Are Organic Mattresses Truly Chemical Free?

Back in October, 2011, we received quite a lengthy and detailed response from Dr L A Stiglich to our ‘How do I Trust that my Mattress is Organic’ posting noting that:

“While wool would pass the old cigarette test for mattresses, it will not pass the new open flame test. These mattresses either use chemically treaded wool, another chemical system, or rely on chemically treated cotton batting (Boric Acid and Antimony) to pass the open flame test. According to a sizeable amount of research data collected during a pre-bedding purchase, there are no natural, chemical free, or nontoxic systems that pass the severe open flame test. Even what they call “inherently fire resistant” fibers contain chemicals in the fiber itself. There are no labeling requirements for the FR chemicals in mattresses. Thus, most mattress manufacturers deny using chemicals. It is unfortunate that even “Organic” mattress makers often claim to use no chemicals .” You can read the entire comment on the ‘How do I trust…’ post

In the recent Lifekind (Holiday, 2011) catalog, we see the F A Qs answer to the question:

‘Do Lifekind mattresses meet federal flammability standards?’ with the response:

Yes, primarily because organic wool is a natural fire retardant. In 2008, we proved to the U.S. Product Safety Commission that a mattress could be made without fire-retardant chemicals and still pass all federal and state standards.

Not much detail but perhaps they feel that the use of borates and phosphates (if that’s what they use, since no details are given) is far superior to the previously used PBDE fire retardants. We’ll continue to explore the question of the ‘chemical free’ aspect to organic mattresses and we invite further response. In the meantime we’ll be getting our chemistry degrees so we can sort out some of the current information on the internet.

 

New Baby: How to Make a Nursery that Breathes Clean and Safer Air

Is your nursery safe?
It’s hard to imagine that a nicely decorated nursery with freshly painted walls, new carpet, crib, changing table and some other light furnishings could be anything but safe for your baby. But it can. Most people don’t realize that the finishes, glues and stains used to make most furniture are full of volatile organic compounds, VOCs. Traditional paints, mattresses, blinds, carpets are as well. If you aren’t familiar with VOCs you can learn more here. But essentially, these compounds get emitted as gases from certain liquids and solids. According to the book Green Guide, “certain VOCs such as formaldehyde and benzene, can trigger respiratory, allergic and neurological reactions.” For a baby with a developing immune system these chemicals can be even more dangerous.

What to Do?

Start by shopping for safer alternatives like those that minimize indoor air pollution. Instead of buying traditional paint pick up low-VOC paints; Benjamin Moore makes a line and so does Sherman Williams.

For carpets, many experts recommend staying away from wall to wall conventional carpeting because it’s made with a heap of off-gassing chemicals. An area rug for the nursery tends to be a better choice. You can also look for carpet labeled – low emitting.

For curtains, look for those that are made with natural fibers like cotton, linen, wool and silk. Avoid synthetic fibered curtains which tend to be loaded with flame retardants and chemicals.

Also, take a look at Greenguard.com. This is a third party certifying agent that certifies low emitting products and materials. They offer a free product guide on their website and you can find a lot of good low emitting (Greenguard certified) products here.

As far as the crib and mattress goes, you can do your budget a favor by buying vintage or picking up and/or passing along crib bedding to friends or family members. This is a more environmentally friendly practice too. By buying a vintage crib, it’s been around years so it’s probably finished off gassing.

If you want to buy a new crib, The Everything Green Baby Book recommends “staying away from cheap furniture, which typically contains formaldehyde and high-VOC particle board.” Instead look for a solid wood crib with a water-based wood finish. Regarding a mattress, buying an organic baby mattress is the best way to go.

Get this Chemical Mattress Out of Here!

My journey from chemical to organic, in search of healthier sleeping nights

The countdown for getting rid of my 10-year old Sealy Posturepedic mattress has begun. In its’ place, I am looking for a natural mattress substitute; one that is made only with raw certified organic components like cotton and wool and natural rubber latex. For fire proofing – which is required for every mattress sold in the USA, I’ll only consider wool, not chemical fire retardants or a trademarked substitute that the manufacturer sells me as “eco” or “green.”

An unwanted mattress heads to the landfill

One of the easiest parts of this project is that I don’t need to be a chemist to buy an organic mattress. Thank goodness because I can only imagine what kind of toxic soup is brewing inside of my Sealy and how many nasty chemicals are looming within. The mattress gets an “A” for comfort, but for health, I would say it fails miserably.

 

I say to myself – “If I knew then what I know now I would never have bought my Sealy.” But who knew? I certainly didn’t. I’ve never had any bad reactions to my mattress off gassing and I’m not chemically sensitive, so the topic never came up. But, just like I’ve never gotten sick eating conventionally grown food, I largely buy organic because I believe in a healthy lifestyle.

One of the points I want to mention here is that organic food has become much more accessible. I believe Walmart sells organic produce. When I bought my mattress more than a decade ago, the internet wasn’t as evolved, and there were few manufacturers making organic mattresses in the United States. More is happening now.

Now there are many organic mattress manufacturers

Numerous are assemblers, which means that they purchase completed components from various sources; while others (though far fewer) are top to bottom manufacturers, which means that they complete all manufacturing – sewing, quilting and cutting – in house.

However, how quickly can you call one up in your mind? You probably can’t! Not the same story when it comes to manufacturers like Tempurpedic, Serta and Sealy. Most of us have strong brand awareness of these companies; these are some of the key players in the conventional mattress industry.

Please check back soon to learn more about the top organic mattress manufacturers. We will focus on manufacturers located in Canada and the United States.

