All About Mattress Flame Retardants

February 24, 2021

All About Mattress Flame Retardants

Safety Regulations and Mattress Flame Retardants

According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission's safety regulations issued in 2007, it's required that all mattresses contain flame retardants, so they can withstand open flame exposure for a sustained time period.

These guidelines were put forth in order to create safer products that could withstand exposure to fire for longer time periods in case there was an accident, from a cigarette or candle for example, you'd have enough time to get out of bed, extinguish the fire, and exit your home safely.

Anytime chemicals are introduced to common products in the household, the public becomes concerned, so it's not surprising there's been a great deal of controversy over if flame retardant mattresses are actually safe or not.

However, there are mattresses that have safe flame retardants, and you'll learn more about that below. But first, you should learn a little something about flame retardants.

What Is a Flame Retardant?

Flame retardant refers to a chemical or natural material layer used for ensuring the mattress meets flammability standards. They're applied to common materials such as:

  • Electronics
  • Furniture
  • Construction and building material
  • Transportation products
  • Mattresses

This is to prevent fire from starting, or slowly growing.

How Do Flame Retardants Work?

Fire retardants can do a couple of things. They can start a chemical reaction for blocking fire ignition, and stop or slow down a fire.

Fire retardants that are responsible for stopping the chemical reaction do so during the solid phase or gas phase of combustion. The fire retardant breaks down the polymers.

Those fire retardants that stop or slow down a fire cool down the material. They'll form a layer of protection on the material surface. This releases carbon dioxide and water, which dilutes the flame's chemical reaction.

What Products Often Contain Flame Retardants?

You'll find flame retardant chemicals in a large range of products, such as:

  • Electronics
  • Building Insulation
  • Upholstered furniture
  • Vehicles
  • Carpet Padding
  • Mattresses
  • Baby products

In your house, they could emit in the form of dust from upholstered furniture, or they could get on your hands after you've used plastic electronic things, like a remote control.

What are the Health Risks of Chemical Flame Retardants

While flame retardants could provide benefits when they're added to certain products, there's evidence showing many of these chemicals are linked with adverse health effects in humans and animals. These include:

  1. Endocrine and Thyroid Disruption

Toxic effects like carcinogenicity, neurotoxicity, and teratogenicity have been observed for certain BFR congeners, especially the brominated diphenyl ethers (BDEs). There was a review that focused on BFRs potency, and how they disrupt endocrine systems. Evidence is provided on thyroid hormone system disruption by BFRs, which special emphasis on BDEs.

  1. Impacts to the Immune System

There's growing evidence that a lot of flame retardant chemicals could impact the immune, endocrine, nervous, and reproductive systems. Certain animal studies show long-term flame retardant exposure could cause cancer.

  1. Reproductive Toxicity

Research studied the reproductive toxicity of a combination of tetrabromobisphenol A, decabromodiphenyl ether (BDE-209), lead acetate (PbAc), and cadmium chloride at the environmentally relevant levels. The combination exposure led to reduced sperm density and motility in men, and decreased egg production in women.

  1. Cancer

Increased chemical exposure used as fire retardants might be linked with papillary thyroid cancer, which in the U.S., is increasing at a fast rate.

  1. Hindered Neurologic Function

New research indicates certain chemicals correlate to hindered brain function and development, and could be especially harmful to newborns and young kids in their most developmentally crucial years.

Kids might be especially susceptible to these chemicals' toxic effects, since their brain and organs are still developing. Plus they have a higher risk of being exposed to flame retardants because of their increased floor proximity, and hand-to-mouth behavior. Researchers have found higher flame retardant concentrations in kids' bodies than adults.

What are the Harmful Chemical Flame Retardants in Mattresses to Avoid?

There are several flame retardant chemicals that are more toxic and dangerous than others. These are:

  1. Polybrominated Diphenyl Ethers (PBDEs)

PBDEs are among the earliest flame retardants often used in furniture items and mattresses. They were used in the foam parts of mattresses, and could be very dangerous.

