Whenever anyone asks me about greenwashing, CertiPur is one of the best examples that comes to mind. This popular certification aims to make polyfoam look ‘green’ but there are many good reasons why we don’t recommend CertiPur mattresses.
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What is CertiPur?
CertiPur is a certification the polyfoam industry cooked up to try to greenwash its toxic synthetic, environmentally destructive products.
The general idea is that polyfoam which qualifies for the CertiPur seal is marginally less toxic than standard memory foam.
As it currently stands, CertiPur foam:
- Is free from polybrominated diphenyl ether (PDBE; which was banned in the U.S. in 2013 anyway)
- Doesn’t contain some of the other most hazardous chemical flame retardants
- Has lower levels of formaldehyde and phthalates
- Has lower levels of some ozone depleting substances
- Has lower levels of mercury, lead, and other heavy metals
- Doesn’t off-gas quite as much as standard polyfoam.
Sounds like an improvement, right? Less off-gassing is good, yes?
Sure, but not good enough for us.
If you’re looking for a genuinely non-toxic, eco-friendly mattress (or couch, pillow, etc.), CertiPur doesn’t cut it.
Pregnancy is hard on the body and may make you think about getting a new mattress to improve your sleep. If you’re considering buying a CertiPur mattress while pregnant, don’t.
This ‘green’ synthetic foam is not safe during pregnancy or for infants. I strongly recommend avoiding having any polyfoam mattresses, CertiPur or not, in the home if you’re pregnant or have small children.
While CertiPur may emit lower levels of VOCs than standard polyfoam, low is not zero.
Research shows that:
- VOC emissions are higher from polyurethane foam mattresses versus polyester mattresses
- Even minimal VOC emissions in pregnancy and in the postnatal period can harm your baby’s neurological development, growth, immune and respiratory function
- Exposure to VOCs can increase your baby’s risk of asthma and allergy.
Why we don’t recommend CertiPur mattresses
A major part of our remit at Leaf Score is to highlight products that are genuinely eco-friendly. Where a product can’t be made without synthetic materials and hazardous chemicals, we at least aim to highlight products that are considerably better than standard fare. That can mean we focus on durability, recycled content, repairability, and where and how it is made.
The thing with mattresses, though, is that it’s actually quite easy to make a mattress using natural materials and no toxic chemicals. This is why it continues to bewilder me when other publications put out lists of ‘eco-friendly’ mattresses that may boast a cotton cover but are otherwise just greenwashed polyfoam with a dash of soy oil.
Even if a product comprises certified CertiPur memory foam, it is still:
- Resource hungry
- A source of VOCs
- Not very durable
- Hard to dispose of safely
- Harmful to workers, consumers, and the environment.
Put another way, we don’t recommend CertiPur products because they’re not very good.
Like all polyfoam, these synthetic foams break down fast, releasing toxic dust into your home. They aren’t easy to recycle, end up in landfill, and continue to cause pollution long after their useful life. And that useful life has limits too.
CertiPur like all memory foam sleeps hot. It traps heat and moisture, making you sweaty, then chilled, then sweaty all over again. It makes for an uncomfortable sleep right out of the box and then gets even less comfortable as it breaks down over just a few weeks or months to become lumpy.
Digging into the details – what CertiPur actually means for VOCs
Under CertiPUR standards, polyfoam is classed as low VOC if it emits less than 0.5 parts per million. This is better than conventional foam, but it’s inarguable that polyfoam, even CertiPur, continues to off-gas.
In contrast, natural Talalay and Dunlop latex, organic wool, organic cotton, and steel innersprings don’t off-gas and are far better for your health and the environment.
What’s in CertiPUR foam, then? While levels will differ between foams, CertiPur certified foam can still contain harmful chemicals including:
The difference is that in CertiPur foam these levels are a bit lower than in regular foam.
In addition, CertiPur foam is necessarily created using highly problematic chemical blowing agents such as:
- Toluene diisocyanate (TDI)
- Methylene diphenyl diisocyanate.
These are mixed with water and polyols and catalysts such as dibutylin (DBT) to create the chemical reaction necessary to make foam. Polyols are substances created through a chemical reaction using propylene oxide (methyloxirane).
TDI and methyloxirane are recognized carcinogens, and these aren’t the only hazardous chemicals used to make polyfoam. The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has several concerns over chemicals used in polyurethane manufacture, and polyfoam manufacturing plants are a major source of hazardous air pollutants.
So, even if the end product poses little risk to consumers, its creation imperils factory workers, nearby communities, and the wider environment.
What does CertiPur testing look like?
I also have some quibbles with the testing methodology used by CertiPur. Unsurprisingly, for an industry-created standard, the seal is less rigorous than third-party certification standards such as the EcoLabel or eco-INSTITUT.
For instance, CertiPUR only tests products for 72 hours, while Ecolabel tests for 7 or 28 days, depending on the certification level. Limits for VOCs, including formaldehyde, toluene, styrene, and others are also much higher with CertiPUR compared to Ecolabel.
CertiPur for pregnancy and crib mattresses
If you’re considering a CertiPur crib mattress or are replacing your mattress while pregnant, don’t be fooled into thinking this ‘green’ synthetic foam is safe.
Sure, CertiPur appears to emit lower levels of VOCs than standard polyfoam, but low is not zero.
Research shows that:
- VOC emissions from polyurethane foam mattresses are higher than those of polyester foam
- Even minimal VOC emissions in pregnancy and in the postnatal period can be harmful for infants’ neurological development, growth, immune and respiratory function
- Exposure to VOCs can increase a baby’s risk of asthma and allergy.
Research has also found that certain ‘nesting’ behaviors in the late stage of pregnancy can increase the level of VOCs in the house and, in turn, increase the risk of respiratory wheezing in infants and the development of atopic dermatitis by more than three times. Horrifyingly, studies show increased concentrations of VOCs in incubators due to mattresses off-gassing, especially when the air is hot and humid.
This might make you reconsider a synthetic foam crib mattress (check out our top picks for a non-toxic, eco-friendly crib mattress). Remember, though, whether you plan to or not, you may end up co-sleeping with your infant in your own bed.
Top tip – Watch out for companies marketing their foam mattresses as ‘plant-based’. These often contain just a tiny amount of plant-derived oils alongside polyurethane foam, making no great difference to the product’s eco-friendliness.
Final thoughts on why we don’t recommend CertiPur mattresses
In case it’s not clear yet, I don’t recommend CertiPur mattresses. The certification has been a boon to a dying polyfoam industry set on revamping a problematic but still profitable product.
So, sure, if you only have a choice between uncertified polyfoam and CertiPUR foam, choose the latter to minimize exposure to VOCs and other chemicals. Wherever possible, though, avoid polyfoam products entirely.
Mattresses never used to be made of fossil fuels and there’s no reason they need to be made of petroleum now.
There are many fantastic alternatives, which we look at here, and they all make for a more comfortable sleep and cost less (for you and the planet) in the long-run.