As I came to self-study health on a deeper level, opening my eyes up to the heavy toxicity levels we face on a day-to-day basis, one of the biggest concerns started to become the mattress we were sleeping on. At the time we had an 8″ memory foam mattress that we ordered off overstock.com. I never thought much about it honestly, I was excited it only cost $250 and we could just put it on a platform bed. I didn’t have any awareness to even consider health implications from mattresses, I was just happy that it was comfy. I do remember it had a very strong odor for a long while that bothered me (later find out those are VOCs). Fast forward to about 3 years ago I started to dig deeper seeking ways to regain health and I started exploring more organic/non-toxic mattress options and I remember reading about organic mattresses. I thought “why would you even need an organic mattress??”.
Well my friends, I figured out why. I came across many things of course but the first thing that I learned that I hadn’t known about was that mattresses are required by law to be flame resistant. This can be achieved with natural/eco fire barriers however most companies opt to just use chemical flame retardants – with no proven safety for humans – typically including the use of PBDEs (Polybrominated Diphenyl Ethers) in past years which of course have had very little testing done – basically none – to show human safety despite the fact that they are being used on the beds we SLEEP on – including infant mattresses! I’ve cried about this, as babies are dying from the mysterious “SIDS” while we have things like this going on and nobody asking questions. PBDEs have been detected in mother’s breast milk as well, so it’s absolutely a valid concern.
According to the CDC website though, “Studies done on rats and mice that ate food with moderate amounts of PBDEs for a few days had effects on the thyroid gland. Those that ate smaller amounts for weeks or months had effects on the thyroid and the liver.”
Only a few days of moderate exposure and already thyroid issues??
It also states, “Preliminary evidence suggests that high concentrations of PBDEs may cause neurobehavioral alterations and affect the immune system in animals. Rats and mice that ate food with decabromodiphenyl ether (one type of PBDE) throughout their lives, developed liver tumors. Based on this evidence, the EPA has classified decabromodiphenyl ether as a possible human carcinogen. PBDEs with fewer bromine atoms than decabromodiphenyl ether are listed by the EPA as not classifiable as to human carcinogenicity due to the lack of human and animal cancer studies.” [source]
So um, basically they can’t say that any other types of PBDEs cause cancer because the tests weren’t even done. So here we make it a common practice to treat the very mattress we sleep on – and breathe in for a third of our lives – with chemical flame retardants that they know are causing health complications and tumors in rats but they can say that “they don’t know” if it affects humans because the haven’t done the testing. Say what?
PBDEs are being phased out in newer products because of their harm finally, however there are still loopholes and older products still contain them, and mattresses are still being produced with them coming from China. And even though PBDEs are being phased out, the new industry replacement, Firemaster 550, isn’t much better. To date, no proven-safe chemical alternative has been found. In a 2012 study, Firemaster 550 was shown to be an endocrine disruptor in rats, causing early-onset puberty, weight gain and cardiovascular health effects at levels that are relevant to human exposure. The researchers say that their findings reveal that the flame retardant may affect growth and neurodevelopment and shows the need for more research into the mechanisms involved and human exposure levels. [source]
Why is this not taken more seriously? It’s estimated that we spend about a third of our lives in our bed. Babies spend about half of theirs. Traditional mattresses generally include memory foam beds, gel foam beds and innerspring beds with different synthetic fiber and foam layers. The majority of these mattresses contain synthetic materials like polyurethane foams, vinyl, press board, polyester fabrics and more. They’re also usually most often treated with chemical flame retardants, adhesives, dyes, glues, antimicrobials, and other chemicals that contribute to unhealthy off-gassing. Polyurethane foam is a synthetic derivative of petroleum. These mattresses have offgassing from the VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds) inside of the mattress, and they are NOT safe to be sleeping on. VOCs, according to the EPA, cause health implications such as eye, nose and throat irritation, headaches, loss of coordination and nausea, damage to the liver, kidney and the central nervous system. Some organics can cause cancer in animals and some are suspected or known to cause cancer in humans. [source]
Sadly this information could go on for a while, there are so many dangers lurking in traditional beds, causing so many health complications. What’s more concerning is that mattress companies have no obligation to tell their customers what type of chemical flame retardant they are using. If we know these cancer causing compounds are inside the very mattress that we sleep on and breathe in, how on earth are we allowing this to be a common practice? When there are alternatives that do not pose health risks, we have to be aware. We have to educate others, and we need to vote with our dollars. Demand change by supporting companies working hard to give you healthier options.
