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Fire Retardants and Chemicals 27 Jul 2015 08:41 #1

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Hi - In trying to find a new mattress and evaluating my top picks, I've hit a decision point that I could use some help with. I visited a store that sells prescription only mattresses free of fire retardants. That hadn't been on my radar, but now I'm looking into it and hearing about how much worse fire retardants got in 2007 and how bad certain kinds of foam can be in and of themselves. Looking back, I can associate certain minor health issues with getting a memory foam topper for my spring mattress, but I'm not sure. I just don't want to spend a lot of money on something that is bad for me and with a family history with cancer, I want to be especially careful. What are your thoughts are on this issue?

Specifically: Are current fire retardants in mattresses dangerous to health? Do all mattresses have them other than the prescription variations? Are certain kinds of foam in general dangerous to health? How much of a difference is there between certipur mattresses, prescription chemical free mattresses, and normal mattresses in terms of harmful carcinogens and other harmful chemicals? Would a latex mattress from a national chain have fire retardants and chemicals (specifically Haynes Restonic Utopia mattresses, which they claim are 100% Talalay Latex)? Do memory foam pillows and box springs have them as well?

Thanks for any help you can provide.

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Fire Retardants and Chemicals 27 Jul 2015 08:51 #2

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If anyone else has knowledge or experiences they'd like to share around this issue, I'd love to hear!

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Fire Retardants and Chemicals 27 Jul 2015 09:06 #3

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Hi AT,

Hi - In trying to find a new mattress and evaluating my top picks, I've hit a decision point that I could use some help with. I visited a store that sells prescription only mattresses free of fire retardants. That hadn't been on my radar, but now I'm looking into it and hearing about how much worse fire retardants got in 2007 and how bad certain kinds of foam can be in and of themselves. Looking back, I can associate certain minor health issues with getting a memory foam topper for my spring mattress, but I'm not sure. I just don't want to spend a lot of money on something that is bad for me and with a family history with cancer, I want to be especially careful. What are your thoughts are on this issue?

How much of a difference is there between certipur mattresses, prescription chemical free mattresses, and normal mattresses in terms of harmful carcinogens and other harmful chemicals? Would a latex mattress from a national chain have fire retardants and chemicals (specifically Haynes Restonic Utopia mattresses, which they claim are 100% Talalay Latex)? Do memory foam pillows and box springs have them as well?


There is more information in post #2 here and the more detailed posts and information it links to about safe, natural, organic, "chemical free", and "green" mattresses and mattress materials that can help you sort through some of the marketing information and terminology that you will encounter in the industry and can help you differentiate between them and answer "how natural is natural enough for me" or "how safe is safe enough for me" so you can make more "fact based" choices on the types of materials and components you are most comfortable having in your mattress. These types of issues can be complex and are generally specific to each person and their individual sensitivities, circumstances, criteria, beliefs, and lifestyle choices.

Specifically: Are current fire retardants in mattresses dangerous to health? Do all mattresses have them other than the prescription variations?


Fire retardant chemicals have never been mandatory. What is required is that a mattress pass the 16 CFR 1632 and 1633 fire regulations with or without the use of fire retardant chemicals (the method of passing the regulations isn't specified in the regulations). The most common method used to pass the regulations is the use of inherent fire barrier fabrics that are either quilted into the cover or are wrapped around the inner materials of the mattress like a sock. There is more information about fire retardant methods that are commonly used in the industry in post #2 here and in post #4 here .

There is a lot of misleading information in the industry about fire retardants and "chemicals" ranging from "fear mongering" on one side to completely minimizing fire retardants from being an issue at all on the other. Like most issues that arouse strong feelings or controversy the most reliable and "accurate" information tends to be in between both polar extremes.

Phoenix
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Fire Retardants and Chemicals 27 Jul 2015 11:05 #4

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Here's a bit of information about the fire resistant material commonly used today in the mattress industry:

Viscose rayon fiber is often blended with polyester , and perhaps other fire resistant fibers to create an “inherent” fire resistant barrier. “Inherent” means that there are no chemical additives or finishes used to achieve the fire resistant feature of this barrier, and these barriers are usually referred to as non-toxic (your own personal definition of course may differ). This type of a barrier is commonly used in the form of a "sock" that fits over the mattress materials, or a mattress pad-like fitting that is placed over the foams, or more commonly as a thin fiber batting layer that is quilted to the reverse side of the mattress ticking material.

To achieve this fire resistance, the viscose rayon fiber is commonly combined with silica during the fiber extrusion process. When exposed to an open flame, the polyester and the cellulosic portion of the viscose rayon will burn away, but the silica will remain to form a char barrier that will interrupt the flame enough to prevent the mattress components from catching fire during the timeframe mandated by CPSC 16 CFR Part 1633 .

