Mattress Revelations

baby bedroom children nursery Mar 21, 2017

It had not occurred to me that my daughter's mattress may be hazardous until I can across literature on this after we had spent a few hundred dollars on a brand new mattress. As of this writing, my daughter is 22 months old and I recently had to purchase a second crib mattress for a summer rental. As such, I have only recently started delving into what to avoid in mattresses. I knew that there was discussion on toxins in mattresses but lived in denial until recently. I had been afraid to research this topic further for fear that I would learn that I should replace our brand new mattress (although it was an "organic" one) with another expensive one. Poor excuse, I know... but, my honest reaction.


As always after reading about toxins in our environment, after reading about toxins in children mattresses, I was alarmed and overwhelmed.

  • EPA risk assessment methods show that children accumulate up to 50 percent of their lifetime cancer risk by their second birthday. The EPA has determined that up to age two, babies are, on average, ten times more vulnerable to carcinogenic chemicals than adults, and for some cancer- causing agents are up to 65 times more vulnerable. ("Protecting Your Child From Toxic Exposures" by Jane Sheppard; March 10, 2009;
  • In a study spearheaded by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) in collaboration with Commonweal, researchers at two major laboratories found an average of 200 industrial chemicals and pollutants in umbilical cord blood from 10 babies born in August and September of 2004 in U.S. hospitals. Tests revealed a total of 287 chemicals in the group. The umbilical cord blood of these 10 children, collected by Red Cross after the cord was cut, harbored pesticides, consumer product ingredients, and wastes from burning coal, gasoline, and garbage... Of the 287 chemicals we detected in umbilical cord blood, we know that 180 cause cancer in humans or animals, 217 are toxic to the brain and nervous system, and 208 cause birth defects or abnormal development in animal tests. The dangers of pre- or post-natal exposure to this complex mixture of carcinogens, developmental toxins and neurotoxins have never been studied... Had we tested for a broader array of chemicals, we would almost certainly have detected far more than 287. ("Body Burden -- The Pollution in Newborns" by The Environmental Working Group; July 14, 2005)
"Mattresses are a primary source of chemical poisoning in babies. The majority of baby mattresses today contain polyurethane foam, vinyl (PVC), phthalates, chemical fire retardants, and an extensive list of added industrial chemicals. These chemicals can leach out of the mattress or off-gas to expose the baby through inhalation and through the skin.

A mattress exposure is particularly problematic because it is up-close and long-term. Sleeping on typical crib mattresses, babies breathe and absorb these chemicals for 10 to 14 hours a day or more for a period of two or more years during the critical developmental period of their brains, nervous systems and immune systems. Babies who spend over 50-70% of their early life on baby mattresses are likely to receive pretty high doses of these chemicals and gases." (Protecting Your Child From Toxic Exposures" by Jane Sheppard; March10, 2009;

The Data Should Be Sufficiently Compelling to Instigate Change. But, It's Hard to Digest... What Helped Convince Me To Invest In A Non-Toxic Mattress?

During my due diligence on which second crib mattress to buy, I spoke to a parent who said that when his daughter was four years old, the four year old had a number of severe allergies and even had blood in her stool. The doctors said the symptoms must be due to food allergies. The family immediately transitioned to a 100% organic diet and experimented with cutting out different foods to try to identify which ones were responsible. The family finally reached a point where they knew that food was not the culprit.

In the meantime, during their research, the parents had read about toxins in our environment -- especially in our homes. The first environmental changes they made were: (1) changing their daughter's mattress to a non-toxic one; and, (2) adding an air purifier to her room. Their daughter's health issues immediately improved and soon disappeared.

In addition, I found the following to be thought-provoking: several scientists claim that toxic gases released from crib mattresses, when breathed or absorbed by a sleeping baby, can cause crib death or sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), according to "Protecting Your Child From Toxic Exposures" by Jane Sheppard. These claims have not been 100% scientifically proven, nor have they been disproven, and there is urgent need for more research.

