Toxic Mattresses

Interesting blog post about a woman who got very sick from being in the same house as her new mattress - scary - important to read this before you order a new mattress

By buying just the materials to make your own mattress you can avoid all the chemicals they are now putting into mattresses. There also was a very interesting article in the NY Times recently about possibly why there are so many toxic chemicals on the mattresses we (and our children) sleep on.


Thanks for sharing the link. It’s amazing to me how sensitive some people can be (there have been a few posters on the forum as well with MCS or multiple chemical sensitivity) and they certainly do face a daily challenge in avoiding the chemicals that are so endemic in modern society.

I should also mention though that while it has some good information, It also contains some “myth” or inaccuracies that are often repeated across many websites but that aren’t supported by any research of facts that I’m aware of. If everyone needed to follow her guidelines or what she believes is “best” then everyone would face the same daily challenge that she was when it wasn’t necessary or even desirable. This is not uncommon in the organic community in my experience when the desire for a “natural” or even “organic” lifestyle to a greater degree than most people would be comfortable with is often based on beliefs that don’t fully stand up to scrutiny or don’t “weigh in” any evidence that goes against what they believe.

A few examples of these kinds of statements in the blog includes …

This is actually (and factually) not correct. 1633 only requires that a mattress pass the test before it can be sold (or a prescription which can allow a manufacturer to make a mattress without them) and there are several methods of passing the test that don’t use toxic chemicals … even though some manufacturers do use them.

This is also not accurate and there are many manufacturers who successfully pass the test using wool that doesn’t have any chemicals added. The fact that wool can burn has nothing to do with this (and this myth seems to originate on the Strobel site here which makes the same claim and then uses a completely misleading video using a single strand of knitting wool to justify it). The fact is that the fire barrier may burn but the fire code is meant to prevent flashover which mean that the flame needs to be self extinguishing and not grow to consume the whole mattress and wool without any chemicals added can do very well with this if it is done correctly. You can see an article here by someone who I greatly respect and is an expert at passing the fire retardant tests about how untreated densified wool can be used to pass 1633. Post #2 here also includes links to two videos that show the actual testing for two mattresses that use only wool as the fire retardant method.

This is another myth or at best a partial truth and it doesn’t take into account that there are different types of Silica besides “silica glass” (crystalline) and they don’t pose a respiratory hazard at all in the form they are used in an inherent viscose/silica fire barrier. As the link shows, Crystalline Silica is the form that can cause Silicosis and is both toxic and fibrogenic. Amorphous silica is toxic but not fibrogenic, and silica gel or silicic acid (the form in inherent fire barrier fabrics) is neither toxic or fibrogenic. You can read more about this in post #2 here but I would consider a viscose/silica fire barrier to be a very safe material.

This also doesn’t take into account that Boric acid/Boron/Borate doesn’t kill roaches because of its toxicity but because it dehydrates them (similar to how salt would). The LD50 level of Boron#10 for example (@3765 mg/kg) is similar to the LD50 level of table salt (with ingestion which is the most toxic type of exposure) in terms of its toxicity so again the specifics can make the difference.

This is also completely untrue.

I personally think that any information that is weighted too much in any direction or that misrepresents more complex issues with oversimplifications or misleading statements tends to miss the point that there are a wide range of different people with different needs, preferences, and priorities that may be just as valid to them as the rather unique needs and preferences of the person who wrote the article. In many cases they want to believe so much in what they are saying and that it always applies to others besides themselves that they build “pieces of the truth” and make more absolute statements that are presented as “all of the truth” instead of just a piece of it. This doesn’t do anyone any favors IMO … least of all the credibility of the rest of what they are saying which does have much more basis in fact.

This doesn’t mean that fire retardant chemicals don’t cause harm (they certainly can) or that there isn’t more to the story (you can see a great Chicago Tribune multi-part article here that exposes some of the myths and real motivations behind the 1633 fire retardant regulations) but only that partial truths that are promoted by either side of the argument can do more harm than good.

These kinds of articles can be really valuable for those who are in a similar more extreme position and don’t know where to turn any more to find answers but in most cases this only involves a very small percentage of the population.

There is also more information about fire barriers in post #4 here and in post #4 here that would also be well worth reading.


