SHOPPING FOR A NEW MATTRESS
Clients who hire me as a Natural Home Advisor are often dealing with health challenges. I can offer them significant expertise in healing homes because of my own health challenges: I discovered I had Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (MCS) in 1989. In order to maintain my own health, and to share the benefits with others, I have been researching and promoting healthy home products for over 25 years.
The first place I look when evaluating a home is the bedroom. Most people tend to ignore the bedroom mattress – yet this is where we spend about one-third of our lives! The first thing I check for is mold or mildew under the mattress, behind the headboard or in the wall behind the bed. We release moisture when we sleep, so if the mattress is not properly ventilated, mold can result. A mattress must have air circulation. There may also be moisture coming from under the house, depending on how well your home is insulated, so the larger structural setting must be taken into account. There are many other potential sources of trouble that may be important to address in the bedroom, but right now I am going to concentrate on how to shop for a mattress…the regulations, pitfalls, information you may or may not be given, and the best options.
The type of material you sleep on will make a difference in how well your health is supported. Basically, the healthful types of mattresses now available include regular inner spring mattress sets made with various layers of wool/organic cotton/natural latex, or natural latex (rubber) mattresses with or without wool wrapping. Organic cotton covers are important on any type. Wool toppers can also be added onto supporting layers. There are cotton box spring mattresses which can be ordered without PBDE flame retardants, if accompanied by a doctor’s prescription. One of wool’s wonderful properties is that it does not require flame retardant because it will not self-ignite. It is also hydroscopic, meaning it takes in and releases moisture, plus it will retain its loft for many years.
Beware - some retailers advertise their products as natural latex with cotton cover – but notice if the label does not say “organic”. That means there will likely be stain repellent and flame retardant applied. Also, one of my clients recently found that some advertised natural latex toppers and mattresses may only have 40% natural latex and 60% “other” ingredients. If you are concerned about health, it’s best to avoid mystery components.
Some people find memory foam mattresses very comfortable. When shopping for one, either online or at a store, the consumer is often told that the mattress contains no formaldehyde, which is true. However, what you may not be told is that myriad other chemicals make up this synthetic concoction. Memory foam has high levels of VOC’s (Volatile Organic Compounds), and has been found to emit 61 chemicals, including the carcinogens benzene and naphthalene. (motherjones.com/politics/2008/03/should-you-ditch-your-chemical-mattress) Furthermore, like all plastics, memory foam doesn’t “breathe,” so this type of mattress can result in generally uncomfortable sleep and waking up feeling sweaty. I know of clients with known health concerns (one with MCS and one with cancer) who chose memory foam mattresses for comfort, yet could not stand being in the same room with the off-gassing chemicals from their new beds. Though they were allowed to return the mattresses, they were faced with heavy restocking fees, or the option to exchange for other conventional mattresses in the inventory, without being informed about stain repellants and most notably, flame retardants.
The story goes, that because people used to smoke cigarettes and drink alcohol in bed, fires occurred when people fell asleep and burned their houses down. Laws were then established to protect us from ourselves. California’s law requires that mattresses withstand the blow torch test. If a mattress does not catch on fire when a blow torch flame is applied for specified time, then it passes the test and can be sold legally. In order to pass, most mattresses are heavily sprayed with chemical flame retardant, PBDEs. Polybrominated diphenyl ethers are carcinogens, and hormone disrupters which have been shown to reduce human fertility at levels typically found in households. Amazingly, PBDEs are still applied to children’s clothing and babies’ pajamas.
Another customer of mine in her early 40’s had purchased a regular mattress and was surprised to gain 20 pounds in two months. Hormone disruption can cause weight gain. She was sure it was the chemicals in her mattress, because nothing else had changed in her life. She had no history of weight gain before this. She then purchased an organic latex bed with a wool topper from me. Shortly afterward she called to tell me her water weight had gone down and she was sleeping so much better! Another attribute of wool is that it intrinsically helps regulate heart beat and body temperature. In fact, we call our “Wool Surrounds” (wool topper, comforter and pillow) the best support for women’s menopausal night sweats!
The way that we behave in our homes has generally changed and yet archaic laws to “protect” us are still in place. Environmental Working Group (ewg.org) has many scientific studies warning us about the dangers of chemicals in household items, and yet the consumer is still not actually being protected. Even when you ask questions you may get less than completely true or helpful answers. Organic and wool mattresses are more expensive, but an important investment in health for you and those you love. Please use this information to help yourself or someone else that is shopping for their perfect mattress. Modern day princesses need to be cautious about hidden “peas,” with much more toxic consequences. It is my wish that with this information you will be empowered to make better consumer decisions for your health.