My toxic mattress made me sick
I began cooking real food from scratch. I switched all my body care products and cosmetics to homemade or organic versions. I did the same for my household cleaning items. I filtered my drinking water to remove chlorine and fluoride. I started various food-based and homeopathic supplements. I thought I had most of my bases covered, in terms of my transition to a chemical-free lifestyle. Then, a few months ago, I began researching the chemicals I had been sleeping on day after day… the chemicals in my mattress!
After learning about the toxicity of new mattresses, I experienced a lightbulb moment. I realized that the worst flare up ever of my autoimmune disease exactly correlated to the week that I started sleeping on a new mattress a couple years ago. There were other factors that contributed, like increased sress during that time, but I believe that the toxic mattress was the straw that broke the camel’s back for me.
Here are three reasons to re-think your toxic mattress, as well as the non-toxic mattress to which I recently switched.
1. Toxic mattresses contain a slew of fire retardants
When you think about the properties of a good mattress, what comes to mind? Probably comfort, durability, and support. But would you expect your mattress to be fireproof? By U.S. law, mattresses are required to withstand a two-foot wide open flame of a blowtorch for 70 seconds. Can you say overkill?
To meet this ridiculous standard, mattresses are drenched with toxic fire retardants as a last step in the manufacturing process. Horrifyingly, manufacturers are not required to disclose the fire retardants they use! Some of the fire retardants commonly used include:
- Boric acid, a pesticide that the EPA classifies as Toxicity Category III for reactions like skin irritation (source)
- Rayon treated with silica, which is unstudied for its toxicity effects. Rayon is a synthetic fiber treated with various chemicals during processing, and I avoid wearing synthetic fibers or using them for bedding (along with all other synthetic fibers – post on that coming soon!) (source)
- Melamine resin, which contains formaldehyde although the EPA says that it poses little or no toxicity risks (source)
- PCDE’s (polybrominated diphenyl ethers), which are highly toxic and used in mattresses before 2004. Due to its toxicity, most mattress manufacturers phased out their use of this fire retardant (source).
Fire retardants, as well as other toxic components of modern mattresses, off-gass and release chemicals into the air. New mattress smell is actually toxic mattress smell! In one study, researchers found that mice exposed to mattress emissions experienced upper and lower respiratory irritation, as well as decreased air flow (source). Some researchers believe that the mattress toxins are also absorbed through the skin, since PCBEs are found in women’s breast milk.
The Green Science Policy Institute put together a list of hundreds of references to the harmful health effects of fire retardants.
Further, the EPA requires chemical companies to test the effects of a chemical on animals one chemical at a time. Many researchers are now hypothesizing that the “combined effects” of chemicals, such as the case of toxic mattresses, is exponentially greater than added exposure to each individual chemical (source).
2. We are most vulnerable to toxic mattresses during sleep
Our nervous system has two states: sympathetic, the fight-or-flight mode, and parasympathetic, the rest-and-digest mode. Sympathetic mode evolved to allow humans to react quickly in life or death situations, such as escaping a rabid sabertooth. The body shifts focus from reparative processes to fuel muscles. In parasympathetic mode, the body can focus on detox, growth, digestion, hormone-synthetic and repair processes.
When we look at mattress toxicity, it turns out to be a vicious cycle. Things that stress the body, including exposure to toxins, takes us out of that parasympathetic state. A toxic mattress is not only reducing the body’s ability to detoxify and regenerate, it is flooding the body with further toxins.
3. Toxic mattresses pose higher risk for infants and children
When it comes to infants bedding, fire retardants compromise only a fraction of the off-gassing chemicals. Most crib mattresses are covered with vinyl cover. New crib mattresses off-gass a toxic slew of chemicals from the vinyl and fire retardants.
According to the EPA’s Hazard Summary on Vinyl Chloride,
- Cancer is a major concern from exposure to vinyl chloride via inhalation, as vinyl chloride exposure has been shown to increase the risk of a rare form of liver cancer in humans. EPA has classified vinyl chloride as a Group A, human carcinogen.