"It is important to note that a 100% successful crib death prevention campaign has been going on in New Zealand for the past 13 years. Midwives and other healthcare professionals throughout New Zealand have been actively advising parents to wrap mattresses. During this time, there has not been a single SIDS death reported among the over 170,000 (22%) New Zealand babies who have slept on mattresses wrapped in a specially formulated polyethylene cover. The number of crib deaths in New Zealand that have occurred since mattress-wrapping began in 1994 is about 860. The number of crib deaths that have occurred in New Zealand on a properly wrapped mattress is zero. The SIDS rate in NZ has dropped dramatically since this campaign began."

-- "Protecting Your Child From Toxic Exposures" by Jane Sheppard; March 10, 2009;




How to Identify a Non-toxic Mattress?

From "Protecting Your Child From Toxic Exposures" by Jane Sheppard, there are key categories of ingredients to avoid, such as:

  1. Filling material -- polyurethane foam
    1. Polyurethane foam is the filling material used in most baby mattresses. This foam is made from petroleum and typically contains chemical catalysts, surfactants, emulsifiers, and pigments. Depending on how it's processed, some polyurethane foam may possibly contain various chemical additives, including formaldehyde, benzene, toluene, and other well established toxic chemicals.
    2. Some of the health hazards listed on manufacturer material safely data sheets for polyurethane foam include: possible cardiac arrhythmias, breathlessness, chest discomfort, irritation of mucous membranes, headache, coughing, asthma-like allergic reaction, dizziness, weakness, fatigue, nausea, blurred vision, and reduced pulmonary function. The EPA has identified several chemicals used in the fabrication of polyurethane foam as hazardous air pollutants (hydorchloric acid, 2-4 -toluene dissocyanate, and hydrogen cyanide).
  2. Waterproof covering -- polyvinyl Chloride (PVC) with phthalates
    1. Most baby mattresses contain polyvinyl chloride (PVC), generally referred to as vinyl, as the surface material or covering. PVC is considered to be one of the most toxic and environmentally unfriendly plastics used. Vinyl chloride, an intermediate component in the manufacturing of PVC, is a combination of petroleum and chlorine, and is a known human carcinogen.
    2. PVC is a hard plastic so plasticizers called phthalates are used to make it soft and flexible. Phthalates are endocrine disruptive chemicals and are associated with reproductive harm, premature birth, asthma, early onset of puberty, cancer, and kidney and liver damage. Phthalates can make up 30% by weight of the PVC surface of a typical crib mattress. These chemicals are not bound to the plastic and can leach out so babies can breathe them in and absorb them through their skin.
    3. Lead, cadmium, and various biocides are other hazardous additives to PVC, which can also be released into the baby's environment. The PVC surface of a typical baby mattress is also treated with toxic fire retardant chemicals.
  3. Brominated fire retardants
    1. Mattresses made with polyurethane foam and PVC are highly flammable and will burn extremely fast if ignited. Because of this, the U.S. government requires manufacturers to add chemicals to make them fire retardants. Polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) are chemicals typically used to slow the spread of fire. These chemicals are likely to leach out into the surrounding air.
    2. PBDE exposure is linked to numerous adverse health effects, including immune suppression, hormone disruption, learning and memory problems, behavioral changes, and cancer. Some states have banned certain brominated fire retardants, but these have been replaced by other PBDEs or other chemicals that may be just as toxic. Manufacturers are not required to test these chemicals for the effects on health and there is very little data available to show safety.


After researching this topic, I had no choice but to invest in a non-toxic mattress for my daughter. I even became paranoid about what kind of mattress I sleep on in our summer rental given that we would like to have more children. After learning about the internal pollution that scientists are discovering in women and babies (click on Our Internal Pollution to watch a thought-provoking presentation by the Environmental Working Group), I seriously considered investing in a non-toxic mattress for our four month summer rental but have ultimately let the thought pass due to the impracticality (and expense!) of it. Instead, I purchased Austin air purifiers for the summer house.

