VERIFY: Can mattresses be toxic?

There are a lot of scary articles out there about toxic mattresses. Should we be worried?

We spend about one third of our lives sleeping, so it's natural we want to be sleeping on a mattress that's not going to make us sick. There are a lot of articles circulating online that can make you believe you will get sick because they say mattresses are filled and covered with toxic chemicals.

Foam, synthetic latex, flame retardants and vinyl are listed many times as the main materials to keep away from when looking for a mattress.

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Let's start with foam. Brian McClain is an associate professor of chemistry at the College of Western Idaho. He says, "It's a manmade chemical and what they've done is dissolve that foam into a solvent. It's essentially a polymer that's trapped little air bubbles inside so the air air bubbles then act as a cushion. You're using a volatile substance to push this material out, get the air bubbles tapped into it, and then once it's formed you're going to let those volatile solvents off-gas."

McClain says most of the off gassing happens before the mattress reaches your bedroom. The rest, he says, should be complete in about a month. That's what most of us know as the unpleasant new mattress smell. McClain says it isn't dangerous but says you could have a mild reaction.

"It just depends on biology from person to person, as we know some people have certain allergies to foods while others do not and those can change over time as well," said McClain.

What about synthetic latex? Online you'll see stories about it posing serious health risks. The worry surrounds petroleum-based compounds, but McClain says petroleum will not hurt us inside a mattress.

Now to chemical flame retardants. Since 2007 mattresses are required to be flame resistant.

"There's going to be a government regulation that says this mattress has to meet certain standards so if you drop a cigarette on a mattress it's not going to light up," said McClain.

If you ask local Denver Mattress manager, Reggie Schorzman, the kind of flame retardant used is actually very important.

"You want to make sure you're buying something that has an inherent fire barrier, what that means is there are no chemical treatments," said Schorzman.

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Wool is a popular one. Even if your mattress is coated with chemicals are you going to get sick? McClain says probably not.

"Unless you're licking your mattress on a daily basis you're probably not going to have an effect," said McClain.

Finally, let's look at vinyl. You'll find it often in waterproofing products for mattresses, especially on baby mattresses. The FDA says it's safe. Still, McClain says that doesn't mean your health is in the clear, no matter what is on or inside of your mattress.

"There are possibilities people are going to have allergies or reactions to the components like the foam or flame retardants," said McClain.

So he says just be aware of what's right for your body, and that may mean talking with an allergist.

When we sat down with Dr. Neetu Talriga from The Allergy Group, she still didn't seem concerned.

"From an allergist perspective I think I could only think of latex allergy," said Dr. Talriga.

She says that's even very rare.

If you want to know what's in your mattress look at the tag. It will list the components, but usually won't say what makes the mattress flame retardant. You may have to reach out directly to the manufacturer to find out.

If you're concerned about your current mattress there are natural latex toppers, natural mattress covers and encasements to put more of a barrier between you and your mattress.

There are also organic mattresses. They are not all created equal though. Consumer reports says look for either the Global Organic Textile Standard or Global Organic Latex Standard. Also, a Greenguard label tells you the mattress has been tested for harmful substances and meets high standards for your health.


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