  1. Boric Acid

This chemical is water soluble, meaning your skin could easily absorb it while you're sleeping. Since you primarily use boric acid to kill roaches, it's probably not something you'll want to be sleeping on each night.

  1. Antimony Trioxide

While this chemical isn't as water soluble as boric acid, the chemical could still rise to the mattress's surface if it gets wet (saliva, urine, etc.). It can also become airborne as you use the mattress. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) labels it toxic.

  1. Decabromodiphenyl Oxide

Often called Deca, this fire retardant is similar to PDBE. It's also not like boric acid in that it's extremely water soluble, but things can still wick it to the surface like:

  • Urine
  • Sweat
  • Water spills
  • Saliva
  1. Melamine

Melamine is highly water soluble. It can be brought to a mattress's surface easily, and your skin can absorb it. The FDA found when melamine is absorbed into the bloodstream, it can crystalize, and damage renal cells, which could cause kidney damage.

  1. Vinylidene Chloride

This fire retardant is less commonly used in mattresses, but when it is, it can also rise to the surface when the mattress becomes wet. Negative effects of extended exposure are mainly towards the central nervous system.

What are Safe Mattress Flame Retardants?

Mattresses are required to have flame retardants in them, so they pass flammability safety tests, but this doesn't mean the flame retardants used in the mattresses must be toxic chemicals. A Lot of mattress manufacturers choose to use safe and natural alternatives such as latex, wool, and rayon. These are safer material options that are natural flame retardants.

  1. Latex

Latex is a popular choice. Mattresses constructed with natural latex are made from the rubber tree sap. However, just because a mattress says it's latex, doesn't mean it's totally free of fire retardants. There are mattresses that are constructed with synthetic latex and other blends, so be sure to do your research.

  1. Wool

Many manufacturers are using wool in their mattresses because of its naturally fire retardant innate properties. Wool can hold as much as 30% of its entire weight in moisture, meaning that a substantially higher temperature would be needed to ignite. It burns extremely slowly, charring and smoldering, giving off very minimal heat.

  1. Rayon

Inherent rayon is a type of fiber that's also becoming growingly popular due to it being able to pass flammability tests, and it's low manufacturing cost. Inherent rayon, however, isn't natural, like some manufacturers will have you believe. The production process does involve chemically-altered purified cellulose.

How  to Choose a Safe Fire-Resistant Mattress?

To choose a flame retardant mattress that's safe, be sure you stay away from those mattresses constructed with toxic chemicals like PBDEs, and choose certified mattresses instead that use materials like rayon, latex, and wool. One great mattress to consider is the Eco Terra Hybrid Latex Mattress.

This mattress is uncompromising, pure, and made with natural talalay latex. It's non-toxic and safe, so you can sleep in peace knowing your mattress doesn't contain any toxins or polyurethane.

Eco Terra goes beyond standard manufacturing in order to bring you more comfortable, healthier sleep. It uses natural Talalay OEKO-TEX Standard 100 Certified latex that comes from sustainable growers. And, it uses GOLS certified organic wool, which is naturally flame-resistant and temperature regulating. No chemicals are needed.

Shop for your Eco Terra Hybrid Latex Mattress Today

When you compare an Eco Terra Hybrid latex mattress with other latex mattresses, you'll see the very clear differences. Eco Terra handcrafts our mattresses from single-origin, certified organic materials with zero harmful chemicals or toxins. You can sleep peacefully, knowing your mattress won't contain any chemical adhesives, polyurethane, or chemical fire retardants.

Plus, you receive free shipping in the contiguous U.S., and a 15-year warranty.

Patrick Gunther

Patrick is an accomplished writer. He has been in the retail mattress space for the past 13 years, and more specifically in the natural mattress niche. He blogs on the subjects of natural mattresses, sleep, health, fitness, and green living.