The dangers of mattresses off-gassing are talked about far more now than when my husband and I got married and bought our first mattress in 2003. There was so much we just didn’t know as we spent hours agonizing over making the best decision. Fortunately, there are many options for natural and organic mattresses on the market today and I’ve done some of the leg work for you! Keep reading to see the list of natural mattress companies I’ve compiled over my years of research.
Our Newlywed Mattress Purchase
My husband-to-be had waited to propose until he had his first job, and in fact, sharing that exciting news with me was the beginning of the proposal. We were just out of college, and he promised to provide and care for me as we began our lives together.
A few months later, the wrecking ball hit his company. The end result was a jail sentence for his boss and catastrophic closure of the business, which makes a great story to tell at parties but was certainly a crisis at the time.
I was applying for teaching jobs, but the market was bloated at the time, so in June when we had to nail down an apartment to live in after we got married in July, we were two very young adults with no jobs.
I can still remember the exact place on the freeway when the call came in on my old Sprint flip phone with the broken arm. It was my eventual boss offering me a job at a Catholic school, teaching third grade. We had just left our umpteenth apartment complex of the week, a beautiful one that we knew was way out of reach for our current, ahem, salaries.
I felt like the Holy Spirit Himself had buzzed, offering us a new lease on life.
We leased a very inexpensive apartment, used rabbit ears and free dialup Internet through our university logons, and were overwhelmed with gratitude when we saw the final tally of our monetary wedding gifts.
My husband didn’t end up getting a job until October, so our first few months of marriage were very simple and sparse. We used that wedding money to buy exactly two new pieces of furniture: a couch and a mattress.
We took days to shop, laying down on mattresses in store after store (no jobs, remember?), wondering how we would genuinely like it for 8 hours at a time (no kids yet, so that was realistic!). We agonized over making the perfect decision, and we spent about $7-800 on each item, so not cheap, but not luxurious by any means.
Amazingly, we still have and love both items. It’s good to make a big decision and get it right!
I’m not sure how we lucked out so much with our mattress purchase, really, because we have truly loved our mattress. Whenever we go to visit family and have to sleep on someone else’s (usually old) mattress, we can’t wait to get home to our bed, a pillowtop Serta queen mattress with partner disturbance protection, amazing edge support, and a little stuffed sheep that came with it. (That became the kids’ toy pretty quickly, but the mattress was ours, and we cherished it.)
Our babies slept in that bed with us, we nursed sicknesses in that bed, and we even brought it with us when we lived 5 months with my in-laws, and we stored the mattress that had been in the room they were graciously letting us use.
But there was so much I didn’t know back then.
Is Your Mattress Off-Gassing Toxins?
We tested a LOT of mattresses. We balanced cost, brand, delivery charges, pillow top vs. individual firmness vs. memory foam, interlocked or individually coiled springs, who liked firm vs. soft and whether we could agree on one style…but there was one major category we completely missed.
What’s IN that mattress?
Because we were shopping in 2003, I now know that there’s a decent chance that our perfect mattress was laced with PBDEs, a class of environmentally persistent flame retardant chemicals now banned as health hazards.
Polybrominated diphenyl ethers might have protected our mattress from a “flashover” in a house fire, but they also made the dust in our house toxic, increasing our risk of thyroid disease, infertility, and birth defects along with learning disabilities, behavioral issues, and delayed puberty onset in our children. (Four children. We didn’t have the infertility issues…hopefully they don’t either!) PBDEs are persistent in the environment, which means they get into groundwater and the air (and our bodies) and stay there for a long time.
They are particularly toxic to developing brains, are found in human breastmilk, and tend to be measured in higher concentrations in children than adults. I’m picturing all the times my infants slept on my bed right now, and my breath gets caught in my throat.
And that foam that made wonderful edge support, that we smashed with a bedrail so that our older babies could lay right up against it and not fall out of bed? Don’t even get me started on how that crushing probably increased the toxic off-gassing-directly-into-my-babies’-faces that was going on there.
This is NOT what we should have spent our precious wedding money on.
It makes me so angry that those chemicals were in my mattress, that I didn’t know it, that the government mandates that mattresses have to pass flame tests and doesn’t tell companies they can’t just use the cheapest hazardous chemical they can find!
