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. On top of that, flame retardants like PBDEs, chlorinated Tris, or newer chemicals are often added, and won't be listed anywhere in sight. Couches, curtains and pillows also frequently contain flame retardants.
You also want to avoid mattresses, curtains and upholstery that are stain resistant, as they contain harmful perfluorochemicals. Similarly, the chemical that makes sheets (and clothes) wrinkle-free releases formaldehyde.
With furniture you want to avoid: plywood, paneling, particleboard, fiberboard, and any furniture and cabinets which contain chemicals including formaldehyde. (More about kitchen cabinetry and countertops in: A Non-Toxic Kitchen). Stay away from wood that has been treated with conventional stains, paints or varathane as these are noxious chemicals.
VOC-Free Organic Mattresses
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.
|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.
Conventional Style Layered and Spring Mattresses
Check out Savvy Rest (available through Resthouse in Canada) for layered foam or spring mattress options. A spring queen is $1800.
Organic Grace also has some conventional style affordable organic mattresses to compare. A queen starts at $1350.
The only non-toxic memory foam out there is Essentia. 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.
This company will sell the organic cotton canvases and buckwheat hulls that you twist together yourself ($300 for the canvas)! 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 he 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.
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 horrible. 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 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.
|My bed with Coyuchi blankets|
I use wool blankets from Coyuchi - the natural colour with indigo stripes. It does have a wool smell, so if you are sensitive to wool try their cotton blankets. I really like wool because it's hard for me to stay the right temperature at night without them and I often need to sleep with the window open. The wool blankets were a super good investment in my case as they stopped me from waking up through the night due to being too cold.
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.