In our quest for healthy sleep for the whole family, I told you that finding safe materials for containing the messes was an important piece of the puzzle.
Non-toxic waterproof mattress protectors and waterproof mattress pads for changing diapers are an essential in a house with kids – seriously, I don’t know how families managed to keep their mattresses dry 150 years ago out on the plains. Did they just throw out and restuff the straw after accidents, use wool, or what?
As much as I want to be totally natural, and looking to the past is often the way to do that, I’m kind of happy to have impenetrable materials keeping urine, spit-up and other bodily fluids away from our mattresses. Fully cleaning and drying out a wet spot on a mattress is a Sisyphus-like task with an uncertain ending. If you don’t get it all out, you risk your mattress growing mildew, bacteria and toxic fungi that are far worse for the sleeper than a little plastic.
I’m taking my chances with plastic, personally.
Read this post for the scoop on what materials are considered to be the most inert and safe for your kids. Today’s post is a rundown on the many brands we’ve tested over the decade we’ve been parents. Some are review samples, but most we purchased on our own.
Our Former Favorite Fitted Crib Mattress Protector: American Baby
We have two or three of these American Baby fitted crib pads, and I’ve purchased them as baby gifts for our niece and nephew, too.
Now that I’ve done even more research on product safety and materials, though, I’m bummed out. I was hoodwinked by “organic” and overall positive reviews and didn’t look much further.
I think this is still a decent product, but if it was October 1 again and I was shopping for our baby born at the end of that month, I would choose differently.
- So soft and comfy. Quilted but not enough to be unsafe for an infant. I just love them.
- Easy to put on.
- Easy to wash (we use hot water and the dryer and have never had a problem before).
- Works! They do not let even the biggest leaks through to the next layer.
- Organic cotton.
- No vinyl.
- Very affordable IMO.
- Made in China. (The company says they’re looking into US manufacturing options, but it sounds like they’ve been saying that for a year or two or even three, so I’m waiting to see action, not talk.)
- Some reviews on Amazon say they smell terrible and chemical, and believe me, I’m sensitive to scents like that, but in all the times we’ve purchased (2011 and 2014 at least) I’ve never had a problem with the odor. Many of those reviews are from 2013, and I’m wondering if they had some bad batches? I am pretty sure ours have always been labeled “American Baby” and not their offshoot brand. You can always return them if they smell bad.
- The waterproof layer is thermoplastic polyurethane which is not vinyl (that’s good) but is still the last on my list of safer materials. Bummer.
American Baby Waterproof Multiuse Pad
My babies always end up co-sleeping with me, and nothing says “fun” like changing queen bed sheets a few times a week because of diaper leaks, right?
I learned pretty quickly to put a small, bassinet-sized waterproof pad underneath the baby at night to protect the big sheets, and I wanted to refresh my stash when Gabe was born with something that was likely safer.
Looks like I went with “likely” instead of “safer” in the end. You guys, I did such better research for this post than for my own baby!
Strangely enough, we’ve had maybe one diaper leak at night in 4.5 months, so I haven’t bothered juggling pads at night. Both of these have become our changing table pad – easier to swap these out and just wash it with cloth diapers than to squirt and wipe down the vinyl pad we had, and plus the vinyl pad had flame retardants – ack!
Even though polyurethane isn’t a perfect component, it’s a lot better than chemical flame retardants and foam. If you are looking for a changing table pad, I’d highly recommend this brand (go with the longer one, babies grow fast!).
What was My Problem?
As I look through the rather extensive document I compiled last October when I was doing my own shopping, I think I had another case of ignorance. A lot of the materials listed on these waterproof mattress protectors simply say “polyester.” I know polyester is made of plastic, and I didn’t realize that I needed to dig deeper to figure out what kind of polyester fabric they were really using for the waterproof part.
I didn’t realize there was a difference between polyurethane, polyethylene, and polypropylene. They’re all plastics, but some are probably safer than others.
I was just looking for something waterproof, affordable, with good reviews, and no vinyl.
“No vinyl” is a great thing to remember, but it was one step short of where I wish my knowledge had been.
Want to go shopping with me? Here are all the items I looked at for cribs, co-sleeping, twin beds and more!
To Waterproof a Crib
Here are all the crib mattress protectors I looked at and my eventual decision about them:
- Bed Bath & Beyond (no idea what the waterproof layer really is; similar price to the organic American Baby)
- Baby Mattress Covers SIDS protection (this is the polyethylene mattress wrap that I mentioned when we talked about safe, healthy sleep for babies and crib mattresses, but since I had an organic Naturepedic mattress, I didn’t need one. Our 3yo is on a crib mattress in a toddler bed though – a very old crib mattress! – and I was just thinking we’d get him into a twin soon so I didn’t address his situation, but kind of wish I had).
