Research has found that bedding products — like mattresses — can emit toxic chemicals into the air, affecting your sleep environment. What’s more, heat and moisture on the surface of the mattress can elevate emission rates.
If you’re interested in cleaning up the air in your bedroom, choosing a nontoxic mattress is key. Whether you’re a stomach sleeper, a side sleeper, or back sleeper, you’ll be pleased to know that there are lots of options to choose from.
When creating this list of nontoxic mattresses, we paid special attention to mattresses with various certifications that demonstrated they’re nontoxic (among other things). Most of the models on our list have several of the previously mentioned certifications.
While it’s not possible to buy a completely organic mattress, there are ways to limit your exposure to potentially dangerous chemicals.
Many mattresses, and other indoor furniture that contains foam, in particular, let off gaseous compounds called volatile organic compounds, or VOCs. This is especially true of brand-new mattresses in a box. They can release VOCs when they’re first opened, as they don’t get to off-gas much before getting compressed.
Plastics and flame-retardant additives can be sources of VOCs. However, you’re not likely to find a mattress without any plastics and flame retardants.
Instead, consider shopping for a mattress that has certifications demonstrating low VOC emission and is made with organic materials. These can both help decrease your exposure to VOCs.
We looked for mattresses made of safer materials that come with third-party certifications including the following:
CertiPUR-US: Foam is known for off-gassing, so it may not be the cleanest choice overall. However, CertiPUR-US certified foam should give you some peace of mind. Mattresses with this certification use foams made without ozone depleters, heavy metals, polybrominated diphenyl ethers, formaldehyde, and phthalates. This certification also means the foams used meet low VOC emission standards.
Greenguard Gold: This is one of the strictest certifications. To gain this certification, mattresses must meet a low threshold for VOC emissions. The “threshold” is calculated based on the volume of VOCs you can be exposed to before experiencing side effects. For this certification, products must have 1/100th of the threshold limit value. So, they can’t emit more than 1/100th of the amount of VOCs that could cause side effects.
Made Safe: This is another stringent certification. Products with the certification must not contain a whole slew of toxins and potentially hazardous substances, including carcinogens, endocrine disruptors, pesticides, and more. They also can’t emit high volumes of VOCs.
OEKO-TEX Standard 100: This material standard accounts for both regulated and nonregulated chemicals that are potentially harmful, and examines everything in a product down to the threads and zippers.
eco-INSTITUT: This program tests latex, innerspring, and foam mattresses for emissions and harmful substances and deems it “non-hazardous to health and the environment.”
There’s no one definition of “nontoxic” when it comes to mattresses, but there are a few things you can keep an eye out for when shopping.
The Environmental Working Group suggests that the healthiest mattresses don’t contain any polyurethane foam, chemical flame retardants, added fragrances, PVC, or vinyl. It also recommends choosing a mattress made of at least 95 percent certified organic content with low VOC certification.
Meeting all those requirements can be a tall order, but if the products on our list didn’t suit your needs, you’ll likely find something that will with a little digging.
When doing your research, look for materials certifications like:
OEKO-TEX Standard 100
Intertek VOC Indoor Air Quality Certification
Additionally, prioritize natural materials like cotton, latex, and wool. Brands that are transparent about their materials, letting you know exactly what their mattresses are made of, is also a positive sign.
It’s important to know what your goal is before shopping for a mattress. If you’re looking for proper overall support, the International Chiropractors Association suggests choosing a mattress that is sturdy enough to support your spine, hips, and shoulders. But there are other factors to consider.
Back pain:Back pain is one of the most common complaints people have. Although more research needs to be done, some research suggests that a mattress that falls under the medium-firm category promotes sleep comfort, quality, and spinal alignment.
Sharing a bed: If you’re sharing a bed with a partner, you’ll want to choose a mattress that meets both of your needs and provides enough space for the two of you. This also applies if you have children and pets that like to join you in bed during the night. A bed with good motion isolation can do wonders.
Comfort: The best way to know if a mattress is right for you is to shop for it in person whenever possible. This will allow you to test various types, ask a salesperson questions, and decide what fits your needs and budget. But if you’re shopping online, choose from a brand that lets you try out the mattress in your home for free.
Cost: Mattresses tend to be pricey, which is why it’s important to come up with a realistic price point. Keep in mind that the life span of your mattress makes a difference. A higher price point may be justified if the mattress is made of quality, durable materials.
Warranty: Be sure to check warranties before you make a purchase. It’s best to read the fine print and know exactly what the warranty covers.
What’s the difference between an organic, eco-friendly, and nontoxic mattresses?
The terms are often used interchangeably by companies, even though they don’t really mean the same thing. Here’s a quick breakdown:
Organic mattresses: These contain USDA-certified organic materials, like organic cotton or wool. Organic materials are produced with certain growing standards, and without the use of chemicals and additives. You’ll want to consult companies’ individual websites to better understand exactly what organic means for their products.
Eco-friendly: A mattress that’s eco-friendly usually has production that’s a little gentler on the environment. Beware that this isn’t an official designation. It may mean, for example, that the brand manufactures products in the states, limiting how far the mattress travels and reducing carbon emissions. If you’re purchasing a latex mattress, it could indicate that the bed has rubber latex that’s raised in forests that are grown with environmentally friendly practices, whether that’s organic or in synchrony with the natural environment and forest.
Nontoxic: Nontoxic means a mattress contains little to no harmful chemicals like VOCs. But it doesn’t necessarily mean a mattress is completely free of toxins. Certifications can help you determine how nontoxic a mattress truly is.
What’s the healthiest material for a mattress?
Natural latex is a good choice for people with allergies to chemicals. Certified organic latex is an even better choice, as long as you don’t have a latex allergy. And it’s eco-friendly!
Most mattresses will need to off-gas, or release chemicals leftover from production. Letting a mattress off-gas before you sleep on it, ideally in a room where you don’t spend all your time, can also help to reduce your exposure to VOCs.
Are mattresses really toxic?
It’s the foam, flame retardants, and adhesives in some mattresses that can be a problem. They can emit VOCs that don’t just smell bad, they may also pose a health risk. It’s unlikely that you’ll experience side effects from most mattresses. Allowing the mattress to off-gas for a few days before you sleep on it, in a room you don’t spend ample time in, could help decrease potential exposure.
Going the nontoxic route with your mattress is an eco-friendly decision that can give you peace of mind but also weigh a little on your wallet.
Be on the lookout for sales and free in-home trial offers, as well as certifications that let you know the product is free of toxic chemicals.
Last medically reviewed on July 13, 2023
How we reviewed this article:
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Radwan A, et al. (2015). Effect of different mattress designs on promoting sleep quality, pain reduction, and spinal alignment in adults with or without back pain; systematic review of controlled trials. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29073401/
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