But what good is it for me to share a concern without giving a viable solution. After a week straight of searching and researching back when I purchased our new bed I thankfully did much of the research for you already so I am going to share what solution I found over the past few years that has worked for us, and is within a reasonable budget.
So I simply could not fathom spending over $1500 or so on a mattress because what can I say, we’re frugal. I needed a cheaper option than that. I also was studying Restorative Exercise back at the time I was exploring natural toxic-free bedding solutions where a lot of the research steers you away from the soft squishy mattresses that people seem to love and sticking with a more firm surface to keep your spine aligned. Firmer mattresses have always felt better for me personally and neither my husband John, nor myself, had any interest in a soft mattress. We always have found ourselves so sore after waking up in a hotel on soft mattresses, you know the ones that sink your whole mid-section? Well anywho, after some digging I realized that organic 100% natural latex mattresses seemed like the best option for health! However, a not good option for our wallet, at around $1500. (If you don’t have concerns about that price, feel free to invest in the regular mattress. They generally have a satisfaction guarantee as well!) I wanted nothing to do with our memory foam bed now that I was aware, but there was no way I was spending that kind of money on an organic mattress. We were also traveling and living in an RV full-time so the weight of the mattress was also a concern. As I scrolled through multiple websites learning more and more about natural latex I realized that these companies also made natural latex mattress toppers! 1-3 inches in depth generally, and WAY more affordable. I thought, hey, what if we just used that instead? It of course needs a solid base, so a platform bed would be best. You could also just lay Purebond formaldehyde-free plywood (Home Depot) on a bed frame to replace slats.
My hardest decision was trying to figure out what density to get. We wound up getting a medium-firm mattress in 3″ thickness. I’m not going to lie, it felt so different getting into bed! Crawling on your knees across the bed you bottom out on the platform and I was hesitant that it may just be too thin once we were laying down, but we loved it! We couldn’t feel the bottom while laying down and having our weight evenly distributed. And my husband really didn’t notice a difference sleeping on it, he’s about 175lbs and 6’1″! It definitely took getting used to just getting into the bed – because you’ve slept on a thick mattress your whole life most likely – so it feels sort of unfamiliar. It could be viewed as being less “luxurious” because it’s not a huge lush bed since it’s so much thinner, but that really didn’t phase us and we quickly got used to it. I’d rather have a safe bed over anything anyway.
We’ve had zero issues with 100% natural latex over the past 3 years or so. I’ve heard of many people having had mold issues with platform beds and other foams (not the natural latex toppers) because of lack of air flow underneath, especially in RVs, but we used a waterproof mattress cover over the top always and never had that issue with the natural latex toppers, even though we were having condensation issues with the camper and mold elsewhere. They’re also great because they can be cut to any size with scissors, so you could purchase one and use it as an infant mattress, or use the 1″ density for a pack and play pad. I actually used a piece to make our dog’s bed, and also couch cushions.
We ended up purchasing from 2 different companies over the past few years because we actually had to dispose of our first one because our RV was contaminated with mold in our walls and floor (awful experience) and it affected my health so much that we had to dispose of practically all of our belongings because of mycotoxins being embedded in everything, I couldn’t be around any of my things. (currently writing my “health journey” – sign up for mailing list in the sidebar or at the bottom of this age if you’d be interested in reading). This however had nothing to do with the mattress topper and we loved it.
So the first company we purchased from was PlushBeds. I went with them because there were tons of legit reviews about their products, their information and testing was sound, and I felt confident with my purchase. We ended up ordering a king-sized, medium-firm 3″ 100 % natural latex topper and I remember there was a sale so it wound up being just over $500 total with a cover. Still a heavy cost for us but it was a king-sized one and entirely worth it! We were super happy with this one. The toppers don’t have a warranty or return policy from what I understand which made me nervous when choosing the density it, BUT the actual mattresses have a 25 year warranty, as well as a “100 night comfort guarantee”. The guarantee allows you to return it or have them exchange your top layer in case you prefer it softer or firmer and they pay the shipping they just require a $145 refundable deposit to ensure you send the original one back. Pretty awesome in case you’re worried about spending that much money and not loving the firmness.
