Given the sensitivity of babies and toddlers to toxic chemicals, you’d think that companies making crib mattresses and other products for children would avoid using potentially harmful materials as a rule. Sadly, this isn’t always the case. That means there’s a serious need for some robust green certifications for crib mattresses that include meaningful limits on the presence of hazardous chemicals.
As with almost all household products, however, ‘green’ mattress certifications are not quite as robust as we might like. Some offer significant assurance that the finished product is free from certain toxic chemicals, while others offer meaningless platitudes that could apply to something as tiny as the cotton used on a label. In other words, there is a lot of greenwashing in the crib mattress industry.
How to spot greenwashing
In addition, mattress companies may boast certain certifications but fail to mention that these certificates are awarded only to the manufacturer of a specific crib mattress component, not to the company you’re buying from and not to the end product as a whole. This can help to keep costs down for the end product by avoiding redundant doubling up on certifications if those certified materials are not subjected to any chemical processes or treatments. However, it’s also possible that a company proudly displays a GOTS logo that applies to cotton or wool at the point it leaves the factory, but then treats that material with toxic chemicals such as flame retardants. Such certificates may also be out of date.
Other sneaky tactics to look out for include where a company boasts that their mattresses contain Oeko-Tex 100 certified cotton, for example, but can’t claim that all of the cotton they use in their mattresses is certified as such. It may be a matter of random chance as to whether your particular crib mattress is made with certified cotton in such as case.
Email the brand
As always, then, it’s best to contact any company you’re hoping to buy a mattress from and check their certifications. If they evade the questions, it’s not normally a good sign. If they’re responsive and understand the ins and outs of certifications and the materials they use, that’s reassuring. In some cases, it makes sense for a company to only have certifications that are supplier based, because they don’t subject certified materials to any additional treatments and want to make their products affordable.
One of the few companies with consistently good certification practices is OMI (Organic Mattress Inc.). They themselves hold robust certifications right across the board and they proudly display these, so you don’t even need to dig around or spend time asking questions. Other good companies include Soaring Heart and Naturepedic (View Price on Walmart). The crib mattresses sold by these companies are high quality and close in price point to those sold by other companies with no legitimate third-party certifications. I also love The Savvy Baby Crib Mattress from Savvy Rest (View Price on Savvy Rest). Scoring 5 out of 5 leaves, this crib mattress is completely GOTS-certified organic and uses true natural certified organic Dunlop latex, without synthetic latex or fillers. The natural Dunlop latex is certified organic in two ways: the rubber tree plantations are certified organic according to USDA standards, and its processing is certified organic to the Global Organic Latex Standard (GOLS). You can read our full review here.
As a counter example, I was considering including Zenhaven in the ecoHome directory, but upon talking to two company representatives (and going around in some circles), I found out that the company does not hold the GOTS certification claimed for their wool or cotton, the supplier does. And, again, the Oeko-Tex 100 standard only applies to the latex in the mattress, not to the mattress as a whole. While this doesn’t mean that anything nefarious necessarily happens to the materials as they’re put together to form the mattress, the possibility is there and they didn’t offer any reassurance to the contrary, which isn’t great.
All this said, which certifications should you ask about and look out for to help you figure out the right eco-friendly non-toxic crib mattress for your baby? The best certifications typically assess the materials used in the end product, or the product as a whole, providing reassurance of quality and environmental and ethical standards right to the point of sale.
Some certifications go beyond the material construct of the final product, covering growing conditions for raw materials, manufacturing processes, worker conditions, non-human animal welfare, and social and environmental impact overall.
Some of the most important logos to look out for when buying a mattress are those dealing with the organic raw materials making up a mattress.
There is no USDA organic standard for finished crib mattresses but USDA/NOP certification does provide a third-party raw-material assurance for components such as wool, cotton, and latex sap. This is awarded under the National Organics Program (NOP) and only applies to the fibers or other plant-materials used in a mattress as these are considered agricultural products. Plastic components and innersprings can’t be organic.
If a crib mattress is made with certified organic cotton, this cotton has been grown without the use of pesticides and fertilizers. For organic wool, the wool must come from sheep fed only organic food and raised without synthetic hormones and pesticides. These sheep must also be raised using ethical management practices that support the animals’ health and the health of the environment. And, finally, the wool must not have been cleaned or processed with toxic chemicals.
