You’ll spend a good third of your life in bed, so don’t you want that bed to be as comfy and healthy as possible? As it turns out, both comfort and health start with your mattress – and what it’s made from. We’re launching an occasional series to explain how to buy a green mattress. We’ll also review the best choices available. This, our first post, is focusing on healthy reasons to choose a green mattress, and is sponsored by USA-based Amerisleep.
5 Healthy Reasons to Choose a Green Mattress
If you’re in the market for a new mattress, there are at least five good reasons why choosing one that’s green makes sense.
#1 – Conventional Mattresses May Contain Toxic Glues and Chemicals – Conventional or synthetic mattresses are usually made from components that contain toxic chemicals that could affect you or your family to varying degrees.
Three of the most common are:
• VOCs – Petroleum-based polyester, nylon and polyurethane foam all emit VOCs, carbon-based compounds that can increase some people’s risk of health problems. Several studies suggest that exposure to VOCs may make symptoms worse in people who have asthma or are particularly chemically sensitive (as I am). Short-term exposure may irritate the eyes, nose or throat, cause headaches or nausea, and make people dizzy. Long-term exposure could cause cancer, liver or kidney damage, as well as problems with the central nervous system. Mattresses emit the most VOCs when they’re brand new, but they will continue to “off gas” for some time thereafter. If your mattress is 10 or 15 years old, it’s probably not emitting many VOCs at this point. But if you’re buying new, take VOCs into account.
• PBDE flame retardants. Mattresses made with synthetic foams, batting, or fabrics must be treated with flame-retarding chemicals to meet the federal open-flame flammability test. These “polybrominated diphenyl ethers” are “toxic to both humans and the environment,” says the U.S. EPA. While their use has been phased out by U.S. mattress manufacturers, mattresses made in foreign countries still may contain PBDEs. And the alternatives some U.S. companies are using may not be much safer than what they replaced.
• Organophosphate flame retardants. Flame-retardant chemicals in mattresses that contain any amount of polyurethane foam are called organophosphate chemicals. Unlike VOCs, these chemicals do not become gases. You won’t be able to smell them, and their concentration may increase over time, rather than decrease. The levels emitted are usually low. But since you’re spending so much time on your bed, and inhaling deeply when you sleep, it’s definitely an important consideration.
#2 – Conventional Mattresses May Pollute Indoor Air – The synthetic chemicals found in conventional mattresses easily “off gas” into the atmosphere. Even if you’re not sleeping on a new mattress yourself, you could feel the effects once it’s in your home because you could potentially be inhaling the gasses emitted by your conventional mattress.
#3 – Conventional Mattresses May Get Moldy – All mattresses are prone to mold, since bodies sweat during the night and that sweat can penetrate the mattress. It’s a good idea to use a mattress protector, no matter what kind of mattress you have. Amerisleep says that the “breathability of our foam/cover helps manage moisture by keeping you cool.”
#4 – Conventional Mattresses Could Provide a Breeding Ground for Dust Mites – In the mattresses Amerisleep manufactures, says the company, the dense structure of the foam it uses makes it dust mite “resistant,” meaning that it’s more difficult for dust mites to nest and feed. By the way, beware companies that make claims that their mattresses are “dust mite free.” That is probably not possible.
#5 – Manufacturing and Delivery Make a Difference, too – When buying a mattress, think about it’s entire “life cycle,” in other words, how it was manufactured, what it is manufactured from, and even how it is delivered to a store or directly to you. For example, Amerisleep says it “uses a patented process for creating its foam called VPF (Variable Pressure Foaming). This helps the company avoid using chemicals like CFC/HCFC (which deplete the earth’s ozone layer), methylene chloride, and carbon dioxide,” which contributes to climate change. The company factory recycles essentially 100% of its internal waste. It also packages up the mattress in a roll rather than deliver it flat, which reduces its shipping fuel consumption, an average of 80%.
What To Look For Instead
There are no federal regulations or standards that a company needs to meet in order to claim its mattress is “green,” “eco-friendly,” or “natural.” Your best bet is to look for companies like Amerisleep that back up their green claims with the following information:
• Specific details on what the mattress is actually made of. Plant-based foam, untreated wool, organic cotton and natural latex derived from rubber trees are greener options than synthetic foams.
• Independent certification of its product claims. It’s always reassuring when a company backs up its green claims by showing that it’s met independent and meaningful environmental and health standards. That’s the difference between ‘green’ and ‘greenwashing.’
• Manufacturing location. Look for mattresses manufactured in the U.S. or Europe, where standards regulating use of toxic chemicals in mattresses may be more stringent than those manufactured in Asia or Latin America.
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