The Importance of Natural Mattresses: Get the toxins out

If we are well rested, we are spending about 1/3 of our lives sleeping.  For children, this is even more time, during the first three years of life when the brain is developing so quickly and they are growing like crazy, children spend more than half of their time sleeping (usually!). This is why it is so important to make sure what they are around while sleeping is as non toxic as possible.

For our family a natural mattress was even a higher priority than organic food- I’m going to tell you why I feel so strongly about choosing a natural materials for you and your children’s sleeping area.

  • Conventional mattresses are full of toxins: The everyday mattress that you buy in the store is -by law- flame retardant.  The most inexpensive way to make a mattress flame retardant is to use toxic carcinogenic chemicals.  The alternative is to use wool, which is more healthy, sustainable, and nontoxic. But with those attributes comes a price- wool is more expensive than dousing synthetic fabrics with chemicals or inserting an off-gassing fire resistant core piece into the mattress.
  • Natural mattresses are an easy change: I get emails and comments all the time asking me ‘how do I get my kids to eat this healthy food?!’ but with a mattress, the change should be much simpler, and you are making a big difference every day with no struggle!
  • Over time natural mattresses give you a good return on your investment: I calculated the cost per month of my daughter’s crib mattress, which she will be using until she is at least 5.  It is $5/month, and the mattress can be used again for another child.  An adult queen sized mattress that gets 20 years of use out of it (as higher quality mattresses should) works out to about $7/month.
  • The toxins in mattresses may be linked to the following conditions (references linked): SIDS (and another), allergies, asthma, autism, fertility problems.  I suspect that many of our modern chronic conditions come from repeated chemical exposure, so greatly reducing what we are exposed to while we sleep could help a lot.

Purchasing a natural mattress:

Thankfully as we vote with our dollars the mattress manufacturers are getting up to speed and providing less toxic and nontoxic alternatives. Adult sized natural mattresses are important for children too- toxins can cross into the baby in utero, toxins are excreted into breast milk, and most families do co-sleep at one time or another.

Natural mattresses can be found online, and occasionally at Costco.  In the Pacific Northwest there are a number of local natural mattress shops, just check the yellowpages.  I haven’t found a natural adult sized mattress at any conventional mattress stores yet, but they have assured me that they are working on them as there is a high demand.


What to watch for:

  • Beware of ‘greenwashing’ and the liberal use of the word ‘natural’ – read the fine print to see exactly what the mattress is made out of, it should only consist of natural fibers with names that you recognize such as cotton, wool, and natural latex (from trees).
  • There should be no polyester, vinyl, or flame retardant in a natural mattress.  The mattress actually should not be waterproof- see how we use an old sweater as our mattress protector.
  • Check to make sure you are buying a whole mattress, not just a topper at a premium price.
  • Call the manufacturer or store before purchasing if purchasing online, and check the return policy. Ask how they pass the flame retardant mandate, the correct answer should be that they use wool.  Even organic crib mattresses are caught using using boric acid (roach killer) as to pass the requirements!

I called Naturepedic about Naturepedic Quilted Organic Cotton Deluxe Crib Mattress.  They said that they use baking soda and hydrated silica to pass flammability standards.  I would prefer wool, but hydrated silica does have a low toxicity rating.

The Pure Rest Organic Innerspring Crib Mattress says that it only contains wool and organic cotton, this is the type we have for our children.

We have a natural latex adult mattress, with an organic cotton cover, our pillows are natural latex also.  We use a goose feather pillowtop on top, and cotton sheets.  For the kids, they have the natural cotton and wool mattresses, goose down pillows, and most of their crib sheets are made from our sheet set- we don’t use the top sheet, so I cut that up and sew crib sheets out of them.

I do consider healthy sleep surfaces to be an important investment in our family’s health, I hope you found this helpful for yours as well!

PAID ENDORSEMENT DISCLOSURE: In order for me to support my blogging activities, I may receive monetary compensation or other types of remuneration for my endorsement, recommendation, testimonial and/or link to any products or services from this blog.
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Comments

  1. we use a foam mattress from IKEA right now, but hoping to move up to a king sized mattress sometime in the next year or so (it’s tough to co-sleep in a queen)…and i’m really hoping we can save up for a non-toxic mattress. i’m really interested in the beds from this company: http://www.soaringheart.com/index.cfm

    • It’s a sacrifice to make- our mattress cost more than my husband’s truck (the truck is an ’88 but still!) I agree about the king, I was going back and forth with that but we decided that a queen would be better while we were still renting- the kids mattresses are on the floor next to ours so we take up a lot of room in the bedroom :)

      • Mary Torcivia says:

        Hi Cara,
        I stayed at a beach resort here in Florida and the bed was so comfy, so I got the 800 # off the mattress and found this company…
        http://www.bodyrestmattress.com/page/greenearth
        What do you think of the products? I am looking at the one called The Rockies.
        Thank you for your input.
        Mary T.

