The Tot Guide to choosing a non-toxic mattress

Your child will spend almost 4000 hours on their mattress each and every year until they graduate high school. Here’s how you can ensure their bed won’t expose them to harmful chemicals each night.

non toxic mattress

During the first few years of parenthood sleep might seem, to some, elusive, however we humans actually sleep a lot. The average newborn sleeps up to 18 hours a day, the average five-year-old spends about half of each day sleeping, while adults, on average sleep seven hours a night which adds up to about 2,300 hours of sleep a year. Where are we spending all of that time? Usually, on a bed, which is why it’s important to take a closer look at the mattresses we sleep on each and every night.

Unfortunately, your basic conventional mattress contains chemicals that, through daily exposure, for years and even decades, can lead to unwanted effects on your health.

Some harmful chemicals that are often found in  mattresses include:

Flame retardants 

All mattresses sold in the US have to meet the Federal Mattress Flammability Standard (16 CFR Part 1633) which involves a severe and lengthy open flame test. To meet this requirement, companies either:

  • wrap the mattress with an inherently fire-resistant barrier material such as cotton fiber treated with boric acid (more on this later), or;
  • use flame retardant chemicals, or;
  • use organic wool that is naturally fire resistant.

According to the mattress industry, flame retardants are not generally used in foam fillings in adult mattresses in the U.S. However, independent tests conducted by researchers at Duke University, reported in 2016 that 22 out of 71 mattress foam samples tested did in fact contain flame retardant chemicals.

Mattresses for babies and kids are more likely to contain flame retardant chemicals than their adult counterparts since they are often made with polyurethane foam, which, due to its high flammability, requires flame retardant chemicals to meet the US standard.

Flame retardant chemicals accumulate in our body and are associated with hormone, brain, and reproductive damage, especially in children.

Boric acid

Companies often used boric acid as an insecticide to prevent bacteria, bed bugs and other pests from lingering. Boric acid also has flame resisting properties. The CDC warns that boric acid can lead to respiratory and eye irritation, and effects on the gastrointestinal tract, liver and kidneys. Animal studies have found an increased risk of genital damage, brain damage and anemia.


Foam mattresses and synthetic latex mattresses commonly use formaldehyde-based adhesives to ‘hold’ layers together. Formaldehyde, which off-gasses from the mattress, is breathed in by the person sleeping on it and can cause lung and skin irritation. It is also a known carcinogen.

VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds)

Mattresses made with polyurethane foam tend to off-gas many VOCs. Crib mattresses made of this foam can off-gas up to 30 volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that range the gamut from phenols (often used as antiseptics) to formaldehyde found in glues and adhesives). Volatile organic compounds, can cause respiratory irritation and skin irritation. Babies and young children are particularly susceptible to these chemicals.

Water repellants

Crib mattresses and mattresses designed for younger kids often offer a vinyl water repellent layer, which many parents seek out to protect the mattress, especially during potty training years.  This is often achieved with a top vinyl (PVC). PVC can give off chemicals that have been linked to cancer, asthma, learning and developmental disabilities, obesity, and even reproductive disorders.


Antimicrobial are added to a mattress to prevent the growth and survival of bacteria, mold and mildew in your mattress. Some materials, like natural latex, is naturally antibacterial.  Other times, especially with mattresses made of polyurethane foam, synthetic antimicrobials – which are essentially a type of pesticide, are added.  These often are linked to increase allergies and asthma and could potentially mimic your hormones (endocrine disruptors).


For those looking for a latex mattress, it is important to understand the difference between synthetic and natural latex.  Synthetic latex, which is basically man made latex, is often made from styrene, a human carcinogen. Workers exposed to large amounts of styrene can develop irritation of the eyes and breathing passages. With long-term exposures, workers using styrene have had injuries to their nervous systems.


Used in polyester based barrier materials to achieve flame resistance and avoid flame retardant chemicals, Antimony is a heavy metal. Short-term exposure to antimony can cause irritation of skin, eyes, and the respiratory system.  Prolonged exposure has been found to potentially damage the lungs and heart. An increase in the number of spontaneous abortions has been observed in women exposed to airborne antimony in the workplace.

What can you do?

So you’re wondering how can you make sure you are buying a safer mattress?  Unfortunately, mattress companies don’t have to disclose what they use inside their mattresses or whether or not they use flame retardant chemicals, so it can be challenging. Adding to this challenge is the issue of misleading labels and green washing that exist within the mattress industry. While there are very few truly, non-toxic mattresses, there are many more hybrids, ie:  mattresses that contain lower levels of certain chemicals.

For example, a leading US mattress company sells a crib mattress with a top layer that is “hospital grade staph guard antibacterial treated.” The same mattress is “Green Guard Gold Certified” and also contains a (vinyl) waterproofing top layer. The Green Guard Gold certification would lead many to believe this is a safe mattress, however the antibacterial treatment and vinyl would expose your baby to unwanted chemicals.

What is the best option? 

The two strictest, worldwide certifications are:

  • Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS): GOTS requires that at least 95 percent of the materials in the mattress be certified organic, and it prohibits, outright, the use of certain substances even for the other 5 percent, such as chemical flame retardants and polyurethane foam.
  • Global Organic Latex Standard (GOLS): For mattresses that contain latex, GOLS ensures that a mattress with latex is made of 95 percent organic latex, with restrictions on the other 5 percent of the mattress’ components.

After GOTS and GOLS, the next level of certifications are:

  • Oeko-Tex Standard 100: While the certification doesn’t ensure that a mattress’ fiber is produced organically, it does set limits for the emission of harmful chemicals such as formaldehyde and other volatile organic compounds (VOCs).  Additionally, it also bans the use of certain chemical flame retardants, colorants, and allergenic dyes.
  • CertiPUR-US: This applies only to the polyurethane foam in a mattress. While other standards, such as GOLS, bar this foam altogether, CertiPUR-US prohibits certain substances that are in many foams (such as PDBE, flame retardants) and requires testing for formaldehyde and other chemicals. 

The Tot Selected Non-Toxic Mattresses



There are few brands of mattresses that achieve GOLS and GOTS certification that you can rely on and know they are the real (non-toxic) deal. Naturepedic is one of them. You can trust that these mattresses are great quality and made of the safest materials so you can rest assured you won’t be exposing your family to any harmful chemicals.  


Nook Sale

Although Nook is not GOTS nor GOLS certified, they ingeniously combine non-toxic materials to create safe sleeping alternatives for your children. Their mattresses contain CertiPUR certified foams made without formaldehyde, ozone depleters,  PBDEs, TDCPP or TCEP (”Tris”) flame retardants, heavy metals nor phthalates. Some models contain 100% pure Talalay natural latex that, while not certified organic, does not contain synthetic additives. Finally, they achieve liquid and stain resistance through technology without added chemicals.