I found selecting a safe mattress to be overwhelming because it took a while to figure out what to avoid. The more I delved into due diligence, the more innumerable the list of things to avoid became. Then, investigating what mattress companies are really putting in their products was daunting.

I spoke at length with two experts from two different retailers -- and ABC Home & Planet. After speaking with them, I became comfortable in their judgment as neither was pushing a sale on me; each was very knowledgeable about the mattress industry, various companies, and their manufacturing processes (and had visited mattress factories); and each seemed passionate and genuine about helping people make the right choices for their families. Also, a lot of what each said was consistent with each other.

"Organic" does not necessarily equate to mattresses that are free of toxins: the wrapping of a mattress may be made of organic material but the interior of the mattress may be comprised of harmful chemicals that off-gas. Both said that 98-99% of the mattresses on the market have toxic chemicals; any mattress components that may have come from abroad will most likely have been fumigated with chemicals during transport; "pure" mattresses manufactured in the same facility as conventional mattresses can absorb chemicals from the conventional mattresses; ... In summary, companies generally try to cut corners. So how to find a mattress company to trust?


Each (ABC Home & Planet in NYC and GreenCradle is in California) had the highest regards for OMI, as the leading manufacturer of pure safe mattresses, as pioneers in the non-toxic mattress industry. doesn't carry mattresses from any other brand; ABC Home & Planet carried mattresses from two other brands in addition to OMI. OMI is a leader in having the right certifications, manufacturing all components in the U.S.A., and in operating with commitment to purity and integrity. If you have further questions or would like further detail, then I would recommend contacting Edward (owner) of and Marisa (curator and shop manager) of ABC Home & Planet. They were each also helpful in helping me practically assess my existing mattresses.

Now, whenever I climb onto my daughter's bed to read her books, I feel especially relieved that we're on an OMI mattress. Thank you Edward and Marisa for helping me find peace with which mattress my daughter is sleeping on!






Stay connected with nontoxic lifestyle news and updates!

Receive our free Ruan Living Nontoxic Cleaning Guide when you join our email list.
Don't worry, your information will not be shared.

We hate SPAM. We will never sell your information, for any reason.

About Ruan Living

Ruan Living simplifies a nontoxic lifestyle through its Practical Nontoxic Living podcast, free detox workshops, online D-Tox Academy, and transformative 40-Day Home Detox. It aims to help you avoid toxic chemicals, heavy metals, and electromagnetic fields (EMFs) from what you buy, own, and do— without compromising your joy and convenience. Ruan was founded by Sophia Ruan Gushée, author of the bestselling critically acclaimed book A to Z of D-Toxing: The Ultimate Guide to Reducing Your Toxic Exposures and several detox workbooks. A graduate of Brown University and Columbia Business School, Sophia has served on the Brown University School of Public Health Advisory Council and Well+Good Council. A popular nontoxic living speaker, consultant, and teacher, Sophia lives in New York City with her husband and three daughters. Her passion for empowering others to enjoy nontoxic living began with the birth of her first daughter in 2007. Everything she creates is a love letter to her children and for the healthiest, brightest future possible. You can learn more here: Sophia’s Impact.


This article is for informational purposes only. This information is provided “as is” without warranty.

It is not, nor is it intended to be, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment and should never be relied upon for specific medical advice. We do not offer medical advice, course of treatment, diagnosis, or any other opinion on your conditions or treatment options. To the extent that this article features the advice of physicians or medical practitioners, the views expressed are the views of the cited expert and do not necessarily represent the views of Ruan Living.

In no event will Sophia Ruan Gushee or Ruan Living be liable for any damages or loss of any kind resulting from the use of this website. Anyone relying upon or making use of the information on this website does so at his or her own risk.

Some of the services and products recommended on this website provide compensation to Sophia Ruan Gushee or Ruan Living. All recommendations are based foremost upon an honest belief that the product, service, or site will benefit our site visitors in some way.