As viscose rayon is a bio-based textile with a raw material of cellulose (derived from trees, eucalyptus, cotton, thistle, etc.), some refer to it as natural. However, this fiber is certainly man-made through the use of various chemical and mechanical processes and is not found naturally in nature. And as the viscose rayon used in most mattress FR barriers is blended with polyester and other materials (for fire resistance, loft, ease of handling or elasticity), and referring to them as “natural” or “more natural” could certainly be considered a stretch of the truth. At the very least you’d want to lay out the framework of the comparison.

There are many other ways to create a fire resistant batting layer. Here’s another one .

When people ask about a non-chemical fire resistant barrier, they’re usually looking for something completely natural, like wool. I’d advise that you check first with the manufacturer to find out exactly what they are using for their FR barrier, and then do your own objective learning about those particular products. When researching, I would be especially skeptical of the recent proliferation of sites dedicated to specific brands where promo coupons are offered for purchases of those particular mattresses. These sites tend to simply parrot the claims of the manufacturers they promote, and it’s one of the ways many of the newer online brands are currently marketing their products. Rely more upon information from unrelated sites and organizations, like The Mattress Underground.

There's also quite a bit of greenwashing in the mattress industry, with claims that every mattress made (perhaps except the particular mattress that a website may be promoting) is drenched in chemicals that will cause your ultimate demise. That's why I again recommend that you be provided with the type of FR barrier used in a product that you are considering and make up your own mind what you personally feel is or isn't safe. I can say that most brands use variations of the FR fiber I described previously, or use wool for a more natural style of FR barrier. Some brands will produce a product without any FR barrier with a note from your healthcare provider (like a latex line I offer).
Jeff Scheuer, The Beducator™ Owner of Mattress To Go
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Last edit: by MattressToGo. Reason: added link

Fire Retardants and Chemicals 28 Jul 2015 12:28 #5

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Thanks Phoenix and MattressToGo for the information. I will ask specifically about what is used as a fire resistant barrier in my discussions with folks from now on. I

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Fire Retardants and Chemicals 30 Jul 2015 15:56 #6

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I bought a Dunlop mattress without fire retardants using a prescription - one great thing about it to me was that it made the mattress purchase tax free, saving me about $100. I don't like chemicals, and didn't want wool on the mattress, so I did obtain multiple benefits by choosing this option.

For those concerned that they might be making a terrible mistake by avoiding fire retardants, I would remind people that for years and years people slept on mattresses that wouldn't meet today's current standards, and people are still sleeping on mattresses that were bought before the current regulations were put in place.

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Fire Retardants and Chemicals 30 Jul 2015 16:26 #7

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Hi Clawdia,

For those concerned that they might be making a terrible mistake by avoiding fire retardants, I would remind people that for years and years people slept on mattresses that wouldn't meet today's current standards, and people are still sleeping on mattresses that were bought before the current regulations were put in place.


Just to include the other side of the same issue ... some of the chemicals that were more frequently used in older mattresses (including to pass the previous fire regulations) such as PBDE's and pthalates are now either banned or are no longer used because they are no longer considered to be safe.

Older mattresses would also have contained more chemicals that are now on the California Proposition 65 list as well since there is now more information available (although still not nearly enough) about chemicals that were more widely used that are now considered to be unsafe.

Phoenix
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Last edit: by phoenix.

Fire Retardants and Chemicals 31 Jul 2015 10:17 #8

this was one of my main concerns when shopping for mattresses for my children and for my wife and me. in the process of driving myself insane by going down every single rabbit hole of research for each claim and counter-claim (no matter how outlandish it seemed on its face), i found this series of articles which shed light on the various angles of "green" and "clean" and includes the most common FR techniques

part I
part II
part III

the most pertinent stuff on FR is toward the end of part II, but i liked the broad overview, particularly since FR isn't the only potential source of health concern. hopefully it helps.

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Fire Retardants and Chemicals 31 Jul 2015 13:13 #9

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Thanks Robb, Clawdia, and Pheonix -- terrific info!

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Fire Retardants and Chemicals 31 Jul 2015 20:12 #10

one other thing i thought of. i received this email from the people at nest bedding:

...the 3 most common non-chemical fire retardant materials in our industry are boron wool and silica. I don't use wool because the vegan aspect and not a big fan of silica. You can buy boron supplements at any health food store as its a natural element and used properly (not loosely in powder form) it makes for a very good fire barrier. Here's more www.jonesfiber.com/safety-durability.html

I am strongly against any chemical fire barriers and you'll notice your new bed has no scent of foam or chemicals


i will be ordering all latex mattresses for my children from buis mattress here in michigan using a prescription. the fire barrier is organic cotton and wool with no boron or silica, but apparently it won't pass federal testing because the latex fuel load is too high.

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