(**Note for vegans: the natural latex toppers are of course vegan however be mindful of the mattresses from PlushBeds as the Botanical Bliss Collection uses wool as a natural fire barrier. The Natural Bliss Collection, however, does not. Instead, they use a barrier derived from plant fibers and silica! Sleep On Latex – my next recommendation – does NOT carry a vegan-friendly mattress although their toppers are vegan.)
About 2 years after purchasing it and disposing of our other one I needed mattresses to replace the first one in a hurry and we have Amazon Prime with free 2-day shipping so I started searching to see if any companies with similar products were on there. Thankfully Sleep On Latex sells their natural latex mattress toppers on there and after a little digging through their information and reading reviews I was confident enough purchasing from them (they had prime shipping on some of their mattress toppers so I could get it quickly.
Here are the links below to their products on Amazon. I kept finding it confusing trying to find them on Amazon because of the mattress sizes being within their listings but basically you can choose the density here – soft/med/firm – and then on the product listing page is where you can choose size and thickness.) One great thing about SleepOnLatex is they actually allow you to return your topper if you aren’t happy, without charging you a restocking fee, and they also have 5 year warranty.
(The links above are affiliate links for the Sleep On Latex mattress toppers. That means that if you’re interested in the topper and you purchase it through the link, Amazon pays me a small percentage for sending you their way – at no cost to you of course. This of course in no way affects my opinion and as always I’m utterly honest in my review and referral because I genuinely give a dang about others.)
We now had 2 cosleeping kiddos at the time we purchased the Sleep On Latex ones so we opted to purchase 2 full-size 3″ mattress toppers to make a big family bed. We ordered one firm and one medium to see the difference. Personally both were great for me, John and I both agreed though that we thought the medium from Sleep On Latex would be too soft to use alone for a heavier person than us. The firm seemed just fine though and none of our guests have complained! The cost of each full-size mattress topper was $279 for the medium and $319 for firm. A 3″ firm king sized topper would’ve been $449. We added the mattress toppers to these low-cost solid pine bed frames we found at IKEA, they were only $50 a piece. Replaced the slats that were included with the PureBond plywood and voila, an entire brand new health-friendly system – bed frame and all – for about $750. That’s for a 9ft wide bed. Of course if you only purchased one full-size bed it would’ve been much cheaper, about half that, but in my opinion that’s a pretty cheap toxin-free whole-bed solution.
So I’m going to just highlight here some reasons I determined the 100% natural latex toppers to be the best option and why I chose PlushBeds and SleepOnLatex:
I am sure there are other excellent companies, but for the sake of authenticity I feel more comfortable advocating for the companies and products that I personally have experience with and know are good.
I would recommend ordering the mattress topper from Sleep On Latex so you have a return policy! Just to be sure you can tolerate the scent! It does have a noticeable rubber/baked goods type smell (weird combination I know, lol) but although it definitely had a scent it actually didn’t bother me at all, especially with a mattress cover on top. And the scent dissipated from the mattress toppers after a while too, it’s nowhere near as strong and I only even notice it when I change the bedding. You could also see if they’d send you a small sample piece to test prior, would probably be worth it.
If you would like to know what exactly natural latex is, click here to read about it on the Sleep On Latex website.
All-in-all it seems that safe toxic-free alternatives for mattresses are definitely out there. Our mattress topper bed situation may not be the “norm” but we are pretty comfortable and happy on it and can sleep more soundly knowing our children aren’t having their systems overloaded with endocrine discrupters and other VOCs that are damaging their entire systems. I would much rather invest my money into a practice that promotes health than one that disregards the safety of their consumers by not even performing necessary testing for safety.
The more expensive organic latex mattresses are also an excellent option but they are required to have a type of fire-barrier by law so remember to look into what that is. Mostly it’s wool, which of course isn’t very sheep or vegan friendly, but as I said PlushBeds has a vegan friendly natural latex mattress as well that has a barrier comprised of silica & plant fibers, so that may be a great option for you.
If you have any other recommendations, drop them in the comments below. There’s surely always more to learn and I want to be a source of support for those of you seeking out the information feeling perhaps a bit overwhelmed like I know I was. I know that this can all seem pretty overwhelming sometimes, seeking a healthy lifestyle in a society that’s more concerned about money and convenience all of the time, but take it one step at a time.
We’re all in this together.
Here for you.
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