Regards,

Nicole

How to Care for Your Organic Mattress?

Is there one answer about how to care for your organic mattress? Not necessarily: I went to several San Francisco Bay Area bedding showrooms and was offered different advice.

I found on two occasions that the natural latex mattress I was inquiring about didn’t require any special care, like flipping.

The reason being, according to owner Leonard Laxamana of Ergo Sleep Systems in Berkeley, CA is because “latex is durable.”  I found the same information upon visiting Latex International’s website.

Well that’s good news for the busy consumer…

But opinions differ – especially about specifics on how to care for something. When I visited my third showroom – A Happy Planet, in San Francisco – the owner, Kevin Kirby, said special care like flipping would help me get the most value out of my investment.

Here are some other suggestions he made which you may find useful:

  • (1) Flip and rotate your mattress – from head to foot. Annually
  • (2) If you have innerspring use both sides (unless it’s non-reversible) – this will help you get the most out it
  • (3) Put it on the right surface –  a slatted foundation is key for ventilation
  • (4) Protect it – when you change the sheets on the weekend, don’t put the sheets right back on.  Allow the natural fibers in your mattress to breathe
  • (5) Mattress cover – re: organic cotton with wool blend. If you have a removable, zippered cover, take it off and place it in the sun for a couple of hours. This will air it out and get rid of any odors. FYI: The sun is nature’s disinfectant and will kill smell causing bacteria

At A Happy Planet, the care-approach for the organic mattresses in his showroom is admittedly European… it’s all about opening it up, flipping it, and airing it in the sun. This old world approach is simple and reflects two goals (1) to evenly wear the mattress surface and (2) to air out the natural fibers and latex, all of which need to breathe.  

For the sake of natural latex, a slatted foundation allows this living material to breathe and, therefore, last longer. For Kevin, the customer can buy a healthy comfortable mattress that will last for years.  Buying for value not just price is what it’s all about. He wants to see his customers get 20 years out of their mattress. And, according to Latex International, a latex mattresses should easily last that long!

How do I Trust that my Mattress is Organic?

Misleading marketers make it difficult to trust that you are buying what they say. This is also the case today with misleading “eco labeling.” Buying an organic mattress is a challenge because you have to know how to distinguish the false claims from the true claims. We hope this won’t be the case much longer; the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) recently revised its Guides for the use of environmental marketing. Hopefully, this should make green claims more credible and shopping for an organic mattress less of a workout. For now, here’s how to move forward.

Verify 100% Natural Latex

USDA Organic Logo

If you are buying an organic latex mattress check and make sure that it is 100% natural latex. According to Walter Bader, author of Toxic Bedrooms, you might want to go so far as to get written assurance if you are in doubt. Why? Currently the label law doesn’t require manufacturers to disclose the percentages of synthetic latex (petroleum based) or natural latex (plant based, from Hevea brasiliensis) within a latex mattress. Therefore, a manufacturer can call the latex mattress “natural” when most of the mattress is in fact made of synthetic latex. Call the manufacturer to verify!

 

Verify Certified Organic Wool and Cotton:

Most organic mattresses are made with similar materials. These include certified organic wool, certified organic cotton, 100% natural latex and innersprings. To learn more about what’s in your organic mattress, read this blog post.

Keep in mind that you want the manufacturer using “certified organic” materials, not just organic or natural or eco or green. If it doesn’t say certified organic wool, (sometimes it will say pure wool, which is ….) if it doesn’t say certified organic cotton, again instead uses words like 100 percent natural cotton, undyed and unbleached cotton it’s not certified organic cotton without chemicals, so stay away. These are misleading marketing words designed to make you think that you are getting a chemical free mattress and you’re not.

Verification: Certified Organic Look for National Organic Program Certification

Just so you know, by way of third party certification a manufacturer can prove the claim that his product is made with certified organic fibers. This is a voluntary (often expensive annual) certification and numerous organic mattress makers choose to do this because it substantiates the claim that the mattress is made with certified organic cotton and wool.

Here are several of the certifying agents you might see: Oregon Tilth, CCOF Certification Services, and Organic Certifiers. If you are interested, take a look at the list of USDA-accredited organic certifying agents on the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s website.

What is an Organic Mattress Made Of?

an example of an organic mattess
An example of an organic mattress by OMI

When you think of an organic mattress, think of goodness. That’s because the ingredient list is so simple that there is no need for a mattress-load of toxic chemicals.

 

Makers of organic mattresses share in their usage of 5 or so materials. However, the way they use or combine these materials, and which ones they use, is much like a chef making a dish. A chef wouldn’t combine ingredients without a plan, neither does a mattress manufacturer.

In fact, you may not be aware, but most modern mattresses are made with certain components that allow the end product to be supportive and comfortable; this includes organic mattresses.

The overall mattress composition includes:  (1) the core – which offers support; (2) padding layers – which offer insulation, support and structure; and (3) covering/ticking – offers support and insulation. Often made of many layers; the outer covering fabric is closest to your skin.

Generally in an organic mattress: (1) the core is made of natural latex, innerspring and/or a combination of both.  (2) Padding layers are made with all organic cotton, all organic wool, or both.  (3) covering/ticking is made with organic cotton and organic wool.  To meet state and federal flammability standards organic mattresses primarily use wool beneath the top cover fabric.

The 4 key materials used in an organic mattress:

  • 100% Natural Latex
  • Certified Organic Wool
  • Certified Organic Cotton
  • Coils/Innerspring

 

Notice the above list includes “certified organic” and “100% natural latex” If buying an organic mattress, make sure that you are getting 100% certified organic ingredients, read our article to learn more.