Our homes have plenty of things in them that seem entirely innocent and eco-friendly – till you find out a bit more about them. Mattresses are a case in point. There’s no regulation of the ways they are manufactured and even well-known brands aren’t necessarily eco-friendly. If you’re going green and running a green home, a green mattress is a great additio n, and a way to safeguard and optimize you and your family’s health and wellbeing.

Like many other items, mattresses can present a whole host of problems. One obvious issue is that they contain a variety of non-biodegradable materials, including synthetic fabrics, foam and metal springs that are chemically coated. Other ingredients are from non-sustainable sources. Memory foam mattresses use synthetic latex derived from non-renewable petroleum products, and contain chemical solvents. Not only does a mattress take up a lot of space in our rapidly filling landfill sites, but they pollute while they take decades to decay.

It’s those synthetic components that are the biggest cause for concern when it comes to health. Mattress materials give off volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that have been shown to be hazardous to health. They can cause a long list of health problems, depending on the type and the degree and kind of exposure. Minor problems include respiratory problems and eye, nose and throat irritation. Dizziness, nausea, cognitive problems and difficulty seeing can also be symptoms of exposure and some VOCs are proven carcinogens in animals.

You will spend approximately one third of your time on your mattress. Even if the VOC emissions are small, the close contact, and the regular, lengthy exposure obviously aren’t good for you. Also toxic are the flame retardants that are often used to reduce the flammability of mattresses. These contain polybrominated diphenyl esters (PBDEs) that have been banned in European countries because of health concerns. It’s especially important that the mattresses you buy for your children (especially babies) are not treated with fire retardants.

The bottom line is it’s worth checking out your existing mattresses and, if necessary, replacing them with eco-friendly alternatives. Beware of unsubstantiated claims that a mattress is eco-friendly and go for a proven brand or a product that has independent certification that the makers really are going green. Look for the Oeko Tex or Global Organic Textile Standard mark of approval.

Fully eco-friendly mattresses of organic cotton and with plant oils substituted for synthetic latex can be very expensive. That’s the price you pay for products guaranteed to be free of toxins and made from eco-friendly materials – and not just in part. If you have to compromise on going green for budget reasons, check out the labels and the makers, and go for one that has verifiable components. Going green means doing your research, but it’s worth it.

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