There are many key components to healthy living: exercise and staying active, drinking purified water, eating a whole-food diet, reducing sugar, getting the right amount of sun exposure, and proper sleep. Though we may incorporate many of these preventive health strategies into our wellness routine, we might not always consider our sleep environment, which is also a key component that’s equally important to our health.
We spend roughly one third of our lives asleep, so safe, clean bedding is essential for everyone in the family. Babies and young children sleep more than adults and are also more sensitive to chemicals in their surroundings. Our mattress, pillows, sheets, and comforter should be free of toxic chemicals and ideally made of natural, eco-friendly materials like organic wool and cotton. Clean bedding is one of the best long-term health investments for you and your family and it’s also good for the environment.
Mattresses and Bedding: What’s Healthy and What’s Not
The mattress is the center of our sleep environment. Unfortunately, many traditional mattresses are made with harmful substances such as chemical flame-retardants (e.g., antimony), boric acid, formaldehyde, ozone depleters, and phthalates that breakdown and release VOCs (volatile organic compounds) into the air. Long-term exposure to these toxic substances can cause mild to serious health effects including allergies, respiratory issues, reproductive problems, damage to the lymphatic system, liver and kidney toxicity, neurotoxicity, and even cancer.
There are safer mattress options available, made with certified natural, organic materials free of chemical compounds. When purchasing a new mattress, be mindful of certification labels. A product might claim to be made of “natural” materials but may still contain undisclosed man-made chemicals. To help guide the consumer, mattress companies use green certifications; however, it’s important to note that not all green testing is the same. Some certifications may provide more rigorous testing than others or focus on certain health and environmental standards. Look for labels such as the following to verify that the mattress materials are organic: Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) and Global Organic Latex Standard (GOLS). A certified organic label means the specified mattress material is made of 95% certified organic fibers. The Oeko-Tex Standard 100 is another certification label that tests and ensures products are free of harmful substances while GreenGuard tests for chemicals emitted from products and CertiPUR-US conducts safety testing on foam products.
The ideal toxic-free mattress is one made of certified all-organic wool, cotton, and/or latex. Here’s why certified all-organic is the gold standard:
The organic wool label provides a lot of value. Sheep farmers who produce certified organic wool must adhere to the federal standards and practices required for raising organic livestock without the use of harmful chemicals. Another benefit is how the sheep are cared for while producing a sustainable, renewable resource: Organic wool is shorn from sheep annually for the duration of the sheep’s life. Wool is also a natural fiber that absorbs perspiration, is non-allergenic and mildew-resistant, and is naturally flame resistant, so you avoid toxic flame-retardant chemicals.
Like wool, organic cotton must meet organic agricultural standards in order to receive the certified organic label. No GMOs (genetically modified organisms) or harmful chemicals, such as pesticides and insecticides, are used during the organic cotton farming and production process. Organic cotton is also 80% rain-fed thus promoting water conservation. Cotton produced without chemicals means less impact to the soil and air, and ultimately, the final product you sleep on is clean and toxin-free.
Natural latex is derived from the milky sap harvested from the rubber tree. An organic latex mattress with a certified GOLS label ensures that the latex comes from trees harvested without chemicals fertilizers for at least four years. A certified organic pure latex mattress does not contain man-made latex or other synthetic fillers and is also free of chemicals during the production process.
WFP’s Take-Home Advice
- A certified all-organic mattress is the gold standard; however, purchasing one may not always be feasible. At the very least, we recommend using organic, natural ancillary bedding — pillows, sheets, and comforter— because they are just as important as your mattress. When purchasing these bedding items, look for pillows made of the following natural materials: organic wool, cotton, latex, or organic buckwheat hull. Use organic cotton sheets and an organic wool or cotton comforter.
- Look for certification labels such as those shared by Austin Natural Mattress, as these labels provide important information about clean, safe bedding.
- When washing bedding items, use a gentle fragrance-free laundry detergent such as Seventh Generation Free and Clear.
- Our own recommendations for clean mattresses (non-memory foam) include: Naturepedic, OMI, Avocado Green Mattresses, Plush Beds, Happsy, My Green Mattress, Savvy Rest, Eco Terra, and Birch Mattress.
- For clean memory foam mattresses, here are some options: Brentwood Home Mattresses, Loom and Leaf by Saatva, Dream Cloud, Bear Mattress, Essentia, and Magniflex.
- To learn more about natural, non-toxic mattresses and bedding, watch our WFP YouTube video
Sources and References:
Naturepedic: The Truth About Flame Retardants in Mattresses. Retrieved October 31, 2019 from https://www.naturepedic.com/blog/2017/08/truth-fire-retardants-mattresses/
Naidenko, O. and Stoiber, T. What to Look for When Buying a Crib Mattress. ewg.org. Retrieved October 31, 2019 from https://www.ewg.org/news-and-analysis/2017/11/what-look-when-buying-crib-mattress
Interlandi, J. (2017, September 29). New Warnings to Consumers: Avoid These Flame Retardants. consumerreports.org. Retrieved October 31, 2019 from https://www.consumerreports.org/toxic-chemicals-substances/avoid-these-flame-retardants-cpsc-warning/
What Is Organic Cotton? aboutorganiccotton.org. Retrieved October 31, 2019 from http://aboutorganiccotton.org
The truth about organic vs natural latex — what you need to know. heveya.com. Retrieved October 31, 2019 from https://www.heveya.com/heveya-media/articles/49-organic-vs-natural-latex
Organic Wool. sleepingorganic.com. Retrieved October 31, 2019 from https://sleepingorganic.com/organic-wool/