The Truth About Mattresses: Mattress Chemicals That Could Be Harmful and Why Going Organic Is Best

There is not much in life that feels better than collapsing into your bed at night. The comfort of a well-made mattress can give you the sleep you need for good health and should last you many years. Unfortunately, many mattress chemicals can disrupt your sleep and lead to other major health problems.

Yeah, we know you likely haven’t even thought of mattress chemicals before but they’re a thing, and a big thing.

Since mattresses tend to be significant investments, sometimes costing thousands of dollars, it is worth investigating everything you can about the spot where you will rest your head at night. Most of us have never thought about what goes into making our mattress. Most of us buy what feels good and fits our budget without ever thinking about its construction or materials.

Toxic Chemicals in Mattresses

Many consumers are surprised to find out precisely what is in most commercially-produced mattresses. Let’s take a look at some of the common mattress chemicals and materials in use today.


This chemical is widely used in adhesives in home goods but can cause problems such as headaches, ALS, memory issues, and insomnia. (1)


Made from crude oil, naphthalene is a volatile organic compound (VOC) used in pesticides and mothballs. VOCs are linked to kidney and liver problems and are suspected carcinogens.


Benzene is a light-colored liquid at room temperature and is often used in the production of fibers, such as synthetic latex. Long-term exposure of a year or more may lead to blood disorders and cancers, such as leukemia. The Department of Health and Human Services lists benzene as a known carcinogen. (2)


Widely used in the manufacture of paints, protective coatings, and flexible foam materials, isocyanates can cause significant respiratory problems and skin irritations, especially with repeated exposure. (3) (4)

Flame Retardants in Mattresses

High on the list of concerning chemicals in mattresses are flame retardants. In use since the 1970s, flame retardants are commonly used in:

  • Carpet
  • Mattresses
  • Upholstery
  • Clothing
  • Electronics
  • Insulation materials
  • Children’s products.

California effectively set the tone in 1975 when it required that the foam in upholstered items be able to withstand flame for 12 seconds, leading many states to follow suit. This legislation brought about the extensive use of flame retardant chemicals in many home goods and, of particular concern, in a significant amount of products and clothing designed for children.

The Fight Against Flame Retardants

Many groups representing the medical field, consumer advocacy, firefighters, and the environment had serious concerns about the safety of flame retardant chemicals in our homes, offices, and vehicles. They worked to reverse legislation mandating the use of these chemicals, and now many states have banned their use.

A 2012 investigative series by The Chicago Tribune brought to light the deceptive tactics used by chemical companies to hide the health risks posed by flame retardants. These risks include:

  • Endocrine disruption
  • Thyroid problems
  • Cancer
  • Reproductive difficulties
  • Neurological disorders

Children are especially vulnerable to health problems linked to the use of flame retardants. (5) There is some evidence linking the chemical antimony to SIDS, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. This information has led many states to ban the use of flame retardant chemicals in crib mattresses.

A Safer Choice

Fortunately, with so much research and information now available, manufacturers are taking note. The mattress and bedding market now offers many safer options than were previously available.

When you are ready to replace your mattress in an attempt to go chemical-free, here are three things to look for:

Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS)

This label signifies that at least 95% of the mattress’ materials are organic. It also mandates that the other 5% cannot include flame retardants and other specific chemical compounds.

Global Organic Latex Standard (GOLS)

Mattresses with this label are made with latex, and the label demands at least 95% be natural latex, rather than synthetic. It also restricts what chemicals the other 5% can include.

Oeko-Tex Standard 100

This label does not guarantee that a mattress is organic, but it does set standards for VOC emissions from chemicals such as formaldehyde.

3 Mattresses Without Flame Retardant Chemicals

With so much information out there, it can feel overwhelming to choose a mattress that gives you peace of mind. Here are three mattresses to consider.

My Green Mattress Pure Echo: Offered at $949 for a queen size, this mattress carries the GOTS label and is made in the United States from eco-sourced wool and cotton. It does not use flame retardants in its manufacturing.

Happsy Organic Mattress: The queen size organic Happsy mattress, $1399, has both the GOTS and GOLS labels and comes with a 10-year warranty. Happsy is made in the United States and is free of pesticides, flame retardants, and polyurethane foam.

Naturepedic Organic Mattress: At $1599.00 for the queen size, Naturepedic has the GOTS certification and is manufactured in a facility that meets Greenguard standards for emissions. This mattress comes with a 20-year warranty.

Better Sleep, Better Health

Considering you will spend about one-third of your life sleeping, it is well worth examining your mattress choices. After all, you are stretched out on your mattress every night, breathing the air near it, and absorbing anything it emits. We are fortunate to be in a time in which healthier, safer options are now available.

As so often happens with health and medical information, it took some time for the pendulum to swing away from the world of flame retardants and toxic chemicals and back to a place that offers safer sleep for you and your family.

The available information about mattresses reminds us that every part of your environment impacts your body’s well-being, even while you sleep. For help, support, and guidance on your journey to healthy living, reach out to Third River today.

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