- Naturepedic flat at Mighty Nest designed for portable cribs but would suffice for any crib, I’m thinking (good product but costs more than American Baby; I’d probably get one of these knowing what I know now about materials). Naturepedic’s pad does use a very thin layer of a specially formulated polyurethane plastic (the plastic is very different from the foam) in between the layers of organic cotton. From what I understand, this is a safe material, not to be confused with the foam.
- Wool puddle pad from Mighty Nest (got to review this one, below!).
- Here’s another very similar wool puddle pad
- I went looking for more wool options because I was a little fascinated by the idea and liked the “no plastic” route. I found a few on Etsy, from Lily’s Dreams and Yoli’s Nest. The exact items are no longer available, but you can read about care for wool and check out their current offerings. Lanolized wool should be more water resistant…ideally.
As I mentioned above, I ended up getting the same American Baby we had used before, and I’ll talk more about the wool pad below. I’m really impressed with the Naturepedic company’s commitment to safe materials, though, so I’d lean in that direction now.
Disclosure note: Almost all of these links are NOT affiliate links – I’m just sharing the honest-to-goodness research I did when shopping for my own family. Some of the Amazon links are affiliate links (but I didn’t even bother with the pads I am not recommending).
To Waterproof a Twin Bed or Larger
Most of the options for waterproofing big kid twin beds also apply to mom and dad’s bed if you want something to protect your mattress from co-sleeping (or bed crashing) kids who might wet your bed instead of theirs. (Have you heard the Jim Gaffigan sketch on that one? Hilarious.)
Here are all the many, many options I researched before ultimately deciding on a Naturepedic for our daughter (that’s how I know they’re so good):
- Luna Hypoallergenic Dust Mite Protector – was my top choice if I wasn’t going to go “organic.” It had no vinyl, was cost-competitive with others at about $30 for a twin at the time, had a cotton top and a 10-year warranty. The waterproof layer is polyester laminate, likely polyurethane according to the FAQs on Amazon.
- These 3 were similar enough to Luna but more expensive, so I cut them off my list:
- I looked at a few wool puddle pads but just couldn’t justify the possibility of leaking anyway + price + potentially harder to wash compared to the organic cotton versions:
- A few more I took off the list:
- Wamsutta from Bed Bath & Beyond – too close in price to other non-organic options, didn’t care to look into the silver’s safety
- Bedgear from BB&B – too similar to other non-organic options like Luna and CoolShield for less money
- Dusk 2 Dawn Pebbletex at Amazon – I can’t find what the waterproof layer is anywhere! But it is organic cotton and chemical-free which was nice to see…
- This one from Aller-Ease was high on my list and available at our local Target. Listed there only as being made from polyester, I had to go looking on Aller-Ease’s website. I found a description of their materials as “innovative fabric engineering techniques” at first in their FAQs and finally found that the waterproof ones are made of polyethylene in the Q&A on the specific product. You really have to look! (Polyethylene is a food-grade, safe plastic = yay!) The same brand at Target also has organic cotton.
- This one from The Protective Bedding Store was a little more expensive than Aller-Ease, also organic cotton, breathable, soft enough to use as a fitted sheet without an extra layer, unbleached…but waterproofed with polyurethane, a less-safe plastic. EDIT 2016: The polyurethane is fine…
- We actually bought this one from Ikea…but more on that below…
- I was strongly considering this one from Healthy Child – organic cotton, machine wash, no chemicals, no plastic, lifetime warranty – and when I emailed to ask if it was waterproof and might block offgassing from an old mattress, I got a GREAT reply:
We’re delighted to hear from you! Thank you for contacting us and letting us know one of your readers referred us. We are happy to help any way possible.
The dust mite covers will not block off-gassing. They are designed for allergens, dust mites and bed bugs. Mold is not only an allergen – it can create more off gassing, and the dust mite barrier covers will not block it.
Please know the plastic waterproof dust mite covers some companies offer may not be safe due to the types of plastic used – they may off gas themselves.
Please consider the Organic Cotton Waterproof Mattress Pad made by Naturepedic. It’s non toxic and will protect your mattresses from moisture and dust mites on the top area of the mattress. It does not encapsulate the mattress but it helps especially with waterproofing and dust mites.
Healthy Child was awesome enough to send me one for review:
I’ve been VERY pleased with Naturepedic’s quality, super easy to machine wash and dry, nice deep pockets on the fitted mattress protector, and the company is the most committed to safe materials of any brand of sleep products I’ve encountered. They have my highest recommendation!
