I always recommend making a safe, natural mattress one of your top purchasing priorities. It's a large investment, but very worthwhile when you consider what we know (and don't know) about chemicals used in mattresses:
- No real regulations governing what materials can be used and no label required for consumer information
- Commonly filled with polyurethane foam, which is well known for containing chemical catalysts, surfactants, emulsifiers, pigments, and other chemical additives, including formaldehyde, benzene, toluene. The side effects for these chemicals are numerous and can include cardiac arrhythmia, breathlessness, chest discomfort, irritation of mucous membranes, headache, coughing, asthma-like allergic reaction, weakness, fatigue, nausea
- Nearly always doused with brominated flame retardants
But what if you simply can't afford to make the investment right now? I say start saving up and wrap your mattress in the meantime.
- Keep in mind that fumes are tiny particles that can move through almost any covering with space between the tiniest pores, so organic cotton, wool or latex barriers will NOT provide much protection from the outgassing chemicals
- You must use a non-porous material to wrap your mattress, but do not use the typical waterproof covers because they're made from vinyl (PVC) which has will give off its own set of toxic fumes
- Polyethylene plastic encasements will get the job done if they are the right thickness and density so the gasses won’t be able to penetrate, and as we've said in the past, polyethylene is considered one of the safest plastic available (it has a simple molecular structure that doesn't require toxic chemical additives)
As for how thick a polyethylene cover should be, Healthy Child recommends at least 125 microns, or 5 mil. They also warn that it should be white (or a cloudy clear) and not colored so you know what you're really buying is polyethylene, not some other type of plastic. BabeSafe makes a cover to the right specifications for crib mattresses, but not for larger sizes. So while there are plenty of polyethylene mattress covers available, you need to contact the manufacturer to confirm that it's the correct thickness.
For situations where you're co-sleeping with a child in your bed, you might also consider Naturepedic makes a waterproof pad with a thin film of plastic between the organic cotton layers which may block some of the off-gassing from the top of larger mattresses. Another interesting solution suggested by Debra Lynn Dadd is to wrap your mattress with foil insulation, such as Reflectix, which is a layer of foil fused to two layers of polyethylene plastic.
And if you're thinking about how noisy your once-peaceful nights will become – you're right! That's why this is just a temporary fix until you can afford to buy a safe mattress.