When you think about mattresses, chemicals are probably not the first thing that come to mind. You imagine something soft, comfortable and fluffy, made from cotton or latex and stuffed with down or foam. You might not have the slightest idea that the mattresses which you have been sleeping on your entire life may actually be drenched in harmful, toxic chemicals.

In advertising their mattresses, most companies and manufacturers try to focus on properties such as softness or durability. They present their mattresses as clean and gentle and try their best to cover up the chemicals lurking within. But, in truth, more and more mattresses these days are being manufactured partially or entirely from synthetic materials. Even those made from primarily natural components could potentially be treated with a number of harsh chemical concoctions designed to repel insects, prevent fire or even make the mattress feel softer and springier.

Unfortunately, in the world we live in, there is only one true way to ensure that your mattress is not loaded with dangerous synthetic substances: purchase one which bears the verified label chemical free. In order to be truly considered chemical free, a mattress must follow a number of strict rules and be tested and certified by a genuine authority such as the GreenGuard Institute.

We believe that it is extremely important to educate and inform people about the various dangers present in mattress chemicals and instruct them about how to ensure the mattress they are purchasing is truly chemical free. For that purpose, we have created this helpful guide which illustrates the different types of chemical free mattresses and explains in detail exactly why common chemicals found in mattresses should be avoided.

​Defining "Chemical Free"

To be truly considered chemical free, a mattress must be one hundred percent devoid of ANY synthetic ingredients whatsoever. In general, a mattress will be chemical free if it follows all of the rules below:

  • ​It must be made from 100% natural materials such as cotton, wool, down or natural latex. Even blends containing only a small amount of synthetic material do not count.
  • Chemicals should be used as little as possible during the manufacturing process. If a chemical is used - for example, to speed up the process of solidifying a liquid material - the mattress must undergo an intensive wash cycle before being considered fit to be sold.
  • The mattress cannot be treated with any chemical flame retardants, pesticides, or any other additions such as those intended to further increase the soft texture of the material. While all mattresses must meet certain standards of flame resistance, to be chemical free they must do so by using entirely natural materials such as wool and natural latex.
  • No chemical adhesives may be used to fasten the pieces of the mattress together. Instead, natural fastenings such as thread or buttons should be used.

In general, the definition of chemical free is identical to the definition of nontoxic, another term commonly used in mattress advertising. Generally, chemical free and nontoxic can be considered to have similar requirements and be used interchangeably.

For the most part, "chemical free" can also be used interchangeably with "organic". However, it is important to note that there are a few situations in which this may not be the case. For example, some definitions of organic only specify that the mattress be made with natural materials, and do not disqualify items based on the presence of synthetic adhesives or potentially even chemical pesticides. We recommend reading up on the guidelines for various "Certified Organic" labels to determine if it also qualifies as chemical free.

"Chemical free" is NOT synonymous with "vegan," as the former includes natural materials derived from animals including but not limited to wool harvested from sheep or feathers harvested from ducks, geese or other species of bird.

​Chemical Free Mattress Materials

In general, the only chemical free mattress materials are those which are found in the natural world. The most common examples include cotton, wool, feathers or down, and natural latex. (The terms "down" and "feathers" refer to two similar but distinct natural materials, with "down" specifically meaning only the softer chest or back feathers taken from ducks or geese.) However, some other natural fabrics such as linen or bamboo may appear as fabric coverings for mattresses, and buckwheat or other types of wheat or straw may occasionally be used as stuffing.

Today, it is more important than ever to thoroughly look into the material composition of your mattress before making a final purchase. It is no longer enough simply to say that a mattress "looks like down" or "is advertised as latex". Clever chemical substitutes exist for most if not all of the common mattress materials, with artificial feathers and synthetic latex being the most commonly found. It is important to look for words like "certified natural" when shopping for a chemical free mattress.

Blends should also be avoided. A blend refers to any combination of two materials but, when it comes to mattress manufacturing, this term almost always means that only one of the included components is natural while all others are synthetic. Common examples of blends include cotton and polyester and natural latex and synthetic latex (called "blended latex"). Unfortunately, most blends tend to use a much higher percentage of the synthetic component than the natural - for example, 70% polyester and 30% cotton - because synthetic materials are by and large far less expensive than natural.

When choosing your chemical free mattress material, you should also do research about its inherent properties. The more natural resistances and other benefits it possesses, the less likely that the mattress has been treated with any sort of harmful chemical additive. For example, wool and natural latex both possess a natural resistance to fire, while cotton and down may not. Natural latex and bamboo also possess anti-microbial properties and will prevent bacteria, mold, mildew or insects from making their home in your mattress - even without being treated with harsh synthetic pesticides. Cotton and properly treated and washed natural latex are also hypoallergenic, meaning they will not cause symptoms to occur in allergy sufferers. (For more information about latex allergies and hypoallergenic natural latex, see here).

