Tips for Choosing a Crib Mattress
September 4, 2022
By Megan Boyle
Your baby spends more than half the day sleeping, her face resting on the crib mattress.
Is she safe? What is she breathing in? Those are the questions on the minds of parents everywhere – especially when they’re wondering which crib mattress is best for their child.
Disturbingly, researchers have detected harmful phthalates, fire retardants and volatile organic chemicals in mattresses made specifically for babies. One study done at the University of Texas at Austin found that the mattresses tested released nearly 30 different types of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) as well as a variety of fragrance allergens.
Thanks to consumer demand, manufacturers are working to make mattresses safer – firm enough and properly sized to avoid trapped limbs. They are also removing some harmful chemicals and using alternatives to meet fire safety standards.
If you’re in the market for a crib mattress for your baby, follow these tips to find one with fewer chemicals:
The top priority is clean air. VOCs are potentially hazardous gasses that can escape from mattress foam and into the air baby is breathing. To avoid these pollutants, look for the Green Guard certification. Its gold-level certification is the most rigorous for VOCs.
The industry promotes a weaker standard from CertiPure that permits higher VOC emissions. This means weaker protection for baby, but it’s preferable to no certification at all.
Once you’ve bought a mattress, remember to air it out. Bring it home before baby is born and give it extra time to release those gasses. This can help limit your infant’s exposure to VOCs.
Avoid fire retardant chemicals. The foam interior of the mattress may be laced with fire retardant chemicals that can harm your baby, such as halogenated fire retardants and antimony.
Don’t purchase any mattress whose labels indicate that it meets “Technical Bulletin 117.” This means it likely contains those harmful fire retardants.
Nowadays, new crib mattresses are unlikely to have fire retardants in the foam, but check with the manufacturer to make sure. If the information is not readily available on the company’s website, call customer service.
All mattresses must have a fire-resistant outer covering, but manufacturers can use safer materials such as wool and treated cotton to ensure fire safety.
Consider organic. Many eco-friendly mattresses are made with organic cotton and wool. Organic fibers hold fewer pesticide residues than conventionally grown options, but they can be costly. Consider making the splurge and buy an organic cover. Or you might buy a used organic mattress or pair a new organic mattress with a recycled crib (see note below about buying used).
Watch waterproofing. Some parents want a waterproof option. If you’re among them, avoid mattresses covered with PVC plastic, which can contain harmful ingredients. Look for polyethylene, polypropylene or ethylene-vinyl acetate (EVA) covers instead. If the mattress has a cloth outer layer, you can purchase a non-vinyl waterproof cover to be placed under the crib sheet. And skip covers that claim to be antibacterial. They cause unnecessary chemical exposure.
*A note about used mattresses
To lower costs and reduce waste, some families choose to purchase or borrow used mattresses. This has benefits as well as risks.
The amount of chemicals released by a mattress declines over time, so a mattress that has had years to air out may result in much lower exposure for your baby. But older mattresses may contain harmful chemicals that are no longer used in new ones, such as some phthalates (eliminated in 2009).
Plus, the older the mattress, the more mold or bacteria may be hiding inside. Make sure any used mattress you consider has been well maintained, stored in a dry environment and is still firm. New mattresses also are more likely to meet current safety standards. Consumer Reports recommends buying new.
If you’re considering a used crib, first check out these important safety tips from the American Academy of Pediatrics. Look for a crib made after 2011, when new federal requirements, such as removing drop-sides, were enacted. And make sure the construction is solid, with no hardware missing.