The absolute safest crib baby mattresses you’ll find on the market are made from plant-based materials that were grown without the use of pesticides. The plant fibers would not have been treated with chemicals during the manufacturing process. And the final product (including the mattress’s core, padding and cover) also would not have been treated with chemicals.
Instead of chemicals, natural materials would be used to comply with fire safety regulations, resist bacteria and water-proof the mattress from sweat, urine and saliva.
Two main issues with safe crib mattresses
One issue with truly safe crib mattresses is that they can be prohibitively expensive for many parents. If a healthier crib mattress isn’t in the budget, consider asking close friends & coworkers to chip in toward a collective baby shower gift.
Another option is to buy the safer crib mattress second-hand or accept one from a friend, who no longer needs it. However if you do, please be aware there are some important issues to consider with used crib mattresses.
2. Deceptive “eco” labeling
A second issue is that parents can be mislead into thinking some crib mattresses are safer for their baby and the environment than they really are. Parents should be aware that crib mattresses claiming to be safe and healthy, sometimes are not.
In a misguided attempt to make “natural crib mattresses” more affordable, manufacturers will often create just the core of the mattress from natural materials… but then use petroleum-based fabrics to cover and pad the mattress.
They may also use chemicals, rather than safe and natural solutions, to address flammability, water-proofing and bacteria resistance.
These manufacturers may label their seemingly safer product with deceiving buzzwords such as “eco”, “green”, “healthy” or “non-toxic”. And they can do this legally, because there are are no standards or regulations to define what these terms mean.
Finding a truly healthy crib mattress
If you find a crib mattress that claims to be made from natural materials, check that it is also covered in wool, rather than dipped in chemicals, to address fire safety regulations.
Parents concerned with bacteria buildup from sweat, saliva or urine should look for a mattress core that addresses waterproofing with natural latex rubber, which comes from the rubber tree. If the label says synthetic latex rubber (or sometimes just “latex”), then it is made from petroleum and is not the healthiest or most eco alternative.
If it’s in the budget, opt for mattresses that are certified organic to ensure the natural materials that went into the mattress were not grown with pesticides or chemical fertilizers.
It’s worth noting that just because a label states that a chemical is “not known” to be dangerous, does not mean that it safe. It just means that it has not yet been tested. For example, several chemical fire retardants have been phased out in response to consumer demand or because they have been banned by the government. However, many of these fire retardants have been replaced by other toxic chemicals that have not yet been tested and therefore not yet proven to be unsafe.
Avoiding chemicals in crib mattresses
Avoid crib mattresses labeled “Made in China”. Some hazardous flame-retardants that have been banned in the US may still be found in crib mattresses imported from China.
Avoid mattresses, padding and covers made from polyurethane foam, soy foam, synthetic latex foam, memory foam, polyester or bamboo. These materials typically contain high levels of petroleum or chemicals. (Most bamboo fabrics are not as healthy and eco as they are marketed to be. Avoid bamboo fabrics unless they are specifically labeled as “mechanically processed” or “bamboo linen”.)
Avoid crib mattresses, padding and covers made labeled as “bio”, “plant-derived” or “made from soybeans”. These are misleading labels, because the fabrics often contain high levels of petroleum or chemicals.
Avoid crib mattresses, padding and covers made from vinyl (also known as “PVC”). PVC waterproofs the mattress and is resistant to bacteria, but it releases harmful chemicals that can be inhaled by the baby over time.
Choosing safer crib mattress materials
Opt for crib mattresses, padding and covers made from natural materials, such as wool, natural latex (not synthetic latex), organic cotton, or coir.
Waterproof the crib mattress with a food-grade polyethylene plastic cover, instead of PVC. For babies with wool sensitivities, this cover can also keep wool from touching your baby’s skin.
Look for labels that specifically say the mattress does not contain: vinyl (PVC), formaldehyde, polyethylene (unless it specifically says “food grade” polyethylene), phthalates, chemical fire retardants and/or toxic adhesives.
If it’s in the budget, choose mattresses with the Greenguard or Global Organic Textile Standards (GOTS) stamp. These third-party certifications offer a fairly comprehensive inspection to ensure the materials and manufacturing process are free from harmful chemicals.
Good to know
- Densely woven wool is a natural fire retardant and does not require added chemicals. While rare, some babies are allergic to wool.
- Natural latex foam comes from the rubber tree and is naturally resistant to mold, mildew, bacteria, and mites. While rare, some babies are allergic to natural latex. (Do not confuse natural latex with synthetic latex. Synthetic latex is made from petroleum.)
- Conventional cotton (i.e. not organic) is heavily sprayed with pesticides. Choose organic cotton if you can.
- Boric acid or silica is sometimes added to wool mattresses and may not be listed on the label, so be sure to ask. These natural additives are safer than chemicals, but may cause temporary eye or respiratory irritation.
- Most bamboo fabrics on the market are not a natural alternative. Turning durable bamboo into a soft material requires such heavy processing, that it is mostly synthetic by the time it has become a fabric. If the label says the bamboo has been processed “mechanically” (or is labeled as “bamboo linen”), then it is a safer and more eco-friendly alternative. However bamboo linen is expensive, so most bamboo fabrics on the market today are chemically produced.
- Soybean foam is not a natural alternative. It is primarily a petroleum-based foam that has been partially replaced with some soy product.
- Just because a label lists a chemical that is “not known” to be dangerous, does not mean that it safe. It just means that it has not yet been tested.
- Unless the mattress specifically says 100% organic, an organic mattresses may still be covered in synthetic materials or treated with chemicals. Check the website’s product description or ask the salesperson when buying in-store to be sure.
- Both Greenguard and GOTS certifications are fairly comprehensive in regards to harmful chemicals and are highly regarded.
- GOTS is the most robust certification available for crib mattresses and covers the final product, the methods and chemicals in manufacturing, and the safety of workers throughout the production process.