Eliminating toxic mattresses for infants and children should be a higher priority than for adults for the following reasons:
- Infants spend up to 18 hours sleeping, so their exposure to mattress off-gassing is vastly more concentrated
- Because their bodies are rapidly developing and growing, their faster metabolic processes make them more susceptible to the toxins in their environment.
Further, a leading theory on the cause of SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) blames toxic bedding materials. The chemicals in off-gassing mattresses, as well as fungal growth within the mattress, can interfere with respiratory function and cause nerve damage. A 10-year New Zealand program to encourage the practice of “mattress wrapping” – covering infants’ mattresses with multiple layers of non-toxic materials – significantly reduced SIDS. (Source)
4. Non-toxic mattress options
What counts as a non-toxic mattress? There is no regulation for marketing terms like natural and non-toxic when it comes to mattresses. Here are four options:
1. Certified organic mattresses – certified organic mattresses must meet the standard of the Global Organic Textile Standards. The main problem with organic mattresses is the lack of adequate support and susceptibility to microbial growth (discussed below).
2. Wool mattresses – Since wool is naturally fire-retardant, some manufacturers say that no additional fire retardants are used in their wool mattresses. However, I’ve found other sources stating that wool alone does not meet the fireproof standards, so it is coated in additional fire-retardants (which do not need to be disclosed or put on the label).
3. Prescription for chemical free mattress – With a doctor’s prescription, you can purchase a mattress not treated with fire retardants. According to this article,
You must have a prescription from a physician licensed in your state that says “this patient requires a chemical-free mattress”. This can be written by any licensed physician, including medical doctors (MD), osteopaths (DO) and chiropractors (DC).
If you go that route, you want to make sure that the other mattress materials are not inherently toxic so avoid memory foam mattresses.
4. IntelliBED – After researching various options and multiple conference calls with the founders of this company, I decided to go with IntelliBED. IntelliBED is not an organic mattress, which made me hesitant until I learned why this makes the mattress better. It is designed to be completely non-toxic, which is the main reason why I chose it. During our conversation, one of the founders – Bob Rasmussen – told me that they cater to the most sensitive individuals and they have never had anyone experience an allergy or reaction to their mattress.
Non-Toxic vs. Organic Mattresses
Mattresses can be certified organic and non-toxic. They can also be non-organic and non-toxic, and this is where IntelliBED fits. When I first looked into IntelliBED, I was hesitant to try a mattress that wasn’t certified organic. Isn’t organic always better? No, not when it comes to mattresses.
Bob explained that IntelliBED has two primary goals that must both be met for the best sleep quality: non-toxic materials and adequate support. IntelliBED has been able to meet both these goals due to the materials they use.
IntelliBED offers support and allows proper body alignment
Mattresses made with only organic materials break down quickly and do not provide the support that it key for deep, resorative sleep. When your mattress properly supports your body, it can revolutionize your sleep because you’ll stay in the stage 3 and 4 stages of sleep. Bob explained that when you toss and turn, you come out of the deeper stages of sleep. Because IntelliBED supports proper alignment during sleep, many people stop tossing and turning.
Although I’ve had my pillow from IntelliBED for months (it’s made with the same construction as the mattress), I only recently started sleeping on the mattress. Because the mattress actually supports you, it does feel different than a conventional mattress, almost like it is “pushing back.” For the first three days, as with my pillow, I was aware of sensation. But now I am hooked because it has drastically improved my sleep quality! My IntelliBED has made the most significant improvement in my lifelong insomnia, which had still lingered after my other health changes. I can’t imagine sleeping without my IntelliBED and I’m already trying to figure out how to get it into the dorm room that I’ll move into in September.
The main feature of IntelliBED is the pressure-relieving IntelliGEL. Because this patented gel re-distributes pressure so well, it’s used in hospitals for bed-ridden patients to prevent bedsores. Also, mattresses made with only organic materials can foster microbial growth, which is another reason why IntelliBED chose to use their non-toxic gel base.