        • It looks like they use some natural materials, but synthetic also. The goal is to be 100% natural :) Usually if they’re vague about what they’re using, they have a lot of synthetics in it.

    • Rachel – My son has had two custom futon mattresses from Soaring Heart and we’ve loved both of them.

      The first was a portable crib size for our sidecar set-up and then crib size when he moved to a crib. I think we had to get a Dr’s note to get the boric acid not used. Ours has just wool, organic cotton and a latex core.

      When we move in the Summer, I’m going to look into a Full size for our son and a King for us. I’m not sure if we’ll go with Soaring Heart again as I’ve been dreaming about these organic Savvy Rest mattresses that Green Mountain Organics carries: http://www.greenmountainorganics.com/index.php?main_page=index&cPath=56_1

  2. Heather1173 says:

    Where did you purchase your adult mattress and pillows?

    • I got the mattress from Sam’s Club during a sale, I’m not sure if they still have them. Watch the wording if you order one from there- I ordered one ‘natural latex’ mattress that was 70% synthetic foam- they just left that off the description. It was a pain in the tush to return a mattress, but they did accept it.

      I don’t remember where I got the natural latex pillows, those are fairly common. I got the down pillows from Costco.

  3. So do the chemicals really affect your child that much if you layer wool or other natural materials on top of the mattress?

    • I believe they do, as they’re in the air. For our family they absolutely did- my daughter got hives twice when I put her on a crib mattress covered in a cotton blanket + cotton sheet. (it was twice because it took me a while to figure out why she was getting hives)

      Another alternative is ‘mattress wrapping’ – we did that until we could afford to get my daughter a natural crib mattress. You can google that, there are a bunch of sites on it from NZ

  4. Jodi McKenna says:

    Thanks, girl! This is something I have been meaning to research as Gabe needs a new mattress!

  5. Coincidental that your post is about natural mattresses! I just got off the phone with the natural mattress store where I bought my son’s dunlop latex mattress with organic wool and cotton quilted cover b/c I had to buy a new cover after my cat soiled his! Expensive to replace the cover but so worth this bed. We have a Cal King latex mattress and pillows too. And my son had a Naturpedic mattress for his crib. I totally agree with you on the importance of the mattress and bedding. I also chose only organic sheets and pajamas for us and my son. Anything having to do with sleep. They spend so much time doing it.

    You may want to talk about the importance of keeping electronics out of the bedroom too. No EMF’s! My son has an air purifier and an overhead light and that’s it. I’m even thinking of putting the air purifier into the hallway.

    • Thanks Deborah :)
      EMFs… yes, that’s on my list of things to research! I have a vague knowledge of them, but I don’t know enough to do a post on it yet.

  6. I actually prefer the wool free natural mattresses, as the man who linked SIDS with toxins in mattresses strongly discouraged the use of wool as well. :-)

    • Ah, I totally missed that link! But admittedly I did most of my mattress research 4-5 years ago now. Thanks for posting :)

  7. I don’t want to be a buzzkill BUT… I went to a safe sleep symposium here this summer, were Dr. James McKinna spoke. Dr. McKinna is Americas leading infant sleep specialist. He is also a very huge supporter of breastfeeding and cosleeping. He spent some time on this very subject. He said there have been numerous studies done to check the connection of SIDS with mattresses. He said there was absolutely no evidence showing a connection. Maybe people should check Dr. McKenna out before incesting such a large sum of money.

    • Hi Cocobean,

      I think you may have overlooked the point of the article, which is reducing toxins in our home and around our children. Regardless of whether there have been studies linking or not linking the toxins to SIDS is not really what the point was.

      Also, I am careful to use the words ‘may be a link’ rather than ‘there is a link’ because I do not like any media that claims to derive cause-and-effect from a study that cannot do that :)

      Even if SIDS is not caused by mattress chemicals, I would still encourage every family to try to purchase nontoxic mattresses.

      My primary reason for purchasing natural mattresses was not SIDS (my babies co-sleep nearly 100% of the time in their first year) but was to reduce the toxins my family is exposed to.

  8. Thanks – thinking about this recently!!

  9. We just bought an all natural latex mattress from a Costco road salethis week. The company name is “Spring Air” and we got a decent deal on it (upper limit of our price range, but worth it.) I’d have to check, but I think the sale’s guy mentioned using a bamboo based material for the cover to pass the fire retardant standard.

