In a study on six brands of crib-sized waterproof mattress covers conducted by Anderson Laboratories, all were found to emit toxic fumes in various degrees, and some caused acute toxicity to the respiratory tract of male mice.
Five of the mattress covers were made of polyvinyl chloride covered with cotton and/or polyester layers. The remaining cover was made of polyolefin. Chemical emissions included suspected carcinogens. In 66 experiments, 88 mice were exposed to the emissions of one of the six mattress covers, and in all 66 experiments some toxic effects were found in the mice.
Mattressesóboth for cribs and bigger bedsómade of pure, natural materials that will not outgass toxic chemicals, are available from the resources listed below. Natural mattresses can be made of organic wool, organic cotton, and pure latex.
Types of Natural Mattresses
- Organic wool mattresses. Wool is an excellent choice of mattress because it can absorb and release water; it is naturally fire-dust mite-and mold-resistant; and resilient. Buying an organic wool mattress is important because most sheep are regularly dipped with pesticides to control parasites.
- Organic cotton mattresses. Organic cotton mattresses are much preferable to nonorganic because of the heavy pesticide use in the cotton industry. By federal law, cotton used in mattresses must be treated with a fire retardant. In most cases this is boric acid, which does not release vapors and is considered nontoxic. Note that organic cotton can have a strong smell that some find distasteful.
- Pure natural latex mattresses. Natural latex mattresses are a new product in the natural bedding industry. Pure latex bedding is resistant to mold, bacteria and dust mites, and is fire resistant. Make sure that the natural latex mattress is not a blend containing anything but pure latex. Latex allergies are a serious problem for some people.
- Metal-free mattresses. Some believe that the metal in box springs become magnetized when in the presence of a room’s normal electricity, and radiates its own field that distorts the earth’s natural radiation, making sleep less restful. Some companies now provide mattresses free of metal springs.
Green on a Budget
- Buying a clean, used mattress that is old enough to have outgassed most of the toxic fumes is a viable option, as long as the mattress has never been fumigated. Look in the want ads for used mattresses, or put an add in yourself. Inspect the mattress carefully before buying it. Avoid commercially sold used mattresses as they have probably been treated with pesticides and disinfectants.
- You can seal in some of the fumes emitted from mattresses by making a barrier cloth encasement. Barrier cloth is a very tightly woven cotton, and is available from Janices (1-800-Janices; 973-691-2979). Janices will make made-to-order mattress covers.
Adapted from the "Care2 Ask Annie" newsletter.