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Choose a natural crib mattress

By Jennifer Spero |

Flame retardants, petrochemicals, chemical treatments... Not the stuff sweet dreams are made of. Protect baby and the environment with a crib mattress made of organic cotton and wool or natural latex. 

No matter what color you painted the nursery, a green crib mattress is the perfect complement to your FSC-certified crib and organic cotton crib sheets. After you've given baby a bath and bottle, and finally tucked the little one in for the night with teddy, take a break from diapers and laundry, and read on to discover why an eco-friendly crib mattress is the healthy choice for baby and the environment.

Find it! Natural crib mattresses

Eco-friendly options to seek out: Certified Organic wool or cotton and natural rubber. But be sure to ask questions of the manufacturer. Just because a crib mattress is labeled organic does not mean it has not been treated with chemicals. Verify that the mattress has not been treated with fire-retardant chemicals, and does not contain formaldehyde, synthetic or chemical foam, or chemical odor-reducer. 

Before you buy

  • Conventional mattresses are often treated with chemical fire retardants to pass federal flammability standards. Due to the strict fire retardant standards set by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), you may be required to provide a note from your doctor saying you have chemical sensitivities to order a completely chemical-free mattress.
  • Don't expect bargain basement prices. Eco-friendly mattresses typically cost what you would pay for a mid- to high-end standard mattress.
  • If you're in the market to replace an old mattress, just remember, the fewer crib mattresses you use, the less resources needed to make new ones. So taking good care of your mattress and recycling it when its purpose has been fulfilled are two easy ways to green your crib.

Choosing a natural crib mattress helps you go green because…

  • It reduces demand for standard crib mattresses that use petrochemical-based, nonrenewable resources.
  • You support the production of organic cotton, natural latex, and organic wool, which do not use synthetic pesticides or synthetic hormones.
  • Organic farming combats global warming through carbon sequestration.

Moast conventional mattresses are sprayed with toxic  flame retardants, as well as water- and stain- repellants. If they contain recycled steel springs, there may also be heavy metals present and other contaminants from the steel-recycling process.[1]

A number of crib mattresses contain cotton. When conventional cotton is grown, large amounts of toxic synthetic chemicals are used, which includes pesticides, dyes, and fertilizers.[2] Cotton farming uses only about 3 percent of the farmland around the world, but it consumes 25 percent of all chemical pesticides and fertilizers.[3]  Billions of pounds of nitrogen synthetic fertilizers are used on cotton crops leading to runoff that creates zones in waterways that can’t sustain aquatic life. Chemicals in dyes and fixers that are not absorbed by cotton due to its natural resistance to dyes also run off into waterways and soil.[2]

Green crib mattress materials

Eco-friendly crib mattresses are made of varying combinations of organic cotton, organic wool, and natural latex. Some have innersprings, some contain latex instead of innersprings, and others combine innersprings with latex. Here's the lowdown on these materials:

Natural latex

Natural rubber is harvested by tapping the milk (sap) of Hevea brasiliensis (the common rubber tree), which grow in Indonesia and Malaysia.[4] The latex foam is made by whipping up the rubber tree sap. The sap can be collected for up to half of the year and the tree heals within an hour each time, making natural latex a genuinely sustainable resource. [5] In a mattress, natural latex is body-conforming and feels denser than a mattress with innersprings.[6]

Organic cotton

Organic cotton is grown and processed without insecticides, herbicides, fungicides, artificial fertilizers, or bleach,[7] with control of crop pests, weeds, and diseases achieved mainly through physical, mechanical, and biological controls.[8]

Organic farming may also be key in fighting global climate change. During a 23-season study of conventional versus organic farming methods, the Rodale Institute discovered that organic farming combats global warming through carbon sequestration. In agricultural applications, the more organic matter that is retained in the soil, the more carbon is sequestered. While conventional farming depletes organic matter through the use of chemical fertilizers, organic farming uses animal manure and cover crops, which actually build soil organic matter.

Organic farming further reduces atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) by using 37 percent fewer fossil fuels than conventional farming.[9] The Rodale Institute estimates that if all 160 million acres of corn and soybean farmland in the US were switched to organic farming methods, it would be equivalent to removing 58.7 million cars from the road, and would satisfy 73 percent of the proposed US Kyoto targets for CO2 reduction.[10]

Organic wool

Wool is a sustainable resource because the wool is shorn each year and the sheep live on. Unlike conventional wool production, which involves the use of pesticides on pastures and chemicals in the sheep's feed, organic wool is produced without using hormones or pesticides in the animal or its food.