    • That’s great :) I had seen natural latex mattresses at Costco.com a couple years back, we were still saving for a mattress when they were discontinued, glad you found one!

    • The one at cosco has polyurthane. I checked the ingredient index and was quite disappointed.

  10. I was so happy to see this post! Thanks for bringing the toxicity of conventional mattresses to light. If your readers are interested in our quest for a natural mattress, I invite them to read my recent blog post on it my blog http://www.lifeinthecottage.com/2011/02/part-one-on-buying-new-mattress-or-our.html

    And since I’m a relatively new blogger, I’d love to have readers follow me if they like what I wrote. My family life blog has a facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Life-in-the-Cottage/137995039590155?sk=wall
    as does my natural family cooking page: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Cooking-in-the-Cottage/161446240572062?sk=wall

  11. I have really appreciated you site. You are a breathe of fresh air.

  12. What brand is your natural latex mattress? I recently saw a guy on TV promoting his all natural latex mattresses. They are called Essentia. http://www.myessentia.com Mattresses there start at around $1500 for a twin. Is that average?

    • It’s American Sleep Eco-Green- we bought it over a year ago now. I think I just recently saw natural latex mattresses at Costco – at costco.com they’re higher priced, but I think they were around 1K for a queen in the store. My little guy and I are going there today, if I find out more I’ll let you know :)

  13. Nichole says:

    This is something we have been throwing around in our house for some time. I am wondering about options for those allergic to latex. Any tips?

    • You can find wool and organic cotton ones too :)

    • An allergy to natural latex is extremely rare – the latex that “should” be used in natural latex mattresses is 100% pure natural latex that is different from the latex, say, in latex gloves. Just like “wool” allergies – which are incredibly rare – most people with wool allergies are actually allergic to the chemicals they treat the wool with, not the wool itself. I know Pure Rest has a free test kit to test for those who are worried about a latex allergy. You just need to be really careful when researching natural mattresses – or anything labeled “natural” or “organic” because even things labeled “certified organic” can get away with some levels of toxins – make sure you trust the company and that they are very transparent with their testing!

  14. Kathy via Facebook says:

    great info, thanks!

  15. Becky via Facebook says:

    Thank you! Sams club website now carries American Sleep organic mattress! I just called all they use all wool to pass flammability! Great price! Question—What can I use to help make it waterproof because I will be getting one for my 4 year old?

  16. I use machine washed (which shrinks/felts them) wool blankets or big sweaters. They work amazingly well!

  17. Barbara via Facebook says:

    My husband and I sleep on a latex mattress and I had a custom made mattress made for the crib from KellyGreen_Organics on ebay that is 100% wool filled and 100% wool covered. The crib mattress fits perfectly into an antique cast iron crib, breathes beautifully and I cover it with a thick cotton blanket under the sheet in case of accidents.

  18. Great article, sharing. We sleep on a natural latex mattress from Savvy Rest.

  19. Great article, sharing. We sleep on a natural latex mattress from Savvy Rest.

  20. THANK YOU for this information!!! I have been concerned about our toxic mattresses and wondering what to do for a safe alternative. I didn’t know that non-toxic mattresses were being made! Thank you.

  21. Thank you so much for this! We’re getting new mattresses and avoiding innersprings too.

    Thought you might find this interesting:
    http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/guest-blog/2010/07/02/left-sided-cancer-blame-your-bed-and-tv/

  22. Trying to decide between a Naturepedic Organic (inner spring) or American Sleep Organic (latex) at Sam’s Club. Nautrepedic is a little cheaper. Nautrepedic I would be stuck with if I don’t like it, Sam’s Club I could return in 30 days. Wool makes me itchy, but I think it is covered by cotton on the American Sleep. Anyone have any experience with these? Thanks! :)

  23. Hi Cara!! Thanks for all you do… We are getting a new mattress as our current is really painful for my husband’s back. We’re planning on the Sam’s Club model you bought. I am pleased with the health issues… But is it comfortable? I know it seems silly, but any insight on comfort/support you could offer would be appreciated :) :) Thanks again, Analise

  24. Susanne Johnson says:

    Check out LIFEKIND for organic mattresses and naturally safer products of all kinds….They educate consumers on toxins as well as provide safe alternatives. Pricey, but worth it – especially as we vote with our dollars! I just purchased my 2nd organic mattress, foundation and pillow top from them. I don’t feel good about purchasing a bed from anywhere else. They make the mattresses themselves, and source all of the ingredients themselves. Definitely a company worth checking out.

  25. Shirley says:

    Has anyone bought the American Sleep eco-green mattress? Is it comfortable, and about level of comfort, firm, medium?? tks

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