We were real adults trying to make good decisions, but there was so much ignorance. We just didn’t know what to ask. (Wish I had read my own post on flame retardants in mattresses on that old dial-up connection…)
My Advice to Newlyweds in the Bedroom
Since we got married right out of college, we were the trailblazers among our friends and watched many of them enter into engagements and marriage in the years following our own wedding. I was always brimful with advice for happy new couples, including what to put on wedding registries and what to buy for their first home together.
I always said that investing in their marriage bed, both physically and metaphorically, was the most important thing they could do for each other.
A good night’s rest would help them have more emotional stores to be civil to each other on a daily basis, and a comfortable, brand new mattress was paramount to making that happen. Marriage and family would happen in that bed, and I’d tell any new couple that they should spend serious time choosing the perfect mattress and not worry about spending money on a new one. It should be new for their posture and new as a symbol of their union, not some old mattress that one of them had slept on for years before their wedding.
In other words, my advice to newlyweds was always to buy a good mattress.
I would still give the same advice – you should love being in your bed (together!) as a new couple – but I’d also be the voice of caution about flame retardants, foam, infertility, children’s brains and the importance of the mattress investment for the whole family’s health.
Nothing is simple in this convoluted, fallen world we live in.
A good mattress and a good night’s rest are still important, and the big box brands we bounced around on ten years ago still aren’t going to offer a non-toxic night’s sleep. So what do we do?
My Introduction to Natural Mattresses
When we moved to our current home three years ago, we of course brought our wedding mattress with us, had a first grader on an old, old, old hand-me-down twin mattress, a 3yo in a toddler bed on an old hand-me-down mattress, and a baby in a pack-n-play (and quickly got him onto an organic, non-toxic crib mattress thanks to my gig here at Kitchen Stewardship).
I knew that even though we swapped out our plastic food storage containers for glass, bought organic meat and drank from stainless steel water bottles, the family was spending half our lives on likely-toxic materials, and it slowly drove me nuts.
My oldest son actually started a weird throat-clearing/little cough thing soon after we moved into the house, the kind of thing that happens quietly every ten minutes that moms worry about, and it lasted pretty much until the school year ended. I never figured out what the cause was but always wondered if the school had something to do with it.
He was the next to get a better mattress, a twin Naturepedic brand that wasn’t cheap, but I was done compromising on safety and health in our sleep. Who knows if it was related, but that cough never came back.
Our daughter slept on that darn hand-me-down crib mattress in the toddler bed until Gabriel was born this fall, when it was passed to 3-year-old Jonathan. We knew we needed to buy her a new mattress, and she was going to have the double bed that would be given to overnight visitors, so it was the biggest investment yet.
I’d been researching mattresses for three years and had a massive 20-page document on my computer with my findings, including a somewhat local company that could make them without flame retardants with a doctor’s note. With a new baby coming any day, a new family doctor, and the fact that I’m terrible at making decisions, we realized we wouldn’t be able to turn around on that issue before Gabe was born, so we set her up on the old twin mattress on the floor and called it good temporarily.
Then her cough started, and I had that déjà vu feeling.
We yanked that mattress and let her sleep on a folded up adult sleeping bag with a twin mattress pad and sheets, a DIY mattress of sorts, like a pallet on the floor. It was fine for a 6-year-old, and we knew that as soon as I could handle it after Gabe, we would be mattress shopping for real.
I spent most of October shopping for as much safe sleep stuff as I could without buying the actual mattress.
Our oldest got a new organic blanket for his bed, the 6-year-old girl got a pink clearanced organic blanket for her new bed-to-be from Organic Grace (no longer in stock, but they have others), the baby got these organic crib sheets and the mattress pad I told you about HERE, and Mighty Nest sent us a wool puddle pad while Healthy Child sent a Naturepedic mattress pad to review.
Non-Toxic Mattress Options
When I do “shopping” like this, there’s so much research to be done, both on materials safety and product satisfaction. I read a lot of web pages, a lot of reviews, and a lot of company about pages, and I take a ton of notes (hence the 20-page document). You don’t want to see the whole thing, trust me, but here’s a glimpse of the mattress companies I had collected over the years via IRL friend recommendations, readers, and Internet searching.
I tried to list the available materials for mattresses. Seems like most “safe, non-toxic mattresses” use organic cotton, wool and latex, so you’ll see that a lot. Only certain materials can pass the federal flame retardant regulations… Pricing changes so much that I don’t want to include that info, but hopefully you can find the best available!
