Your bed is supposed to be the place where you can rest your weary head and let the day’s worries fade away.
But some heath and environmental activists fear our beds — and sofas and other household products — could be making us sick.
At issue are chemical materials that can be found in some vinyl products, paints and furniture, including “VOCs.” That’s shorthand for volatile organic compounds, which can be found in solvents, protective coatings and flame retardants, among other things.
Critics say that health risks linked to these chemicals vary widely, and can include eye, nose and throat irritation; headaches and nausea, while extended exposure can lead to far more severe risks, such as damage to the liver, kidney and central nervous system. Others say such fears have been overstated and note the safety reasoning behind some chemicals such as federally mandated flame retardants, which are intended to limit the spread and intensity of a fire.
Unfortunately, there’s no easy answer. And buying a bed labeled “organic” is not cheap, and “it may be hard to guarantee that ‘organic mattresses’ do not also contain some flame retardants, plasticizers or anti-stain agents,” says Charles J. Weschler, an adjunct professor at the Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences Institute at Rutgers University in New Jersey.
Use of chemical materials can be so widespread that “it is impossible to know if replacing a mattress will make a meaningful difference in exposure to these chemicals in the home,” says Sonya Lunder, a senior analyst with the Environmental Working Group. “Certified organic wool, latex and cotton materials are more natural and renewable resources. Many do not need additional chemical treatments to be fire-resistant, but check with manufacturers to make sure.”
Indeed, the term “natural,” whether it’s being applied to food or mattresses, can be meaningless.
We turned to the experts at Consumer Reports for advice, in particular their guide to “Organic Mattress Labels You Can Trust.” They note that this is a rapidly evolving area of manufacturing, and suggest looking for these green certification labels before you buy: the Global Organic Textile Standard label (GOTS), and, for mattresses that contain latex, the Global Organic Latex Standard label (GOLS).