As a mattress itself is not an agricultural product, it can’t be certified USDA organic. However, other standards have arisen that offer assurance of the more comprehensive organic nature of a product, such as GOTS, where a significant proportion of the fibers in a product must be organic to qualify. Be wary of products marketed with a GOTS logo or organic logo that don’t explicitly state to which components, if any the certification applies.
Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS)
GOTS requires that at least 95 percent of the materials (by weight) in a crib mattress be certified organic, and it prohibits outright the use of certain substances even for the other 5 percent, such as chemical flame retardants and polyurethane. Given that the fiber components of some crib mattresses may account for most of the mattress weight, some products may qualify for this certificaiton while still containing toxic chemicals courtesy of PVC coverings and flame retardant treatments.
Eco-Institut is a more robust and stringent certification than GOTS and many others, so if a product carries this, it’s a good sign.
The Eco Institute, located in Cologne, Germany, is an independent organization that has more than 25 years of experience testing products for the presence of pollutants and emissions, even in trace amounts. If a product is Eco-INSTITUT certified, you can be assured that it does not contain even trace amounts of hazardous chemicals and will not off-gas undesirable chemicals and odors into your home. Some of the chemicals the Eco-Institute certification rules out include volatile organic compounds (VOCs), phthalates, formaldehyde, pesticides, heavy metals, and persistent organic pollutants.
If a crib mattress contains wool, look for an Eco Institut certification. This is a much more robust standard than GOTS, where the material only needs to be 95% organic, and where certain chemical treatments are allowed. The Eco-Institute testing guidelines are much more stringent, including baby’s touch, respiration, and so forth, and wool that is self-cleaning has to be 100% organic (in the real sense of the word) and can only have been treated with cold water washes in order to be still self-cleaning.
Global Organic Latex Standard (GOLS)
GOLS ensures that a crib mattress made with latex is made of 95 percent organic latex, with restrictions on the other 5 percent of the mattress’s components. Natural-latex crib mattresses may have both the GOTS and GOLS labels if they contain latex covered with organic wool and organic cotton. These mattresses may still contain PVC, polyester, or other non-organic chemical components, however.
American-Grown NOP-Certified Organic Cotton and Oregon Tilth (OTCO)
Certified organic cotton may be certified to GOTS by Oregon Tilth (as OTCO), or by another member of the USDA National Organic Program (NOP) such as the Texas Department of Agriculture. This certification offers assurance that cotton production complies with organic growing and handling standards.
OCS100 Organic Content Standard
The Organic Exchange Certification Program ensures proper tracking of organic material from its source to the finished product. A legitimate, up to date certificate demonstrates that the organic fiber in a product has been independently verified.
MADE SAFE certification means a product has been made with ingredients not known or suspected to cause human health harm. Materials are scrutinized by scientists to ensure they do not contain harmful ingredients or release vapors, gases, or by-products that could impact human health.
While your baby is hopefully not eating their mattress, it is still a good idea to check that the mattress is made with non-GMO materials as GMO agriculture can have significant negative effects on farmers’ livelihoods, the use of pesticides, and on biodiversity.
Organic cotton and wool is necessarily non-GMO, but if a product contains soy-based foam or polyethylene, for example, it’s worth asking about this certification as most soy in the U.S. is genetically modified and some sugar cane and potatoes (the main sources for polyethylene) are also GMO. Product with this certificate are made without genetically engineered ingredients and are verified non-GMO through independent review. Naturepedic specifically state that they only use non-GMO plant-derived materials to make the polyethylene in their products.
Greenguard and Greenguard Gold
Greenguard is one of the most common green certifications and requires testing of a finished mattress for specific emission limits of formaldehyde and other volatile organic compounds. The related Greenguard Gold has more stringent emission limits for VOCs and was originally known as the standard for products used in schools, hospitals, and other places where vulnerable people may spend time.
Both standards were developed by UL Environment and Greenguard worked with ANSI to become an official standard-setting organization. Neither certification offers reassurance that a product is free from toxins, however, nor do they include a social or animal ethics component. It’s perfectly possible for a company to get Greenguard Gold certification for a product that contains polyurethane foam, for instance, which is decidedly not a non-toxic or eco-friendly material and certainly not something I’d want my baby to be sleeping on or near.