Note that you can get a fitted mattress protector or a flat one with straps that go around the corners to hold it on, and they’re different prices (plus you can use the dropdown menu to find the right size for any bed you’ve got).
Healthy Child also sells a quilted version which is padded with plant-fiber based filling and organic cotton, NOT foam. Awesome sauce! No flame retardant chemicals, ever.
Healthy Child is a very upstanding company that does extensive research on all their products, seeking the very best, eco-friendly, human-safe items out there. I relied on a lot of Jane Sheppard’s articles on mattress toxicity for my healthy sleep series, found on the Healthy Child blog.
More about the company:
Healthy Child is a mother-owned and managed small business, featuring non-toxic organic mattresses and bedding, air purifiers, and other products to reduce toxins in your home. Our mission is to inspire and empower you to maintain an exceptionally healthy home environment and provide your family with the best possible care for healthy development and optimal vitality.
We provide reliable information about toxic exposures so you can make informed decisions about safe, healthy alternatives to the many toxic products on the market. We do the necessary research so you don’t have to spend your valuable time. We thoroughly check into the materials and manufacturing of our products, and we only offer products proven to be non toxic and safe for your whole family. Babies and children are the most vulnerable to toxic exposures, and we want to be sure they are protected.Healthy Child Newsletter provides you with reliable information about natural, holistic health for children and reducing environmental toxins. We give you the most up-to-date information so you can make informed decisions to help keep your babies and children safe and healthy.
You’ve heard the best…now what about the rest? We have quite a few other waterproof mattress protectors in use at the Kimball house, so here’s the breakdown of how they fare in action:
The Paradigm Shift of a Wool Puddle Pad
Wool “puddle pads” are a completely different thing when it comes to mattress protection.
My first reaction upon reading the instructions in the package from Mighty Nest was that it’s so weird to use something, especially in a bed, without washing it first!
Wool is naturally anti-bacterial, so unless it’s actually visibly soiled, you don’t wash it at all. You just hang it up to dry off and put it right back on the bed. !!! I was a huge skeptic, let me tell you!
Here’s our experience with it so far:
- The very first night, our 3yo son’s diaper leaked. I’m not sure how badly because I wasn’t the one to clean him up, but it wasn’t a full-on tinkle with no protection, so it should have been more of a slow, contained leak. My husband was completely bewildered by the results. For years, we have double-sheeted the bed with a mattress pad, sheet, waterproof mattress pad, then 2nd sheet to make for easier changes, middle of the night if necessary. He said, “Did you use two sheets or what? What happened?” He said he was confused because both sheets were wet but the wool pad was not. He wasn’t sure what to think about that little magic trick!
- So on day one? It felt like a #fail…but a strange one.
- The positive? The wool pad does what it says it will do and doesn’t have any odor, and it dries fast and/or doesn’t feel wet. For comfort’s sake, that’s great to know. (And it really doesn’t have any odor, even after a few days – I checked.) Again, a little weird feeling to just hang it up and put it back on without washing it, but I’ll take it.
- The downside – obviously, if the sheet beneath the puddle pad was wet, we have a problem. It can’t be used as a mattress pad to protect a mattress in any way. It can’t be used under a baby for a diaper change or for a co-sleeping infant unless you’re willing to risk your bed still getting wet. So…what is it good for?
- BUT – our second mess on the pad is a total enigma. The 3yo tinkled full out with no diaper while in time out (power play perhaps?), and obviously the top sheet was soaked, and in fact there was even urine on the floor because it had run off the side of the bed. The puddle pad was a bit wet in a few spots but nothing like what I’d expect with a mess like that, and yet the sheet beneath it was…wait for it…dry! I hung the puddle pad and it really didn’t have any smell before or after it dried. How did nothing soak through? Maybe it has to do with pressure on it – when a child continues to lie on the mattress after leaking vs. a big puddle but not really any lying down to press it through the wool pad? More testing needed!
- In further experiences, we had just a few diaper leaks, so not much liquid, and the wool pad did actually seem to keep the moisture off the sheet or mattress beneath it. (Our crib mattresses are both waterproof themselves so I wasn’t worried about ruining them.)
The company that makes the puddle pad actually recommends using a cotton mattress pad over the wool, with the wool being the barrier between the mattress and that to stop the liquid, but expecting most of the moisture to be absorbed by the cotton pad. I’d say that would have a 90-97% success rate in protecting your mattress from wetness, but also the wool pad could be used in the double sheeting technique if you were okay with having a #fail some of the time. (If I had a non-waterproof mattress, though, I wouldn’t trust it to a wool puddle pad for ultimate protection!)
