by Megan Alexander and Dihan Chandra, Organic Lifestyle
If you’re reading this, we can only assume that you are aware of and concerned about reducing your exposure to off-gassing Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) from your mattress as typical conventional mattresses contain:
- Synthetic fabrics and chemicals eg. polyurethane, polyester, formaldehyde
- Harsh chemicals smell coming from memory foam
- Chemical fire retardants eg., PBDEs [ Learn more ]
If you have recently purchased a mattress for your baby, your concerns will be even greater as their developing immune systems are weaker and increased time spent in bed leave them to be especially vulnerable.
As a child or as an adult, you are still exposed to mattress off-gassing as you sleep.
What can you do if you have already purchased a conventional mattress?
Some customers assume that a dust-mite cover or similar fabric mattress cover / mattress pad or an organic mattress topper, will block the harmful gases, however this is not true.
To truly restrict off gassing smell, plastic with a thick enough grade needs to be used to ensure the gases do not penetrate. Using plastic, however, is tricky in itself because many plastics contain the same level of toxic chemicals that you are trying to ward off!
Polyethylene is considered to be the ‘safest’ plastic mattress covering, as it is made from vegetable-grade plastic. Alternative ‘No chem’ plastic mattress covers, however, must be thick to do their job properly and, thus, are noisy and not very breathable.
Organic Lifestyle sells Crib and Adult waterproof mattress covering from Naturepedic but unfortunately, they aren’t thick enough to reduce off-gassing – plus, its a cover (covers just the top of the mattress), it doesn’t completely surround the entire mattress.
We do have a customizable mattress encasement cover (i.e., covers the entire mattress), made from 100% tencel fabric with a waterproofing via thin polyurethane film built-in. Its part of our eco-friendly portfolio (not organic). For those looking to reduce offgassing, this is our closest option and cannot guarantee it will keep offgassing within but will help significantly reduce the smell.
If you decide to proceed using a polyethylene plastic cover (as a better than nothing approach), we also recommend adding a thicker organic mattress topper to increase comfort and stifle some of the noise.
If using a plastic cover for a baby, however, a thicker mattress topper is not recommended as babies should only sleep on a firm and flat surface.
SIDS / cot death / ‘toxic gas theory’
We should address this cause a common perception to prevent Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) is to use a plastic cover around the crib mattress to contain “poisonous gases are created from the interaction of a fungus that commonly grows in bedding and chemical compounds that are often added to conventional mattresses as fire retardants” per study by by Dr. Jim Sprott, a New Zealand scientist and chemist.
This evidence around this theory, known as ‘toxic gas theory’, has neither been scientifically proven nor disproven, as the research around it is scattered. Strong supporters of toxic gas theory have suggested using a plastic mattress cover that prevents off gassing smell of the harmful chemicals that contribute to SIDS. Others label this as a marketing ploy to target fearful mothers.
It is not in the position of Organic Lifestyle to endorse or support any theory for the cause of SIDS.
Our own non-scientific research would suggest eliminating the risk of off gassing smell altogether by investing in an organic crib mattress and following these tips to naturally waterproof the crib mattress.
What can you do if you are on the hunt for a new mattress?
Our only suggestion when it comes to eliminating off-gassing smell of harmful toxic chemicals while you sleep is to purchase an organic mattress.
Yes, we’re biased but we’ve opted to go into this business to find alternative healthier options.
Organic mattresses are made without the use of any harmful chemicals- no chemicals, no off gassing smell! As opposed to a conventional mattress, an organic mattress contains:
- No synthetic materials; only organic and natural
- No chemical fire retardants, eg., use untreated wool as a natural fire retardant
For a little bit more, you can rest assured that you and your family are safe from off gassing. And be warned- just because a mattress labels itself as ‘organic’ does not mean that it is ‘non-toxic’. For example, a mattress made with organic cotton as the filling can be covered in a vinyl plastic or have chemical fire retardants added to it. Ensure that you are doing the proper research with the retailer to ensure that you are buying the best possible product for your needs.
We spend ⅓ of our lives sleeping- spend that time with the peace of mind knowing that you are not exposing yourself to harmful chemicals.
Sources and additional reading:
Ecoholic Home: The Greenest, Cleanest, and Most Energy-efficient Information Under One (Canadian) Roof by Adria Vasil.