Conventional mattresses are usually made of polyurethane foam or synthetic latex which generally off-gas VOCs. It's difficult to find out exactly which chemicals were used in a particular mattress. The worst offenders are synthetic memory foam, followed by polyurethane (though almost all polyurethane can meet CertiPUR certification which I discuss here), and then synthetic latex, which usually does not meet any green certifications on its own. Going with a spring mattress reduces the amount of foam and chemicals in it.
On top of that, flame retardants like PBDEs, chlorinated Tris, or newer chemicals are often added, and won't be listed anywhere in sight. Look for mattresses that specify no chemical flame retardants (see my post on flame retardants).
You also want to avoid mattresses that are stain resistant, as they contain harmful perfluorochemicals. Similarly, the chemical that makes sheets (and clothes) wrinkle-free releases formaldehyde. Some mattresses are also adding an antimicrobial agent which you want to avoid.
VOC-Free Organic Mattresses
Update: Warning about natural latex (October, 2016). I am getting reports from several different people on problems with natural latex. My 3-inch piece of latex started to "melt" after about a year. Another one of my pillows became covered in grey mould after two years in low humidity. Others have noticed issues of disintegration and mould. Another blog reader has just written to me to tell me that her natural latex bed went mouldy on the underside even though it was on slats and it was not in high humidity. I have since seen many other cases of this on a forum. It is not clear if this is a defect (these were all different brands), or whether there is a certain condition that leads to the latex breaking down. Below is my original post about latex and other mattress materials. I still have a natural latex sofa and so far it is OK. I would strongly suggest not going with natural latex. I would not buy it again myself. If you do buy natural latex look closely at the warranty.
There are plenty of options for natural latex mattresses made in US and Canada. I have sourced the most affordable ones. (Make sure it is 100% natural latex, claims zero-VOCs, and test for odours/sensitivities to make sure nothing was added to it).
Nest Bedding makes natural latex mattresses starting at 1600 (queen size, plus tax and shipping from the US). I was able to test a couple samples - they do have a natural rubber smell, but it didn't cause me to feel sick. The smell dissipates with time but does not go away. An organic mattress cover would block some of the scent.
A more economical option is to buy a 3-inch piece of latex. For $299 (plus tax and shipping) you can get 3" natural latex from Amazon (queen). I find that 3 inches is very comfortable to sleep on. You could also add another 3 inch layer. You might want one side medium and one side soft to see which you like better. You will need to have a cover made. For a six inch piece of latex with cover you will pay about 760.
The only non-toxic memory foam out there is Essentia - this is also natural latex based. They have tested the VOC levels which are 36 μg /m3. They claim that this is the same level as natural latex and this is the same as "background levels". (For reference GreenGaurd Gold levels are 220 μg /m3). As for background levels here is one study of background levels in houses in Germany. Here is a study showing outdoor levels of VOCs which are around the same level as this mattress claims are background levels. This mattress also contains the following essential oils - grapefruit seed, cone flower essence, and jasmine essence. I have tested a sample and it has a noticeable scent. Though I would not say it is flowery, it is a bit sweet. Definitely test a sample before purchasing.
|Shepard's Dream- My Mattress|
I went with the purest option I could find which is a 100% wool mattress from Shepard's Dream (California). It is a (relatively) economical choice at $1200 for a queen (skinny version pictured). It does have a wool scent and is very firm as it gets compacted with time. I would recommend using a topper with it or using the thicker version. I would buy this again.
Conventional Style Layered and Spring Mattresses (Without Latex)
Check out Savvy Rest (available through Resthouse in Canada). Check out their non-latex mattress for $2000.
Organic Grace also has some conventional style affordable organic mattresses to compare. A queen without latex is $1700.
The Futon Shop has a good variety of mattresses, some with springs and coils will be more comfortable than conventional futons. Look for the ones without latex or soy foam (with is polyurethane). Their prices are fantastic starting at 300 USD. They don't ship to Canada.
This company will sell the organic cotton canvases and buckwheat hulls that you twist together yourself! They don't seem to guarantee that the buckwheat is organic so I would source the hull yourself (they don't deliver hull to Canada). A mattress topper or pad would likely be needed for comfort. Or, you could fill the canvas with organic cotton batting, wool batt, or even recycled wool sweaters, and use the same twist system to make your own true DIY chemical-free mattress!
Futons are often affordable and often don't use flame retardants - but look for organic cotton or wool filled. Avoid conventional cotton batting which still retains a lot of pesticide.
I have seen silk filled mattresses (which seem to be more affordable in the UK) if you cannot tolerate cotton, wool or latex.
Or for a quick and easy solution maybe a camping cot will do! Let it offgas a bit first. The plus side is there is not much to offgas there, so some time in the sun should do it. For sleeping pads this one is tolerable for sensitive people after a bit of offgassing (Canadian only). Most camping pads and air mattresses are very toxic and take a long time to offgas. Though this phthalate and PVC-free TPU bed comes recommended.
Pillows and Sheets
Coyuchi also makes organic sheets, pillows and other bedding that is made with the chemically sensitive person in mind. I highly recommend this company. They use natural dyes but the safest bet is always virgin fabric. If you react to the product you can return it. I've been really happy with all their products. (Also available on Amazon.)
Cotton that has been processed into fabric (sheets, pillow cases etc) no longer contains pesticides in theory. But stay away from permanent pressed finish (wrinkle-free finish), and make sure the dyes are steadfast or all natural. Almost all cotton that is not organic has a chemical added to it and smells bad. Look for GOTS certified fabrics which is the best certification for non-toxic textiles.
I use these GOTS certified organic sheets which needed one wash to get the smell out (probably the smell of cotton oils).
NB (While we are on the topic of chemical-free fabrics here is a guide to buying chemical-free clothing or removing "sizing" chemicals and other harmful odours.)
If you have an old mattress and you want to block flame retardants from migrating out of the mattress, use a cover like Organic Lifestyle's Bed Bug Cover which is also waterproof and will protect you from dust mites and bedbugs. It has a pore size of zero. The polyurethane smells strong to me but after a lot of offgassing I found it to be good. It is hard to find a odourless non-toxic complete cover, with a pore size of zero. Polyethylene covers are the least toxic but do not hold up very well after washing. There are polypropylene covers as well, they do not hold up for very long either.
If you just want dust mite covers (that are not waterproof, and don't block flame retardants), I use these mattress and pillow protectors (non-organic but were good for me after one wash, I'm really happy with them as they have reduced my allergies).
|My bed with Coyuchi blankets|
A metal bed frame that is powder coated would be a great option. This one (pictured right) is only $116 for a twin on Amazon.
Or, if you can tolerate the natural smell of wood, go with a solid wood bed frame, with solid slats (not laminated), finished with a natural finish.
For wood frames check out Organic Grace which has simple frames for $780 (queen, ships from the US).
For cool wooden headboards and frames with zero-VOC finishes check out Coyuchi (pictured below).
For something really simple and cheap this healthy Nomad Solid Hardwood Platform Bed ($124 for a twin) on Amazon is made of low odour poplar with solid slats.
IKEA sells solid wood frames but the slats are laminated. They claim the glues are non-volatile and non-polluting.