Phoenix, Thank you so much for keeping up my post, and your in depth reply! Wow, reading all the myths and contradictions, I am sure glad I do no longer have to go to bed wondering and worrying about all of this!

Given your experience and expertise, I would love to also hear your input on the NY Times article published last September. I would think the Times woudhave the best fact checkers out there, so I do take what they are telling me seriously. If you cannot read the article through the link let me know and I can send you a copy.

This is the point (quoted from the NY Times article
How Dangerous Is Your Couch? September 6, 2012) that upset me as a mother:

"The problem is that flame retardants don’t seem to stay in foam. High concentrations have been found in the bodies of creatures as geographically diverse as salmon, peregrine falcons, cats, whales, polar bears and Tasmanian devils. Most disturbingly, a recent study of toddlers in the United States conducted by researchers at Duke University found flame retardants in the blood of every child they tested. The chemicals are associated with an assortment of health concerns, including antisocial behavior, impaired fertility, decreased birth weight, diabetes, memory loss, undescended testicles, lowered levels of male hormones and hyperthyroidism. "

And this point was something that really convinced me it was time to get rid of all the foam in my house (this is a quote from the same article):

"One of those talents is a fire-safety scientist named Vytenis Babrauskas, who is considered a leading authority on furniture flammability. Babrauskas, the former head of the combustion-toxicology program for the National Institute of Standards and Technology, runs the consulting firm Fire Science and Technology in Issaquah, Wash. For many years, the chemical industry quoted his studies in support of Technical Bulletin 117, particularly one he did at the standards institute in 1987 in which a room filled with flame-retardant-treated chairs and electronics was set ablaze and compared with one in which the same furnishings were free of flame retardants. The oft-quoted result of the study was that the treated furnishings provided a fifteen fold increase in escape time.

That, after all, is the reason TB 117 exists — to keep people from dying when their couch catches on fire. “Deaths caused by furniture fires dropped from 1,400 in 1980 to 600 in 2004; a 57 percent reduction,” Chemtura wrote in response to my questions.

Three years ago, Blum contacted Babrauskas and invited him to attend a keynote address she was giving at a scientific meeting in Seattle. Afterward, they went on a hike. By the time the day was over, he had become her most potent ally in the battle against TB 117. It turned out that Babrauskas felt his study results had been distorted. He used a lot of flame retardants, he says, far more than anyone would ever put in a piece of furniture sold to consumers. “What I did not realize would happen is that the industry would take that data and try to misapply it to fire retardants in general,” he says. "

Since I feel we cannot trust the data on fire safety, I have chosen to only use a filling for my mattresses that I have fire tested myself. I took a pile of buckwheat hulls and a small lump of foam and set both on fire. The foam exploded into flames and burned for a long time, burning blue with lots of black smoke. The hulls tried to ignite and did so for a split second, and then extinguished themselves (similar to wool). I felt more confident with my own burn test, much more than a pile of data interpreted by a specific industry.

To answer your question of why I no longer recommend or include the latex layer in my Mattress Kits: I do not trust what anyone says about what is really in it. I do trust Mother Nature. We have a choice what materials we sleep, relax, and snuggle with our babies on, and given the above information, I simply have chosen not to use foam in my home and I do not feel comfortable selling it to others.

Also, I have changed my mind on what a quality mattress is. The thought of a mattress doubling it’s weight from soaking in 10 - 25 years of dust mites and dust mite debris does not ring quality to my ears. An all natural mattress I made myself, that I know exactly what it is filled with, that I can empty and wash in the washing machine and hull filling that I can spread out in the sunshine to be air cleaned? That is quality in my mind.

Thanks again Phoenix for allowing this conversation!


Although it’s talking about furniture which is slightly different from mattresses (which usually use barrier fabrics) … I think the NY Times article is right on the money (not surprisingly since they did their homework). Most mattresses use some type of barrier fire retardant system (unlike the furniture they are talking about) but they also use fire retardant foams in many cases which are a source of some “nasty” chemicals IMO. I also think that some glues and even plywood can be sources of some undesirable offgassing.

