, citing the combination as a “trade secret.” That means consumers willing to do the research aren’t able to make fully informed decisions.
The Chemical-Free European Sleep Works Mattress
European Sleep Works maintains a strong commitment to making healthy mattresses that feel good and are good for you. We use a different set of materials than the conventional mattress manufacturers. Rather than polyurethane foams, we use only 100% all-natural latex foam that’s been washed extensively to ensure the removal of any environmental chemical traces. We encase our mattresses and pillow tops in organic wool and organic washed cotton. We don't use synthetic fibers like polyester, and we don't use chemical fire retardants. We’re featured on a list of PBDE-free mattresses compiled by The Environmental Working Group. EWG provides information for consumers regarding chemical products and advocates for national chemical policy change.
All of our materials are independently certified by Oeko-Tex, an unaffiliated European consumer testing board. Oeko-Tex is unique because it certifies end products. The organization tests finished products for pH value, formaldehyde content, pesticides, heavy metals, preservatives and more. An Oeko-Tex stamp of approval means the entire product is clean and safe for consumers.
European Sleep Works is committed to health, comfort, and safety. We build mattresses with your well-being in mind.