Pure wool is naturally fire resistant so fire retardant chemicals are not required on wool mattresses.[11] Wool's natural fibers are breathable and regulate moisture, helping to keep you warm when it is cold and cool when it is warm.[12] This moisture-wicking quality also may make wool mattresses less susceptible to dust mites, which like moist places.[11]


Even mattresses made from organic and natural materials may be treated with chemical flame retardants or stain-resistant chemicals. On July 1, 2007, the CPSC passed a new flammability standard for mattresses to reduce the severity of mattress fires ignited by open flame. [13] There is much debate about the human health impacts of the chemicals required to meet the standard. One group, The People For Clean Beds,claims that the standard is only attainable by using heavy amounts of chemicals, and that these chemicals are absorbed into the body and may cause health problems. For example, according to their website, the CPSC's January 2006 Risk Assessment shows that 5-year-old children will absorb 0.5 mg of antimony every night — 63 times the levels deemed safe by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) — when sleeping on a chemically treated mattress. Antimony is an acute toxin that has been linked to cancer.[14]

But the Executive Summary of the CPSC assessment claims that, when five chemical flame retardants were tested for exposure and health effects in humans, they were "not expected to pose appreciable risk of health effects to consumers who sleep on treated mattresses."[15] One alternative to get around the whole controversy is to purchase organic mattresses wrapped in organic wool, which is naturally fire-retardant, and does not require chemicals to meet the CPSC's flammability-resistance standards. [16]

Related health issues

The rapidity with which babies grow can make any parent weepy, but it also makes those small bodies more vulnerable to environmental pollutants than older children or adults.[17] Newborn babies generally sleep 16 to 20 hours per day, and 6 to 12 month olds generally sleep about 14 hours per day. [18]  [19] CChemical fabric treatments, pesticides, artificial colors and dyes, and flame retardants may have detrimental health effects. [20]  Synthetic materials have poor air circulation and trap moisture, an ideal environment for dust mites and microbial growth.


  • antimony: A metalloid chemical element (having properties of both a metal and a nonmetal). Antimony and several of its derivative compounds can be toxic (causing headache, dizziness, or depression) or even fatal, depending on dose.
  • carbon sequestration: The process by which carbon is captured (in the form of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas) from the atmosphere and incorporated into soil, ocean, and plant matter.

External links


  1. Lifekind - Why an Organic Mattress? Compare the purity and environmental impact of an organic mattress to a mainstream, or "chemical," mattress
  2. The Green Guide - Mattresses and Box Springs
  3. Sustainable Cotton - Organic Cotton: Production and Marketing Trends in the U.S. and Globally: Third paragraph
  4. Abundant Earth - Natural Organic Cotton Mattress & Box Spring
  5. The Natural Sleep Store - Frequently Asked Questions: Why buy a natural and organic mattress?
  6. EcoChoices - EcoBedroom: All Natural Mattresses
  7. - Introduction to Organic Fibers
  8. National Organic Program - Organic Handling and Production Standards
  9. Straus Communications - Organic Farming Sequesters Atmospheric Carbon and Nutrients in Soils: The Rodale Institute Farming Systems Trialåš Findings
  10. The New Farm - Organic farming combats global warming … big time
  11. Green Home - About Mattresses and Futons
  12. The Natural Sleep Store - Frequently Asked Questions: Why buy a natural and organic mattress?
  13. US Consumer Product Safety Commission - New Federal Mattress Standard Expected to Save Hundreds of Lives, Prevent Thousands of Injuries
  14. People For Clean Beds - A new law already effective in California
  15. US Consumer Product Safety Commission - Quantitative Assessment of Potential Health Effects From the Use of Fire Retardant (FR) Chemicals in Mattresses: Scroll to the bottom of the page for a link to the report.
  16. The Green Guide - Sleeping better! On chemical-free bedding
  17. Associated Content - Eco-friendly Nursery: How to Go Green
  18. Kids Health - All About Sleep
  19. People for Clean - US Consumer Products Safety commission open public comment period on new law, Closes March 14, 2005
  20. The Green Guide - What's In a Mattress?
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