Part of the problem is that the mattresses industry used to have to comply with 1632 which is a smouldering cigarette test they talk about in the article. This was easier to pass without the use of extensive chemicals. In 2007, a law was passed (1633) which said that mattresses also now had to pass a blowtorch test and not only that but every mattress had to pass both tests separately (meaning two mattresses had to be burned). IMO … this was a politically motivated decision and the costs of passing it has driven many smaller manufacturers out of business (which some people believe was one of the goals behind the law). In many cases this new test can need a combination of fire retardant methods to pass and fire retardant foams can be one of these.

So I also think that chemicals in fire retardant foams are “problematic” and I personally would avoid them although I have much less of a problem with either a wool fire retardant barrier or a viscose/silica barrier which I personally believe are both very safe and don’t contain any harmful chemicals (or at least the better versions don’t).

FWIW … there is now a Dunlop latex foam made by Latex Green which has been certified organic (both the raw materials and the foam manufacturing methods and ingredients are both certified). The standard that was used is a new standard called GOLS (Global Organic Latex Standard) which is similar to G.O.T.S. (Global Organic Textile Standard).

A mattress doubling its weight over a period of years is another urban myth that has become quite popular because of a Wall Street Journal story but it has been debunked as a fiction. Like so much else in the industry … one incorrect source feeds another until i takes on the “aura” of truth just because it has been repeated so often. Of course that’s not to say that dist mites and their byproducts aren’t an issue for many people (because of course they are) … but these types of stories are often just “created” out of thin air and have little substance.

More connected to your mattresses though … do you have both buckwheat hulls and millet hulls and what type of maintenance to they require? Do you need to fluff up the topper like a down topper to remove the impressions from sleeping on them or does it even make a difference? Is there an expected lifespan?


Thanks for your insight, I wonder why the furniture industry and the mattress industry have different regulations regarding foam. I still prefer to not have to keep up with all of the regulations, it seems like it can be a full time job.

Buckwheat hull mattresses do need to be fluffed as buckwheat hulls nest into one another and compact. The “fluffing” takes only a few seconds though. I like to roll my toppers up during the day, and unroll them at night before I go to sleep. That way they always feel like new.

I have been sleeping on the same buckwheat hulls for about 3 years now and I do not see or feel any signs of them wearing out. I am sure all buckwheat hulls are different and the weight of the person sleeping on them would also be a factor in how long they would last. Each year will also produce a different hull with a different life span. For example, I notice this years hulls are a bit more dry, possibly due to some drought conditions we had. I can see these breaking down a bit faster. Plant material is designed to break down, so I know eventually my original hulls will degrade and need to be replaced. I will use them for mulch in my garden, refilling my current mattress design with a fresh batch.

I have not finalized my bulk millet hull order yet (I am still working some things out with the farm), but I hope to be offering them soon.


Sometimes I think that the main reason for many of the regulations are to keep the people who write them employed . Perhaps another reason is that they can provide some major benefits for some larger companies (such as the chemical companies in this case) which have very influential lobbyists whose goal is to help the companies sell more of what they make often under the “guise” of keeping people safer. I personally think that the new fire regulations that came into being in 2007 (1633) were misguided and have done more harm than good.

Thanks too for letting us know more about the buckwheat hulls. I have a couple more questions as well.

How would you compare the “feel” of the soft buckwheat topper and mattress to various foams or other materials in terms of softness and also in terms of how easy it is to move or change position on them (because they wouldn’t have the resiliency of a foam). This may give some people an idea of what they feel like to sleep on them.

I also remember when I slept on a buckwheat pillow (this was a few years ago) it had kind of a soft “rustling” sound to it. Are the mattresses similar to this as well?


A buckwheat hull mattress is very different from a foam mattress mostly due to the lack of the “spring” action. Yes, this makes it much harder to roll around and bounce out of bed, but it also provides a much sounder sleep for me. I used to have severe lower back pain and that is now completely gone, so I actually can now spring out of bed on my own power!

Here is how I describe a buckwheat hull mattress: Imagine laying on a sandy beach but the beach is much softer than a normal beach and you can sink into the sand a bit more by gently shifting you hips and shoulders. The sand slowly contours to your body and it packs you in a bit. You can dig your toes into your mattress just like you can on a beach, but without getting sand between your toes.

I can feel a few bulges from the Twist Mattress pattern (see photo) but they are not fighting me like a lumpy surface would, they are very forgiving so it feels nice, like a massage. I feel a slight stretch in my back and through my neck.