Greenguard Gold is also no guarantee that a crib mattress is entirely free from flame retardants, vinyl, phthalates, or many other hazardous chemicals. Only certain types of chemicals are banned (such as a half dozen or so phthalates currently).
As an example of things done right, OMI’s mattresses are Greenguard Gold certified and qualify under the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s LEED indoor-air-quality program. They offer a printout of their mattress emissions on the UL/Greenguard website here. Other companies such as Naturepedic and Lullaby Earth make crib mattresses that are also Greenguard Gold certified, but they don’t offer such transparency around emissions and materials.
CertiPUR-US is a certification program provided by the Polyurethane Foam Association for polyurethane foam. If a product boasts a CertiPUR label, this means that the mattress definitely contains polyurethane foam but that the foam may contain a tiny bit of plant-based material in addition to petroleum-derived polyurethane. CertiPUR also limits levels of some types of toxic chemicals, but rather than being a sign that the mattress is eco-friendly, this certification is simply helpful in pointing out that a mattress definitely contains polyurethane, which is something you almost certainly want to avoid in a crib mattress.
Green America certifies businesses that actively use their business as a tool for positive social change. To be certified with Green America a business must also:
- Operate a “values-driven” enterprise according to principles of social justice AND environmental sustainability;
- Demonstrate environmentally responsible practices in the way they source, manufacture, and market their products and run their operations and facilities;
- Be socially equitable and committed to extraordinary practices that benefit workers, customers, communities, and the environment; and
- Be accountable for their work by continually improving and tracking their progress and operating with transparency in every facet of their business.
Green America has been evaluating and certifying small businesses since 1982 and has worked with companies such as Plush Beds, who are listed in the ecoHome directory for mattresses.
There is also a Green America Gold certification that is reserved for companies who are industry leaders for responsible, sustainable business practices.
Oeko-Tex Standard 100
Oeko-Tex Standard 100 lays out limits for the emission of harmful chemicals such as formaldehyde and other volatile organic compounds (VOCs). It also outright bans the use of certain chemical flame retardants, colorants, and allergenic dyes, but it doesn’t offer any guidance on whether materials are organic or sustainably sourced and it’s not always clear if an entire product or just a single component is certified.
The certification process for the OEKO TEX Certification is fairly robust and includes testing for a variety of hazardous chemicals, pesticides, phthalates, lead, arsenic, and other heavy metals. If a mattress carries this certification, it has been tested and found to contain no:
- Chlorinated phenols
- Carcinogenic dyes
- AZO dyes
- Allergy inducing dyes
The OEKO TEX Standard 100 Certification is voluntary and must be updated each year in order to remain active. Many companies are slow to update certificates on their websites, so if you see a certificate that’s out of date, don’t dismiss the company out of hand. Instead, ask if an updated certificate is available.
Some crib mattresses sold in the U.S. carry the Oeko-Tex label, but this is typically for just one material in the mattress rather than for the whole product. For example, the Colgate Natural I mattress carries Oeko-Tex certification for its 5-inch layer of coir fiber with natural latex but not for the rest of the mattress.
I’m yet to find any crib mattresses that include materials certified to the more robust Oeko-Tex Standard 1000, unfortunately. This may be because companies that would have considered certification to this standard have often already paid for and embraced certifications such as GOLS, GOTS, Goodweave, Nest, and others.
The Oeko-Tex Standard 1000 requires proof that the company meets additional social standards as well as more exacting environmental standards. These standards cover:
- The use of environmentally-damaging chemicals, auxiliaries and dyestuffs
- Compliance with standard values for waste water and exhaust air
- Optimization of energy consumption
- Avoidance of noise and dust pollution
- Workplace safety measures
- Child labor
- Basic elements of an environmental management system
- The existence of a quality management system
Cradle to Cradle Certification
Cradle to Cradle is one of the best eco certification programs around but in the ultimate irony, not a single cradle or cradle mattress has been c2c certified. I’m hoping someone from the crib mattress industry steps up to take this prize soon and, if they do, I’ll let you know!
In the meantime, it’s worth noting that the softer type of natural latex used in adult mattresses, namely c2c certified Vita Talalay, is not the best choice for a crib mattress as infants need a firmer sleep surface. As such, most natural latex crib mattresses use the firmer, organic, Dunlop latex.
