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Considering how we spend about 1/3 of our lives sleeping, this works out to be about 26 years for an average lifespan of 80 years. That is a substantial amount of time on our mattress! Just how well do you think you know your mattress?

What lurks beneath?

So let’s assume that you are a regular mattress sleeper. How much do you know about what goes into the making of that comfy material you lay on every night? The majority of us probably know a thing or two about mattress comfort in terms of how firm or soft the material is. But just how many of us take time to find out about the kinds of materials that go into the making of the mattress? Environmental toxins or allergies ring a bell? Perhaps for some of you, allergies are so prevalent in your life that you have readily taken steps to rid them.  But have you considered your mattress to be a source of toxins?

The typical mattress can have a dizzying array of materials contained within it. Most have some sort of foam material used as cushioning. This can come as latex foam or visco-elastic foam commonly known as memory foam which is basically polyurethane foam, a synthetic material. Most latex foam is made from blending latex from the rubber tree with synthetic latex made from petrochemicals including styrene and butadiene. This is where off-gassing or evaporation of these volatile organic compounds (VOCs) take place. Styrene and butadiene have both been associated with skin, eye, respiratory irritation, with styrene also known to cause headaches, fatigue and organ toxicity.

Latex fillers are typically added to bring down costs of production with such fillers including titanium dioxide, calcium oxide, kaolin clay. Furthermore, flame retardants are added to mattresses in order to meet fire safety standards in many countries. Health Canada has set fire safety standards that require mattresses to resist catching on fire from a smoldering cigarette. A class of widely used flame retardants such as polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) are typically used. PBDEs are chemically related to the infamous  polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) which were banned in the 1970s due to human toxicity. So far, multiple animal studies have found  health concerns around thyroid hormone disruption, neurotoxicity, learning and memory impairment and cancer. Over time, PBDEs have also been shown to accumulate in human breast milk. Although further human studies have yet to be conducted to assess human risk, do we want to wait till a ‘sufficient’ level of PBDEs build up in our bodies before we decide to err on the side of caution?

Organic standards

The term ‘organic’ has been thrown around so loosely that it has become an art in itself when deciphering  a true organic product from one that is not. Even words such as ‘natural’, ‘green’ or ‘eco’ should be viewed with a healthy dose of skepticism

You probably have seen organic food produce in the supermarket aisles, but an organic mattress? Well, just like food produce, fibers such as cotton or wool and other textiles can meet organic standards. Organic cotton, organic wool, natural tree rubber or other kinds of organic fiber are typically used in an organic mattress. Wool in fact is a natural flame retardant. That is not to say it is flame proof.  Many manufacturers do not want to and are not required to declare the use of chemicals so they can state that they use ‘wool’. However, the wool may have been doused with a healthy dose of flame retardants in order to meet the ‘open flame test’ which is a fire safety standard that is a lot more stringent than the smouldering cigarette test. Always check with the manufacturer if you are unsure.

The Global Organic Textile Standards (GOTS) is the international processing standard for textiles made from organic fibers. This is where the post harvesting stages (spinning, weaving, knitting, dyeing, manufacturing) are monitored to ensure standards are met. There are many GOTS approved certifying bodies throughout the world and these certifying bodies further approve local facilities that meet GOTS standards. To find out if your local mattress supplier meets such standards, ask them for the name of the certifying body that certifies their products as organic. GOTS approved certifying bodies can be found at

Other labels to clue you in on a more natural and less toxic mattress would be to look for a name such as ‘Greenguard’ which certifies products and materials for low chemical emissions. There are other third party organizations which conduct independent laboratory testing on the various materials used, assessing their emission levels of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), content of formaldehyde, PBDEs and any presence of heavy metals. Looking out for these third party organization labels can be helpful too.

Now you know the What, let’s discuss the Who and Where!

Perhaps it’s time you tossed out that bed of toxins but before you kick down the door clamoring for that organic mattress, here’s a list of websites for you to get started.

Finally a great resource for more information can be found at