Is your mattress toxic?


It’s bedtime!

Nearly every article posted on Sattvic Planet until now has been focused on the role of food and diet in practicing a healthy lifestyle, but since I am currently in the process of purchasing a natural latex mattress I thought this would be a good opportunity to change the subject. While food and diet certainly play an important role in practicing a healthy lifestyle, we also need to consider other areas of our lives where using natural products can be of benefit to us. Most of us know that nearly every mattress sold in the US is made of petroleum foam and plastic materials. How many of us know that it is a federal law that your mattress must be treated with a chemical flame retardant? For those of you unfamiliar with the history and risks of adding flame retardants to furniture I highly recommend this summary from Grist, but for those of you who don’t have time then allow me to summarize that summary. During the 1970s California lawmakers mandated the use of flame retardants in furniture, and in recent times the federal government has followed their lead by applying a similar law across the nation. Though the law was originally created in the name of fire safety, researchers over the years have linked some of these chemicals to health problems. Even more disturbing is they have found that the chemicals spread throughout the environment, and have been detected as far away as the arctic. Taking this information into consideration, last year in a big win for human and environmental health California lawmakers removed the mandate that furniture be treated with these chemicals. By now I think you can see that my decision to buy a natural latex mattress is motivated by my desire to remove toxins from my living space. However, let me be specific regarding my view on toxins. In this modern world it is nearly impossible to avoid exposure to toxins, and I am not delusional in thinking that buying a new mattress will simply eliminate toxins from my life. Keep in mind that even the seals living in the supposedly pristine arctic have flame retardant in their bodies. What I am advocating is the attempt to take practical steps to reduce your exposure to toxins whenever it is possible. If you have a choice, and most of us do unless we are experiencing poverty, then why not choose the products that are least damaging to you and the environment? Speaking of choice, as an adult living in Washington I literally do not have the freedom to purchase a flame retardant free mattress. Don’t worry though because the sheep are there to help us. Since wool is a natural flame retardant some manufacturers use a wool cover to protect their products from bursting into flames, which is not exactly a concern of mine since I don’t smoke cigarettes. Since wool can be expensive the shop I am buying my mattress from found an exemption in federal law that will allow me to buy a chemical and wool free mattress if it is approved by my doctor or naturopath.

Moving beyond the flame retardants, manufacturers claim that natural latex mattresses do not off-gas as synthetic petroleum based mattresses do. In case you don’t know, an example of off-gassing is the strong chemical smell that you notice when you drive a new car. The important point to understand here is that I am talking about natural latex and not synthetic latex. Natural latex is tapped from trees in a process similar to harvesting maple syrup. The trees used to produce the latex in my mattress are located in Sri Lanka. Synthetic latex of course is made from petroleum. It is important to make this distinction because many manufacturers use what I consider to be deceptive advertising practices. Often times you will find a mattress labeled as “eco foam”, or some other reassuring name, but if you don’t read carefully then you may miss that the mattress is really a synthetic and natural blend. From my perspective it is not worth it to buy an “eco” mattress that is 25% soybean based foam or natural latex, and 75% petroleum. If you are going to spend the extra money then why not get the product that is nearly 100% natural? Now let me be honest these mattresses can be expensive, so you need to ask yourself if they are worth the high price. Consider before you decide that there are many fully synthetic mattresses on the market that cost even more at $3000 plus. Also consider that many natural latex mattresses have 20 year warranties and may last twice as long as a synthetic mattress. Natural latex is touted as having superior breathability, minimal moisture retention, and great comfort. While I can’t speak to these claims now, I should be able to soon and will update you on my experience later. Finally, consider that you will be spending approximately one third of your life in your bed, so it is probably worth it to invest in the place you spend a majority of your time.

A post on Sattvic Planet would not be complete without an Ayurvedic perspective. In Ayurveda, sleep is considered one of the three pillars of life necessary for good health, and as somebody who has had sleep problems in my past I can say that I completely agree with that statement. Without a good night of rest I am completely worthless the next day, and if poor sleep occurs frequently then health problems are certain to follow. If sleep is one of the three pillars of life then purchasing a chemical free natural latex mattress might be the best investment you ever made. If you’re not ready for such a big investment then perhaps you want to purchase some organic cotton sheets, or a natural latex pillow. The point I’m trying to make is that every time you pull out your credit card you are making a choice on how you spend your money, and that choice has the potential to lead you towards personal and environmental health, or away from it, so shop wisely.