- Healthy Child – Naturepedic and Royal-Pedic Organic. Organic cotton/wool, latex. Free shipping. They are experts on product safety!
- Mighty Nest – carries Naturepedic (where we got our twin).
- Moss Envy – Naturepedic and Savvy Rest mattresses and accessories. Dunlop and Tallalay latex, organic wool, organic cotton. 20 year warranty on Naturepedic. Small business in Minnesota, gets involved in blogs and has high standards!
- White Lotus – Dunlop latex, organic wool, cotton, “evergreen foam” – can buy parts and DIY, tons of choices for mattresses, from “green” cotton with boric powder flame retardant to organic cotton/wool/latex to an organic cotton mattress with no flame retardant for which you need a doc’s prescription. Too many to list!
- FloBeds – organic and conventional latex, organic wool, Talalay latex available.
- My Green Mattress – Organic cotton, Joma wool, Tallalay and natural latex. Carries Pure Echo, 4 options with a huge price range. I think you can visit Quality Sleep Shop in the Chicago area to test them out if you’re nearby.
- Berkeley Ergonomics – Latex, Plein Air wool, cotton – the mattresses open with a zipper so you can see what’s in there. US made. Find them at The Mattress & Sleep Company in Canada.
- The Natural Sleep Store – Latex, organic wool, organic cotton, futon mattresses, carrying Bella Sera, Green Sleep, Savvy Rest, Sueno, Eco Baby crib mattresses and more brands.
- Open Your Eyes Bedding – totally DIY – twist buckwheat hulls into special fabric
- Soaring Heart – organic wool, organic cotton, latex
- Lifekind – custom-made organic wool, natural latex, rubber
- CozyPure – Dunlop latex, wool, organic cotton, fully assembled
- NaturalBed.com (formerly TheNaturalBedStore.com) – latex, organic cotton, organic wool, have adjustable beds
- DIY Natural Bedding – Choose your own fill, cover, and DIY it. Natural latex, wool, organic cotton
- Nest Bedding – Bamboo, “natural memory foam” (???) (60% natural plant oils), silica fire blocker, also carries organic cotton/organic wool/latex mattresses
- New Living – (located in Houston, TX) organic wool and cotton, latex. Carries OMI, Naturepedic, Royal-Pedic, and Savvy Rest. OMI mattresses and bedding are produced in the nation’s only large-scale 100% organic factory – even their employees don’t smoke, wear fragrances, or use fabric softeners.
- Pure Baby and Child – sells the Cocomat crib mattress and pure latex twins.
- Ikea may have a few that would fit the bill made with latex, wool and cotton, but you’d have to make some phone calls to find out if they’re treated with additional flame retardant chemicals (and which ones). Quite a few of their “latex” mattresses, including the crib mattress, also contained polyurethane foam; read the product descriptions. Usually foam indicates a need for chemical flame retardants.
- Many people opt for a plain cotton futon mattresses, especially for young children. Here are some ideas on how to do that or DIY.
- More good ideas in the comments at Kelly’s mattress post (although I’ve referenced most of them except the small, local-only niche recommendations).
- Other brands you might look into that look like the right stuff: Natura (is this even found at Kmart?), Moonlight Slumber (for kids and cribs), Nook Sleep (just for kids and cribs, I think?)
- No Feathers Please is an interesting site I found for blankets, sheets, and pillows, naturally made but without down.
The trouble with ordering a mattress online can be the inability to test it out. Some of these shops have storefronts, so if you’re in the area, lucky you! Also, many offer generous return policies so you really can test it out for a whole month, and if you don’t like it, send it back.
Are Used Mattresses Safer?
I used to hopefully believe that perhaps older items, like secondhand PJs, may have already off-gassed all their toxins. In reality, it’s more likely that the flame retardants and foam are both breaking down as the item ages and may off-gas even worse. Serious bummer. Here’s a little more about that (also a good company from which to buy an organic mattress).
I wish I could have tried out all those mattresses above to give you a real breakdown of how they feel, not only how they’re made, but it’s not as easy to have 30 mattresses as it is to try out dozens of natural sunscreens or a handful of reusable bags!
If anyone has a mattress from one of the companies other readers recommended above, I’d love to hear your experience in the comments!