You may wonder if you are not used to it, “is this comfortable or not?” because it feels very firm and different to what you are used to describing as comfortable (soft and springy) which is comfortable when you are resting, relaxing for a short period of time.

When you wake up in the morning, there are wells created that are specifically designed for your body, because it was your body weight that made them. I feel I am supported exactly where I need to be and I find it hard to get out of bed in the morning, not because of the lack of spring, but because I am in such an absolutely comfortable position!

I have slept on many prototypes and variations of buckwheat hull mattresses over the last few years so I sometimes wonder if I gradually became accustomed to the buckwheat hulls and I wonder if it different for others who are making the switch in just one night. If I have to sleep away from home, I dread it and always look forward to coming back to sleep on my hulls. I have heard similar stories of people who cannot sleep without their buckwheat hull pillows.

If anyone has any further questions about sleeping on a buckwheat hull mattress, please let them know to feel free to contact me direct at [email protected]

Thanks for the conversation Pheonix, it has be a pleasure and very informative!


Ditto right back atcha :slight_smile:

I appreciate you sharing some good and helpful information about the options you have available.


Thank you so much for this information! I also read the blog post linked above and it sent me into a nearly month long research frenzy since we are currently looking for a mattress for our son. So glad to have found this site! We are now looking at the Ultimate Dreams mattress, in large part due to the reviews on this forum. Now that I think we have found our mattress, my next task is the foundation. We plan to place the mattress side by side with my older son’s mattress, which is on a traditional box spring (twin). I realize this question probably does not fit in well with this thread, so please feel free to move it, but do you know of a foundation for a latex mattress that would match the height of a traditional box spring? Thanks again!

Hi wembles,

I’ve never been a stickler on keeping all the threads exactly in line with one topic so there’s no problem posting here.

Are you looking to match the height of just the box spring of your older son’s bed or the mattress/foundation combination (so the top surface is the same height)?

If you are looking to match just the box spring height then I would measure the thickness and choose a foundation that matches it (there are several “standard” heights for a box spring or foundation but they will generally be about 8" - 10"). This is assuming that the frame that the box spring is sitting on is also the same height.

If you want to match the top surface of the mattresses, then you would need to measure the height from the top of your older son’s mattress to the floor and subtract the height of the Ultimate Dreams and the frame and that would leave you with the height you need for the foundation.

There are some good foundation options in the foundation thread here. Since the Ultimate Dreams is a polyfoam/latex hybrid then it’s not as important that the spacing between the slats are 3" or less so any of them would be fine.


Thanks for the reply (I realize it was a couple weeks ago–I did see it then!). We are definitely ordering the Ultimate Dreams mattress in December. I read through the foundation thread and that was helpful, too. My follow-up question comes as we have been discussing bunking my sons’ beds in the future (probably 2 years off, but we’d like to get the bed and use them as twin frames in the mean time). We are considering a set like this (although, not this exact one necessarily):

I haven’t seen info anywhere on whether latex mattresses are too heavy to be bunkable…I do know the slats on the pictured bed are too far apart, but I thought it might be possible to add slats or purchase an IKEA base (like this one: Products - IKEA). My concern would be the lack of middle support for the top bunk. Do you think that is a valid concern, or with a twin is the weight not a problem?

Thanks again for your help!

Hi wembles,

With a latex hybrid that only has 3" of latex on top the weight wouldn’t be much different from a typical memory foam mattress that had a similar thickness of 5 lb memory foam on top. I would think this would be fine for most bunkbeds.

With an all latex mattress … the core layers would be much heavier than polyfoam so the bunkbed would need to be stronger. In this case I would ask the manufacturer (or retailer) if the bunkbed was designed to hold the combined weight of the mattress and your son. If it was well made and solid wood I don’t think this would be an issue although getting the mattress up to the top bunk or rotating the bed or lifting it to tuck in the sheets and make the bed may be more difficult. You would also need narrower “gaps” with a latex core and a bunkie board would probably be a good idea over slats in the bunkbed that have wider spacing.

The Ikea slats you linked to should also work well (as an alternative to a bunkie board) as long if they can be attached directly to the bed in a way that they have no risk of shifting (and falling through) and provided a rigid even surface for the mattress.