Formaldehyde Free Verified
Some crib mattress products have been validated by the Underwriters Laboratories (UL) Environment Certification Program to meet the UL formaldehyde-free standard. UL develops a variety of standards to measure and validate performance, environmental health and sustainability. Naturepedic is one of the few companies to attain this certification, which is just one of the reasons they are a top pick at Leaf Score for crib mattresses.
EcoWool and PureGrow Wool
While wool isn’t strictly vegan-friendly, some sources of wool are considerably better in terms of animal welfare. In the US, wool marked with the PureGrow™ label comes from Californian farms that practice sustainable sheep ranching. EcoWool is another excellent standard that provides reassurance that wool is sourced from small US farms where farmers manage their flocks humanely and care for the environment. Both EcoWool and PureGrow are arguably preferable to New Zealand wool in terms of animal welfare.
PureGrow™ Wool is a joint effort by the Natural Bedroom, the Sonoma County Wool Growers, the University of California Agricultural Extension and Debra Lynn Dadd to provide sources of wool produced with absolutely no chemicals, pesticides or artificial materials in the sheep’s environment. The pastures where sheep graze must be free of pesticides for a minimum of two years, and supplemental feeds must be organic. Inoculations must not contain synthetics or hormones, and care is taken throughout the shearing, packing, cleaning, and carding process to keep the wool free of dirt, dust and pests without using chemical processes and while maintaining uniform quality.
Put simply, PureGrow wool is sheared from live, healthy sheep and gently processed without chemicals. This protocol was established around 1993 by a sheep rancher called Joe Pozzi working in Sonoma County, California. The stringent controls have now been adopted and certified by more than 50 ranchers, guaranteeing that woolen products are scrupulously cleaned and created without bleaches, formaldehyde, dyes, or animal cruelty.
Wool certified USDA Organic is also a decent option as is any wool product with GOTS certification. To really up your eco game, look for organic wool that carries the European kfB certificate awarded to products made with wool sourced with minimal animal exploitation.
kbA and kbT
Products made and/or sold in Europe may carry kbA and/or kbT certifications. The former certifies that the product is made with organic cotton and the second translates roughly to ‘controlled organic livestock’, meaning that materials are sourced from suppliers using organic farming methods ‘optimally adapted to the climatic and living conditions of the region’ and using ‘species-appropriate animal husbandry in harmony with nature’ (R).
The kbT certification means that no genetically modified foods or fattening aids are allowed in the rearing of animals, no forced reproduction of the animals is allowed, and practices such as tail docking or mulesing are prohibited. kbT virgin wool also has to be free from pesticides and insecticides, a practice that applies both to the animals and to the soil on which the animals graze.
MADE SAFE™ means a crib mattress has been made with ingredients not known or suspected to cause human health harm. Materials in these products have been scrutinized by scientists and experts to ensure they do not contain harmful ingredients or release vapors, gases, or by-products that could impact human health.
Some additional certifications and partnerships you might want to look for when assessing the relative merits of a crib mattress or manufacturer of such include:
- Zero Toxics Product Registry – this organization helps decipher claims on household products to make sure they’re actually free from toxic chemicals
- Allergy Kids Foundation – this foundation aims to protect kids in the US from allergenic substances and makes recommendations for children’s products
- American Sustainable Business Council – the ASBC advocates for stewardship, careful resource use, reinvestment, and attention to sustainability throughout a product’s lifecycle
Final thoughts on green certifications for crib mattresses
In closing, when buying a crib mattress, beware greenwashing and hyperbolic marketing claims and look for the more robust certifications such as Eco Institut, GOTS, GOLS, and Made Safe, checking that these apply to all relevant components of a crib mattress or the entire mattress itself and the manufacturing facility.
It’s entirely possible to buy a mattress advertised as organic that contains just 5% organic material, such as a mattress made with recycled plastic covered in a thin sheet of organic cotton. Many ‘100% organic cotton’ mattress covers are also made with cotton that is indeed 100% organic but the cover itself may also contain polyurethane, PVC, or polyester. In general, if something is waterproof, check which type of plastic is making it so. No product is on the market yet that is both 100% organic and waterproof, but there are more eco-friendly, safer, less-toxic ways to waterproof a mattress than to use PVC.
As I’ve noted throughout this article, some companies do far better than others in terms of green certifications and transparency. I’ve rounded these up at Companies to Consider for an Eco-Friendly, Non-Toxic Crib Mattress, with links to individual product reviews and my top picks for crib mattresses.