Non-Toxic Materials in IntelliBED
IntelliGEL – Since IntelliGEL is made with mineral oil, it is not considered an organic material. But it is completely non-toxic and has been widely tested for safety and is approved for use in baby-bottle nipples. This gel doesn’t off-gass and won’t foster microbial growth.
SAFE fire retardants – Like all mattresses, IntelliBED must meet the stupid fire-proof standards. They use an inert, silica-coated, mineral-based fire retardant. The fire retardant is not bio-available through any contact and can’t be broken down through heat, pressure, or liquid. It is only activated when the mattress is in flame.
Steel springs and organic cotton – The springs are very important to help provide the support of the mattress. You can read more about the materials used in IntelliBED mattress here.
Non-offgassing polyurethane foam – Thank you in advance for letting me be human, because I made a mistake 🙂 My previous information in this post about polyurethane foam was incorrect. IntelliBED does contain polyurethane foam in addition to the other components. However, my research was mistaken on the safety of the foam. Polyurethane foam is actually an inert, non-toxic and non-offgassing material only if it is not altered with other chemicals. This is what I discussed with Bob, who was kind enough to write his answer down for you because I couldn’t take notes fast enough:
The off-gassing problems in mattresses started occurring when various companies added compounds to alter the properties of PU foam for various reasons. One was the additive that turns PU foam into memory foam. Numerous individuals over the years have complained about the “odor” of memory form mattresses when new, but more alarming is the number complaining of headaches and other neurological problems (see www.chemtox.com and search for mattresses). IntelliBED has not been able to determine that actual chemicals that are used to create the slow-rebound feature of memory foam but for the reason mentioned and to err on the safe side, IntelliBED won’t use any memory foam in our mattresses or pillows.
The off-gassing problem intensified with California’s effort to make mattresses meet a fire standard (Commonly known as TB-117). This bill was later modified and expanded into a Federal requirement. While there are many ways to make a mattress meet the fire standard, all foam manufacturers began adding ingredients to make sure that their foam met the standard, and this is where I believe the real problems with off-gassing began. Many of these additives (Boric Acid and Antimony for example) are known carcinogens. Incidentally, there is a significant effort afoot to overturn the Standard so these additives can be removed from foam.
Recently, IntelliBED went back to their all foam suppliers to ensure that there were no toxic materials in the foams the company uses. All foam we use meet a standard called CertiPUR-US. These are analyzed by an independent, accredited testing laboratory and are made without ozone depletes, PBDE flame retardants, heavy metals, formaldehyde and phthalates. The foams are also low VOC (Volatile Organic Compound – less than 0.5 parts per million (below 1.0 ppm is consider safe).
How to get an IntelliBED Mattress
Like I said, I’ve had multiple conversations with the founders of this company. The most recent was to correct my misinformation about the toxicity polyurethane foam. I’ve been blown away by the companys integrity and all the research they have provided me. I’m currently working with the company, but this post is not sponsored by them. If you use my referral link here you will automatically get 10% off your order.
I did get sticker shock when saw their mattress prices. But then I realized, “I’m going to spend 1/3 of my life on my mattress – if anything deserves my investment, it’s my mattress!” Plus, IntelliBED is the only company to offer a 30 year warranty on their mattresses, even though they usually last much longer. For me, it makes sense to prioritize a non-toxic mattress.
With that said, Intellibed offers solutions for budgets of various sizes. To get the support properties, you can use their non-toxic mattress topper on top of a firm mattress. This might be a good compromise if you are buying a used conventional mattress to reduce off-gassing (see below). Also, their pillows are incredible, and made with the same non-toxic materials. (Don’t forget to use my referral link because the 10% off will be automatically subtracted during checkout.)
You’ll also have a risk-free 60 day trial, and if you don’t like the mattress, they will refund your purchase and pay the return shipping fees. And they are able to offer this because hardly anyone ever returns their mattress.
Have you made the switch to a non-toxic mattress? Did you ever experience illness or symptoms after using a new mattress?