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A Quest For a Healthy Mattress

The following blog post was written by Rachel Koller, a long-time TFF volunteer, on her experiences while shopping for a new mattress for her daughter.  

When my daughter turned 3 we knew it was time to get her into a twin bed.  This was a challenge not because we worried about her wandering around in the middle of the night without the confines of a crib, but because it involved buying a new mattress, and we are picky consumers.  We have “lofty” goals when buying furniture: avoid chemical flame retardants, and protect indoor air quality.  We also believe that a mattress should be comfortable, durable, and affordable.  Would this be too much to ask?

I know the best options out there use natural materials, like wool, cotton, and natural latex. But they are spendy – starting at around $700 for a twin, and I wanted to see if there were options that were less expensive, but still addressed my chemical concerns.

First I went to Ikea, hoping to find an affordable solution.  I wanted a mattress immediately, not one that would have to sit in our garage offgassing for 6 months before it could come inside.  This means avoiding PVC, polyurethane foam, and memory foam. The lower-priced Ikea mattresses had enough synthetic materials that they didn’t pass my sniff test.   I could have purchased their Sultan Erfjord natural/synthetic latex combo but it still cost $699, and I’d rather support  a smaller USA based mattress company at that price.

My husband and I had been sleeping on a natural latex mattress from Soaring Heart Natural Bed Company for years, so I knew they might be an option for us.  Straight from Ikea we drove to their shop in Seattle (where they make all the products), and found a kids cotton/wool futon that was appealing.  The only downside is that the cotton is treated with boric acid powder for flame retardancy. They do make an organic cotton version without any boric acid powder, but it is double the price.  We ended up with the kids cotton/wool futon – spent $365 on the futon, then more for the cotton mattress pad and wool pad (to protect from the inevitable accidents).  For alternative mattress protection, we did buy Ikea’s PVC-free mattress protector which is cheap and effective, with the idea we’d use it as backup while my daughter is learning to potty train through the night.

Something I really love about Soaring Heart is that they can rebuild or “fluff” your futon in the future, right in their Seattle workshop. It’s a product that can be refurbished as needed, instead of heading straight for the landfill when it gets tired.

The futon worked for us because 1) my daughter is petite, and they said people under  150 lbs won’t feel the bed slats under the futon, 2) I’ll make the effort in the summer to air it out in the hot sun (which makes a big difference in keeping it comfortable), and 3) we believe that unlike parents’  bodies which are prone to aches and pains, kids’ lithe bodies  can do fine on a firmer surface.

The bottom line is, everyone has their own idea of what defines a comfortable mattress – soft, firm, springy…  and that influences a purchase.  If money were no object, I’d jump on the all natural materials mattress with no chemical flame retardants, but for those on a budget compromises must be made.  Hopefully someday we’ll have many more options for affordable, chemical-free mattresses.  Till then, the Soaring Heart cotton/wool futon will work for us, and my daughter happily jumped into her new big bed!

Here at TFF, Staff Scientist Erika Schreder also sleeps on a Soaring Heart mattress, while Field Organizer Anna Dyer sleeps on a Naturepedic mattress.

Image courtesy of Naturepedic