My bottom line: Neat product, neat idea, easy to manage (just hang it over the shower curtain rod and put it back on!), and as long as you don’t have any allergies to wool, it’s the best non-plastic option you’ve got. But it’s not my favorite because it’s not 100% protection.
Standard Store Issue Pads
I realized that at the beginning of our parenting, we just bought whatever was available at Babies ‘R Us through our shower registry or our local big box store (Meijer). All of those pads have worked great and lasted a loooooong time through lots of washes, but I am starting to wonder what they are made of!
There aren’t tags on the flat pads filling our closet shelves, so I thought I’d do a quick check on Babies ‘R Us to see what is offered now (2015) and ring in on the product materials and my opinions on them:
- The classic changing pad has a vinyl coating, not surprisingly. Vinyl = offgassing = not desirable. That’s why I just pulled the changing table pad we’ve used for a decade. New knowledge creates new habits! See above for what we’re using instead…
- This changing pad says it’s made of “PEVA and phthalate/PVC free” (at least the top layer) but it’s still vinyl and polyurethane foam, so it’s probably treated with flame retardants.
- Protect-A-Bed is their main brand of waterproof mattress protection for all sizes of beds. The components of the “Miracle Membrane” that makes it waterproof but breathable are not disclosed on the Babies ‘R Us website, but on the brand site FAQ page it’s described as “a revolutionary polyurethane barrier film.” Polyurethane is the most undesirable of the good materials (but not as bad as the materials to avoid) as per my research in last week’s post. Phew! So a better option than PVC, but not as good as at least three other materials. UPDATE 2016: I’ve since learned more and, unless you’re open to wool, polyurethane plastic (which is different than the foam) is likely the best option for a washable, waterproof mattress pad.
- Both Serta’s version and the Babies ‘R Us in-house brand claim to be phthalate and PVC-free but don’t disclose what’s actually in there. (Color me nonplussed!)
- The bed bug and dust mite protector that zips around the entire crib mattress is also polyurethane.
- This waterproof pad that looks a lot like crib and bassinet sizes we have around uses a “peva” waterproof layer. (I just added some research to this mattress protector safety post since I hadn’t heard of peva until now! It’s okay, but still vinyl and questionable.)
Bottom line: Babies ‘R Us currently has some decent options, but there are better available elsewhere…and you really have to know what to look for! Shopping “green” is a difficult skill to be sure.
The Ikea Disaster
For under $10 for a twin sized flat-with-straps mattress pad and under $15 for the queen size, I couldn’t resist buying Ikea’s cotton/polyester/polypropylene mattress protectors in BOTH sizes. Ikea generally has a safe materials reputation, and this product boasted a fairly safe plastic (no. 5 plastic, the same as in most food storage containers), no optical brighteners and non-chlorine bleach.
Unfortunately, that’s where the good part ends.
After two washes, using hot water because the tags said I could, the plastic backing had major holes in it and was wearing away:
It was still usable more or less since it happened on the ends and most accidents happen in the middle, but it’s totally unacceptable for a new product to look this trashed already. I think the urine might leak through in general a little bit too, based on the smell. I would not trust this mattress pad for a real accident without a diaper!
Our queen-size version did the same thing after two washes, hot water and dryer on medium. Very sad.
Later on we had a simple diaper leak, less than 8” in diameter and not even a real puddle, just a leak. It completely soaked through to the surface below through the center of the pad where there was no compromise from the tears shown above.
Bottom line: This mattress pad is literally no more help than just sticking an extra sheet on there. Pathetic. If it had stained a mattress, I’d be so upset – good thing our little one was temporarily sleeping on a sleeping bag! It’s going to cost me more to wash the sleeping bag in a heavy-duty commercial washer than it did to buy the useless mattress pad. It’s the loss of my time that I’m really frustrated about – that is not something I wanted to add to my burgeoning to-do list. 🙁
Ikea did refund the money for the mattress pads once I sent them these pictures, so that’s a good company standing behind a bad product.
Note: The Ikea website actually never says “waterproof!!” I needed to read more closely – but I thought that because the backing was polypropylene that it was intended to be. The description only talks about stains, dirt, and killing dust mites in the washing machine on hot. Huh. They also don’t have a place for reviews. Darn.
This has ended up to be quite a long post! The Healthy Sleep series will close up with one last post this week, a breakdown of everything I know about buying a safe, non-toxic mattress. Let’s go shopping together one more time!
Click to Read the Whole Healthy Sleep Series: