Is Your Child’s Bed or Crib Toxic?

A disturbing subject and confusing topic for parents is the toxic sleep environment their children’s mattress or pillows might be creating. I’ve avoided writing this article for many months because I wanted to properly research and frankly, my head couldn’t take any more surprises. I regret procrastinating for so long because once you read this article, you’ll want to make changes.  After spending hours talking with Chelsea, the co-founder of Sleepy Sheep, I have valuable information that can help you determine, rectify, and shop for healthy alternatives if you want your beds to become a truly healthy place where your children, babies, and family can get a restful sleep.

If you are purchasing duvets, mattresses, pillows or simply checking labels on current products in your home, 3 main categories need to be looked at – especially with researching mattresses and pillows! Questions to ask include what materials are used in the production of the ‘outside’ of the product, ‘inside’ of the product and ‘treatment’ of the product – and I don’t mean asking it how they are feeling… <grin>  I mean if the product has been chemically treated.


The slippery coating on the outside of a crib mattress could be PVC, otherwise known as vinyl. This coating will off-gas because phthalates and plasticizers have been added to the PVC to make it bendy.  Phthalates are problematic within your baby or child’s bed because they are toxic to human health, can cause reproductive complications (developmentally in boys and fertility in both genders), and cause life-long allergies or asthma problems that begin as babies.


What is your mattress, duvet, or pillows filled with? A popular material inside all mattresses, including crib mattresses is polyurethane foam.  Don’t let another long ‘p’ word from the plastics world confuse you. Just think of polyurethane foam as plastic, made with petroleum that is highly flammable. I was having a hard time picturing this material and then I knew how to explain it to parents.  Most or you have received or purchased a Disney licensed foam chair or fold out couch. We’ve had a Pooh Bear chair for years and once had a Sesame Street foldout couch. The foam chairs are fuzzy on the outside, and then you notice the breakdown of yellow chunks coming out the bottom as the foam breaks down… this is polyurethane foam and it’s really disgusting. Not only highly flammable, polyurethane foam off gasses VOCs (volatile organic compounds), especially toluene, formaldehyde which are toxic chemicals found in stinky nail polish.  And with the flammability issue being a problem with fire regulations and the government – question number 3 comes along about what the filling is treated with.


Now that we’ve determined that the filling is flammable, what is it treated with? Besides the chemicals that are already in the filler (polyester, polyurethane foam, etc.) it is now also treated with flame retardants. We are protecting our children from a flammability issue by adding very toxic chemicals to our bed. Our mattresses and pillows are off-gassing us while we sleep. Exposure to flame retardants are so toxic they are a known cause of cancer – just Google brominated flame retardants and ask yourself if these chemicals should be anywhere near a child – especially a baby.  I was shocked to find out from Chelsea that wool is naturally flame retardant and therefore is not subject to chemical flame retardant treatments when it’s used to create mattresses, etc.

I know, I’ve stressed out every parent reading this. If it makes you feel better, I flipped over the queen mattress my younger son has slept on for the last 4 years and everything I’ve just written about was confirmed with reading the mattress tag…polyurethane foam as the only material listed. I also rounded up pillows until I found one with the tag still on it and saw 100% polyester. My nemesis of late – polyester!  Meaning we’ve all had our heads on plastic that has flame retardants in my house!  So trust me that I feel your pain and have equally stressed myself as well.

But all is not doom and gloom since I had several light-bulb moments while talking with Sleepy Sheep’s co-founder yesterday.  Chelsea gave me two very easy and low-cost steps you can make right away that will assist every bed in your home to become a healthier place….without having to budget for a wool mattress (not yet anyway).

Did you know that wool is naturally anti-bacterial, naturally flame resistant (!!), naturally breathable, and a natural allergen prohibitor because it’s a bad host to irritants such as dust mites?  Wool is the superior material used in organic or natural bedding, mattresses, and pillows because of these wonderfully natural properties. I find it so hard to believe that chemical flame retardants could be eliminated in our beds if they simply contained wool, rather than synthetic materials. I loved learning that if Chelsea could recommend one change for a family to improve the ‘health’ of their bed it would be to replace your pillows with wool batting interior. And really, that makes a lot of sense. Think of the hours you spend with your nose and mouth inhaling the material of whatever your pillow is made from. Most pillows are made with polyester fill (plastic) which is not healthy and Sleepy Sheep sells pillows made with wool balls called knops. These are little balls of wool and you can choose your level of fullness and voila ~ you’ve made a very inexpensive change to creating a healthier sleep environment.

Another great insight from Chelsea was that their number one selling product are organic mattress toppers for crib mattresses and adult size mattresses. That tells me that people at some level know how disgusting the inside of a mattress is and want a barrier between their bodies and a traditional mattress.  Check out this awesome tidbit from Chelsea – organic mattress toppers allow airflow around your body and because the interior of the topper contains wool, it’s fibers wick away a person’s sweat, and this moisture actually absorbs toxins that are off-gassing from a traditional mattress and causes the toxins to evaporate. I thought this was cool! The seal between your body and the traditional mattress is not 100% of course, but this alternative is obviously better than continuing to sleep on a mattress that is toxic to your heath. These toppers are a great alternative for parents just not ready to commit to the financial investment of an organic mattress.

When talking about a crib or child’s mattress, I really believe there is no financial compromise with their health. When new parents are spending $500 easily on strollers, I don’t think $250 is expensive for a healthy crib mattress where your baby will spend most of it’s time. Especially for a first baby – I think an organic mattress needs to be at the top of the list for people having baby showers. What better gift for a baby than the gift of health and a truly restful place to sleep.

I have more information that I will save for Part II and III of this series of toxic beds. There is a lot to learn and I encourage you to post comments to this article and share what you discovered once you started reading mattress, pillow, and duvet tags.  Let’s try to get through the information together.


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19 Responses to Is Your Child’s Bed or Crib Toxic?

  1. Annemarie January 4, 2010 at 11:30 am #

    We did the wool mattress toppers from SleepySheep for the girls’ mattresses as we couldn’t afford full on organic mattresses. Love them, plus they’re washable which is good (and should be necessary) for every kiddie bed! Love them & my wool pillow & duvet too.

  2. Chelsea January 4, 2010 at 6:11 pm #

    Thanks so much for the excellent article Suzanne! We spend more of our lives in contact with our beds and bedding then we do anywhere else, and it is important to have a healthy sleep environment for that reason. Keeping at the correct temperature while you sleep is also very important for the quality of sleep, which makes wool bedding the optimal choice.

  3. suzanne January 4, 2010 at 7:18 pm #

    Thanks ladies! I’ve checked all my pillows and mattresses and realize it’s time (for my own peace of mind) we make some investments in our family’s health with bed rooms. I’ll be adding a topper to my bed for sure (although I’m not sure if it’ll fit over the sealy pillow top) and wool mattresses & pillows are a must for the kids. I’m so thankful for all the information Chelsea gave me – talking with people that know their products and materials at that level is an incredible experience. Thanks again!

  4. DLM January 5, 2010 at 8:59 pm #

    Hi Suzanne – Thanks for the article. If I had an oversized wool blanket, does that also work as a type of wool topper if I had my kids sleep on top of this?

  5. Chelsea Bell January 7, 2010 at 7:43 am #

    A wool duvet doesn’t work particularily well as a topper because it compresses very easily and is difficult to wash. A wool overlay can be thrown in the washer repeatedly, unlike a wool duvet, and is made of wool pile, which provides extra comfort too.

  6. Alice January 8, 2010 at 8:56 am #

    Hi Suzanne,
    I’m afraid you are doing your readers a disservice if you are only recommending wool toppers.

    For crib mattresses to be safe they need to be wrapped.

    Here is a link to how to wrap a mattress and the scientific research around the link between pvc crib mattresses and crib death

    Note the older a mattress is (2nd or 3rd child, hand me down the more likely there are to be toxic gas emissions as the problem worsens when these mattresses develop mold

  7. suzanne January 9, 2010 at 6:43 pm #

    Thanks for the comment Alice. The last purpose of Mommy Footprint is to mis-lead people. I would n ever recommend wrapping anything in PVC, so please post back with more information on what a crib needs to be wrapped in to be safe. Wrapping a product a baby sleeps in with chemicals or poison isn’t safe, so please use the and give me more information if you’d like a subject discussed. Many Thanks – Suzanne

  8. Debra Lynn Dadd January 18, 2010 at 7:46 am #

    Can you tell me where you got the information that the BabeSafe mattress covers are made with PVC? It appears from the materials I’ve read that they use polyethylene, not PVC. Thanks.

  9. Chelsea January 18, 2010 at 4:40 pm #

    Mattress wrapping is recommended for synthetic mattresses; wool and natural latex gold mattresses do not off-gas, and therefor do not need to be wrapped.

  10. Chelsea January 20, 2010 at 5:10 pm #

    I agree Suzanne – it just makes sense not to buy chemically laden mattresses to begin with.

  11. Chelsea Bell August 2, 2010 at 10:48 am #

    Check out our brief article on crib mattress safety here:

  12. eek August 14, 2010 at 12:25 pm #

    during my extensive research pre-baby, I found that wool is not perfect either. while, we wound up with a wool puddle pad, we opted for a latex mattress, since i learned that wool can naturally off-gas, too: Even though wool is a natural material, wool naturally contains phosphorus and may also contain antimony and arsenic. A fungus that commonly grows in bedding can interact with these substances to create poisonous gases (see article, Has the Cause of Crib Death Been Found?). So even though wool is natural, it may not be completely non-toxic. It really depends upon the wool – where and how the sheep are raised and how the wool is cleaned and processed.

    here’s the full article:

  13. Chelsea Bell Eady October 2, 2010 at 12:35 pm #

    ‘eek’ – The reality of ANY bedding situation is that you MUST care for your bedding – if you don’t, it will become unhealthy no matter what it’s made out of. Wool discourages the growth of molds and fungus, which is the cause of the off-gassing that you are referring to. Wrapping a truly natural crib mattress in plastic of any kind defeats the purpose: having a breathable environment in which to sleep. If your natural bed and bedding is kept clean and allowed to dry fully when it gets wet, it’s still the healthiest way to go in my opinion.

  14. nicole September 26, 2011 at 9:46 am #

    help! where i live its supper hard to get my hands on organic mattresses. i have a european size crib with an old mattress. i want to replace the mattress so i was thinking about making one out of foam and wool or cotton overlay. but now i’m not sure if thats safe. i honestly don’t have to many other options as we live on an island and for us to buy a a european size mattress it costs 250 at the least and then we have to import it which would be about 600. which is completely out of our price range. i would get a different crib but we have a small space the the european size crib works perfect in. so do you think its alright making my own i know the foam is bad but if i do over lay of wool or 100% cotton will it make it ok???

  15. suzanne September 26, 2011 at 11:17 pm #

    Hi Nicole,
    Have you looked into an organic mattress topper for the mattress? It would be more cost effective rather than purchasing a whole new mattress or making your own. I’ll ask on Twitter to see if anyone sells a European mattress cover for cribs.


  16. chloe veria October 14, 2011 at 3:23 am #

    Great work! That is the type of info that are supposed to be shared around the web. Disgrace on the search engines for no longer positioning this put up higher! Come on over and discuss with my site . Thank you =)

  17. Laura April 4, 2012 at 7:28 pm #

    You should check out Babesafe mattress covers and the scientific research behind them. They were created in New Zealand and since their use the SIDS rate there has dropped by over 60% and they have a 100% success rate for over 100,000 babies who have used them. NZ used to have the highest SIDS rate in the world, btw.

  18. Laura April 4, 2012 at 7:31 pm #

    Oh, and the Babesafe covers are relatively cheap when you consider you can wrap it over a cheap mattress and take it off to use in a pack n play when you travel.

  19. Laurie January 17, 2013 at 3:31 pm #

    Great info, but I’ve found that no situation is perfect. I purchased organic cotton/wool mattresses for my kids a few years ago, and now they are complaining about how hard they are. If I go to a wool topper, I don’t believe it will be soft enough, as they are already sleeping on wool. The foam is what offers a cushion like feel to most mattresses. I’m at a loss as to what to do to make their mattresses more comfortable. Most latex toppers, which are also considered to be a natural product, are about 300.00 for a full size. I might as well buy a new mattress for all of them by the time I spend that kind of money.

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