​Materials to Avoid

In general, any synthetic material will contain some percentage of chemicals, including those which are potentially harmful to human health. However, some materials are definitely harsher than others. Among those which should be avoided as much as possible are the foams, in particular polyurethane foam. Unfortunately, today, polyurethane foam is one of the most common substances used to manufacture mattresses due to its light weight and low density. Polyurethane foam is made primarily from petrochemicals - that is, chemicals derived from petroleum. These are extremely dangerous to humans. In particular, breathing in the fumes released by petrochemicals can provoke or worsen symptoms of asthma such as coughing, wheezing and shortness of breath.

Synthetic variants of wool, cotton, down and especially latex should also be avoided. Like polyurethane foam, these materials can potentially contain high amounts of petrochemicals and other harmful synthetics. In addition, these synthetics do not feature any of the beneficial properties attributed to their natural counterparts. They are not resistant to fire, rot, mold, insect damage or even natural wear and tear. This, of course, means that they must be treated with a veritable soup of chemicals in order to meet international safety standards and be cleared for sale. On top of this - if the presence of these chemicals weren't already bad enough! - synthetic alternatives are almost never as soft, as comfortable or as durable as the natural originals. Why accept a lesser product that doesn't feel as good AND risks your health? Here at Brand Name, we don't see any reason to do that!

Unfortunately, the toxic chemical properties of synthetic foams also extend to a certain mattress material which has recently been advertised as "revolutionary" and "highest quality". Yes, we are talking about the "newest path to a restful night's sleep" - memory foam. This material has many different properties when compared to standard polyurethane foam. It advertises itself as a material which "embraces" the body, adjusting and reforming itself according to your most common sleeping positions so that you are always receiving the maximum amount of comfort and support at all times.

However, despite its unique and beneficial properties, like the more common polyurethane products, memory foam includes petrochemicals - petroleum-derived synthetic ingredients - in its makeup. Despite being advertised as a higher quality material, it comes with the same problem: too many hours of breathing in toxic chemical fumes can cause asthma symptoms or even permanently damage your lungs, esophagus or respiratory system.

Luckily for you, natural latex features many of the same properties which are more commonly associated with memory foam. It embraces your body and provides key support to areas including the shoulders, spine and hips while also remaining soft and comfortable throughout the night - and it does all of that without exposing you to a host of toxic ingredients which can permanently damage your body!

If you absolutely feel as though you need memory foam as a component of your mattress to sleep comfortably at night, there are a few less dangerous options. Look for layered or blended mattresses which combine a small amount of memory foam - usually as a top layer - with natural materials such as latex or cotton. Alternately, cover your memory foam mattress with an organic, chemical free protector (read more here) and place a thick topper - ideally one stuffed with down or natural latex - above it so that your body is not coming into direct contact with the potentially toxic materials.

​The GreenGuard Gold Certification

We get it. Doing extensive research into each and every mattress is quite a process, especially if you're not sure if the manufacturers are telling the truth about whether or not their product is chemical free. Fully educating yourself about the many different options available on the market could take days or even weeks.

Luckily for mattress shoppers around the world, there is a now a much simpler option: the GreenGuard Gold Certification. A nonprofit organization, the GreenGuard Institute is dedicated to testing many types of household goods in order to determine whether or not they can be considered organic, nontoxic, chemical free or, most important of all, sustainable and environmentally friendly.

Scientists and experts in the fields of chemistry and environmental science test mattresses by exposing them to conditions similar to the inside of a normal human home. They then test the amounts of toxic chemicals and gases emitted by the mattress over a period of several days to several weeks. In order to receive the GreenGuard Gold Certification and be officially considered environmentally friendly, a mattress must meet extremely strict emission requirements and release almost no harmful gases.

In addition, experts from the GreenGuard Institute examine and observe every step of the mattress's manufacturing process. They keep an eye on whether or not chemicals are used to create, strengthen, solidify or soften the mattress while it is being prepared for sale. Of course, they also make sure that it is not treated with chemical flame retardants or pesticides and that no harmful synthetic adhesives are used to hold layers and parts of the mattress together.

What does this mean? Well, in conclusion, any mattress which has been GreenGuard certified can officially be considered chemical free and nontoxic. If you purchase a GreenGuard mattress, you can be certain that no toxic chemicals will be coming into contact with your body as you drift off to sleep each night. In addition, you can feel confident that you are helping the Earth by not contributing to dangerous environmental phenomena such as global warming and the destruction of the protective ozone layer, which keeps our planet from being seriously affected by harsh radiation from the sun.

To read about the GreenGuard testing process and certification requirements in greater detail, see our article found here.

​What's the Danger?

