May 3, 2022

The most toxic item in your home might not be what you think

Looking for a home improvement project to occupy some of your pandemic downtime? Consider swapping out one quietly dangerous household toxic item: your mattress. It could contain harsh, long-lasting industry chemicals that are detrimental to your health.

How do we know? Scientific research continues to uncover dangerous chemicals in everyday products.

Some of the biggest culprits are already known to be harmful, like PFAS, the cancer-causing compound that gave us Gore-Tex and Teflon. (Known as “forever chemicals,” PFAS are found in 99% of people on the planet and will never break down in the environment.)

How’d things get so out of hand, where something you sleep on is a toxic item?

Well, about a third of all chemicals used in products, from cosmetics to cleaners, are not easily identified or regulated. A recent study of pregnant women revealed over 100 industrial chemicals in their blood and umbilical cords, 42 of which could not be traced to any particular source. Among the chemicals found was a powerful flame retardant that can cause reproductive health problems. That same flame retardant is commonly used furniture, carpets, and—you guessed it: foam mattresses.

Why changing this toxic item matters

There are a lot of dangerous chemicals out there. But as adults, we spend about a third of our lives in bed. And our children, especially infants, are especially vulnerable to the effects of chemical exposure. While mattresses are not typically the first thing someone will replace on their low-tox journey, they are a source of constant exposure to some pretty serious chemicals.

Investing in a chemical-free, safe alternative to that memory foam mattress is a must. Trust me, your immune system will thank you for it.

Off-gassing VOCs: The bad-actor chemicals trapped in your mattress

You’re likely familiar with the smell of a new mattress, mattress topper, or memory foam pillow. That small is making your mattress a toxic item you connect with every night!

I’ve talked to clients who’ve shared that they had to leave their brand-new, expensive mattress topper in the garage for weeks to try to minimize the strong chemical smell. These odors are due to the presence of VOCs, or Volatile Organic Compounds, though not all VOCs have a smell.

Exposure to VOCs can result in symptoms like:

  • Eye, nose, and throat irritation
  • Headaches, loss of coordination, and nausea
  • Damage to the liver, kidney, and central nervous system
  • Certain cancers

Specific chemicals off-gassing from mattresses can include:

  • Toluene diisocyanate, or TDI
  • Methylenediphenyl diisocyanate, or MDI (isocyanates are a leading cause of occupational asthma)
  • Toluene
  • Benzene
  • Styrene
  • Butadiene
  • Phthalates

Had your mattress for a while? There’s still cause for concern. A 2019 study found that body heat can actually increase VOC emissions from polyurethane foam mattresses. Contrary to what most people believe, mattresses never “finish” off-gassing—they continue to off-gas chemicals for the life of the product long after the smell fades.

And last but not least, flame retardants

The Consumer Product Safety Commission sets the safety standards for many products in the marketplace, including mattresses. Prior to 2007, mattresses were required to pass a flammability test designed to prevent a lit cigarette from igniting a bed. To meet this standard, companies used polybrominated diphenyl ethers or PBDEs, AKA chemical flame retardants.

These and other flame retardants have serious health concerns: They are fat-soluble chemicals that are endocrine disrupting, and specifically target the thyroid due to their halogenated nature (halogens compete with iodine in the thyroid). They’re linked to reproductive problems, developmental issues in children, and cancers.

In 2007, the CPSC updated their regulations, and while many PBDEs are now banned, that doesn’t mean that other harmful flame retardants aren’t still in use. For the most part, mattress companies have made the switch from flame retardants to barrier fabrics that are naturally heat-resistant. But remember those VOCs? Unfortunately, they’re also found in barrier fabrics.

A recommendation for your mattress, and for your health

We spend a lot of quality time with our mattresses, so they should be made with the safest and least toxic materials available. Greenwashing is a big problem, so whatever mattress you choose, be sure to do your research.

My top pick for an eco-friendly, non-toxic, and super comfortable mattress? The Naturepedic. Check out what environmental toxin educator Lara Adler has to say about it.

And, to give your mind and body a much-needed reprieve from all those toxins, I recommend the Medical Medium’s anti-plastics tea blend: Blend equal parts fenugreek, mullein leaf, olive leaf and lemon balm. Steep one tablespoon of the herb mixture per cup of hot water. And voila! A warm cup of health and relaxation awaits. And while you are at it check out the Medical Medium heavy metal detox smoothie to continue to pull out old and new heavy metals as well as other toxins that we are faced with daily.

Please don’t let this post get in the way of a good night’s sleep on the mattress you have at home… and best of luck detoxifying, everyone! and Keep me posted on your progress.