So far, we've spent most of this article pointing out all of the materials and substances which contain chemicals - but simply listing off the names of chemicals likely isn't enough to convince people not to purchase them. What makes these ingredients so sinister is that they have a number of side effects of which most customers are not aware. Therefore, us folks here at Brand Name believe that it is extremely important to explain in detail exactly what sort of chemicals can be found in mattresses and what risks they pose to human health.

The primary concern when it comes to synthetic mattresses are a group of substances collectively referred to as "volatile organic compounds," frequently shortened to "VOCs". VOCs have been and can be found in a number of common household goods, but only recently have their effects begun to be identified and their presence more strictly regulated by law.

The word "volatile" here refers to the fact that these chemicals are capable of evaporating at an extremely low temperature. Instead of needing to be significantly heated to undergo any change, VOCs can change from a solid or liquid state to a gaseous one at room temperature (usually in the 60-80 degree Fahrenheit / 15-25 degree Celsius range). Humans then breathe in these gases as they sleep on their mattress at night, introducing these harmful substances to their internal organs.

This phenomenon is collectively referred to as "off-gassing". Off-gassing of household goods is especially dangerous because of the closed environment of the home and the rapid circulation of indoor air by central air or heating systems. Even if only one mattress in your house contains a high number of VOCs in its makeup, the toxic gases which it emits will quickly spread through every room and affect every member of your family - including those with more sensitive bodies such as infants, young children, the elderly and the ill.

As mentioned earlier in this article, inhaling volatile organic compounds over a period of time can cause allergic reactions or asthma symptoms including but not limited to coughing, wheezing, lightheadedness and shortness of breath. However, these symptoms represent only a small portion of the dangerous effects which mattress chemicals can have on sleepers. Even the less severe reactions include such unpleasant experiences as nausea, vomiting, dizziness and severe headaches or migraines.

Over too much time, inhaling VOCs can also cause permanent damage to a number of internal organs. Areas of the body which scientists and medical professionals have identified as being at risk of injury or destruction include: kidneys, liver, lungs, esophagus, lungs, respiratory system and central nervous system. Exterior parts of the body may also be affected - the skin can develop rashes or hives after remaining in contact with the mattress for the 7-8 hours of a normal human sleep cycle.

In their most serious and concentrated form, VOCs can even be fatal. Several were positively identified by scientists as being carcinogens, meaning that they have been linked to increasing instances of cancer in human subjects. To give you just a small idea of how many places these dangers can be lurking, here are just a few examples of carcinogens which have been identified in mattresses:

  • Polybrominated diphenyl ether, one of the most common substances found in synthetic chemical-based flame retardants
  • Formaldehyde, an adhesive component frequently used in glues which can hold different layers or parts of mattresses together
  • Toluene diisocyanate, with which mattress foams can be treated to make them softer and more flexible
  • Benzene and other petroleum-based polyols, which are key components in the manufacture of standard polyurethane foam

As you can see, VOCs and other dangerous chemicals, including carcinogens, are found quite literally everywhere when it comes to synthetic mattresses. And, unfortunately, the negative effects which they have on human health are not the only dangers which these substances present. ​Many volatile organic compounds also do double duty as ozone depleters - meaning that, if they escape into the outdoor air, they travel upwards and attack the ozone present in Earth's atmosphere. As ozone performs important protective functions, keeping Earth and its people from sustaining permanent damage from the sun's radiation, the increasingly rapid depletion of atmospheric ozone represents a major issue which affects people all over the world.

Lastly - but no less dangerously - many VOCs and similar chemicals are also extremely toxic to plants and animals. These chemicals can enter the soil and groundwater if mattresses and other common home items are disposed of in landfills and left to off-gas outdoors. They can even do so if the water you use to clean your home and household goods is disposed of improperly and is allowed to contaminate groundwater, streams, lakes, or the ocean. Plants can die out if their roots absorb these chemicals instead of the helpful nutrients which they need to grow. Additionally, animals can become ill or die if they ingest them through drinking tainted water or eating tainted plants. The deadly cycle is completed when humans become sick through eating animals which have built up toxic levels of these chemicals in their bodies and organs.

As you can see, there are no benefits and practically infinite drawbacks associated with choosing a synthetic, chemically based mattress rather than a chemical free nontoxic one. So protect yourself, protect your family and friends and protect the Earth by choosing an all natural, organic mattress made from naturally occurring materials and untreated by any harsh chemical additives.

The best, most sustainable and environmentally friendly - not to mention durable, soft, supportive and high quality - option is certainly a mattress made from 100% natural latex. It is inherently resistant to fire, mold, bacteria and insects while also lasting for years and years without any chemical treatments necessary. Head over here to learn even more about just what makes natural latex so great - in addition, check out our detailed journey through its completely sustainable and environmentally friendly harvesting and manufacturing process right over here!

As always, our catalog is filled to the brim with chemical free mattresses and bedroom accessories made from natural latex. Once you're done reading through our helpful articles and guide, you can head right over here to get shopping!

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