Product Profile: Crib Mattresses

Product Profile Crib Mattresses MADE SAFE Blog

Toxic Chemicals in Crib Mattresses

Babies are especially susceptible to toxic chemicals in the environment so it is important to ensure that their mattress is not a source of harmful exposures. Babies typically spend more than half of their days asleep. This means that their sleep environments are critical to their health and wellbeing. Babies also inhale more air relative to body mass [1] when compared to adults, which makes their developing systems even more vulnerable to gaseous chemicals found in their bedding and environment. Thankfully, the MADE SAFE Certification includes a rigorous certification process to determine if crib mattresses are ecosystem-sound, meaning that they do not contain materials known or expected to cause harm to humans in general, but most important in this case, to little humans.

Ingredients of Concern

To help you navigate any chemical confusion, we’re identifying a few of the top material offenders commonly found in crib mattresses:

Flame Retardants – Many crib mattresses utilize polyurethane foam and/or vinyl. Flame retardant chemicals such as organophosphorus, halogenated, and tris flame retardants are typically added to these materials to compensate for their high flammability. The specific harmful impacts vary based upon the variety used, but chemical flame retardants have been associated with fertility issues [2], endocrine [3] disruption, lower IQ [4] , hyperactivity [5], thyroid dysfunction [6], and cancer [7]. The efficacy of flame retardant chemicals has been met with serious skepticism, as it has been found that flame retardants do not provide a substantial enough increase in time to exit a burning building [8] in order to justify the widespread use of these harmful chemicals.

Toxic Adhesives – Adhesives are used to bind mattress materials together during manufacturing in lieu of traditional stitching. N-propyl bromide (nPB), a once popular adhesive, has been linked to irritation of mucous membranes [9], neurotoxicity [10], and cancer [11]. In 2020, the EPA granted petitions to add nPB (also known as 1-BP) to the list of hazardous air pollutants [12] regulated under the Clean Air Act due to overwhelming evidence of toxicity, meaning its future use in the U.S. will be highly regulated and restricted. Manufacturers have also been known to use other adhesive chemicals like hot melt adhesives, water-based adhesives, acetone adhesives, acrylate resins, and even formaldehyde. Due to the fact that adhesive formulations are often considered proprietary information, there is regrettably little known about what exactly comprises most mattress glues, though the information that is available does not appear favorable from a toxicity standpoint.

Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS)PFAS are a group of thousands of substances utilized for their ability to repel liquid, and may therefore also be used in waterproofing crib mattresses. Unfortunately, because PFAS chemicals are commonly used to treat the materials used to make the mattresses, you will not always find their use disclosed by the manufacturer or listed as an “ingredient.” This group of chemicals has been associated with numerous detrimental effects including cancer [13] and endocrine disruption [14]. PFAS are also considered persistent pollutants [15] because they do not break down in the environment, thus earning them the nickname “forever chemicals.” These widely-used chemicals have also been known to build up in the human body, as a 2007 study found PFOA (a type of PFAS chemical) in the blood of 99.7 percent of Americans [16].

Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC) – Polyvinyl chloride, also known as vinyl or PVC, is sometimes used in crib mattresses to make them waterproof. From start to finish, it is one of the most toxic plastics for health and the environment. Vinyl chloride, one of the chemicals used to make PVC, has been linked to numerous deleterious health effects [17] and the manufacturing of PVC is known to release numerous [18] toxic chemicals [19] such as dioxins, lead, and more. Once in your home, PVC can leach endocrine-disrupting phthalates, which are added to the PVC to make it more flexible. Many of the chemicals leached throughout the lifecycle of PVC including vinyl chloride, dioxins , and phthalates [20] have been found to harm human health.

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Tips for Choosing a Crib Mattress

  • Shop crib mattresses with the MADE SAFE seal to ensure the product has been fully vetted for substances known or suspected to cause human and ecosystem harm.
  • Beware of greenwashing. Many crib mattresses are advertised using phrases such as “natural” or “safe.” While not all products marketed in this way are harmful, you should always rely more heavily on the what the product is made of rather than believing marketing claims.
  • Bypass mattresses made with polyurethane foam or memory foam and instead, shop for bedding options that forgo the unnecessary chemical flame retardant treatments. Many natural materials like latex, wool, and cotton can meet national flammability standards without the use of chemical flame retardants.
  • Select mattresses that either use traditional stitching methods to manufacture their mattresses, or find a mattress certified by a trusted third-party source like MADE SAFE to ensure that any adhesives utilized are safe. MADE SAFE Certification requires the full disclosure of all material inputs, meaning there are no secret or hidden substances permitted in a product. All inputs are thoroughly vetted by our Certification process .
  • Avoid mattresses that may have been treated with PFAS or other chemicals by steering clear of claims like “waterproof” or “stain resistant.” If a product is claiming that it is waterproof without disclosing how it is waterproof, that is most likely a red flag. You can always contact the company to ensure that the product has not been treated with PFAS. MADE SAFE Certified products will never be intentionally treated with PFAS.
  • Do not purchase mattresses containing PVC/vinyl.


[1] In Exposure to Emissions of Volatile Organic Compounds From Crib Mattresses. Brandon E Boor, Helena Jarnstrom, Atila Novoselac, Ying Xu. (2014, March). National Library of Medicine.

[2] Polybrominated diphenyl ether (PBDE) concentration in house dust are related to hormone levels in men.  John D Meeker, Paula I. Johnson, David Camann, Russ Hauser. (2009, May 1). Science Direct.

[3] Accumulation and Endoncrine Disrupting Effects of the Flame retardant Mixture Firemaster 550 in Rats: An Exploratory Assessment. Heather B Patisaul, Simon C. Roberts, Natalie Mabrey, Katherine A McCaffrey, Robin B. Gear, Joe Braun, Scott M. Belcher, Heather M. Stapleton. (2012, November 8). Wiley Online Library.

[4] In utero and childhood polybrominated diphenyl ether (PBDE) exposures and neurodevelopment in the CHAMACOS study. Brenda Eskenazi, Jonathan Chevrier, Stephen A Rauch, Katherine Kogut, Kim G Harley, Caroline Johnson, Celina Trujillo, Andreas Sjodin, Asa Bradman. (2013, Feburary). National Library of Medicine.

[5] Prenatal exposure to organohalogens, including brominated flame retardents, infleucens, motor, cognitive and behavioral performance at school age. Roze E, Meijer L, Bakker A, Van Braeckel KN, Sauer PJ, Bos AF. (2009, August). Europe PMC.

[6] Rodent Tyroid, Liver, and Fetal Testis Toxicity of the Monoester Metabolites of Bis-(2-ethylhexyl) Tetrabromophthalate (TBPH), a Novel Brominated Flame Retardant Present in Indoor Bust. Cecilia Springer Edward Dere Susan J Hall, Elizabeth V McDonnel, Simon C Roberts, Craig M Butt, Heather M Stapleton, Debroah J Watkins, Micheal D. McClean, Thomas F. Webster, Jennifer J Schlezing, Kim Boekelheide. ((2012, December). National Library of Medicine

[7] New Warning to Consumers: Avoid These Flame Retardants. Jeneen Interlandi. (2017, Septeber 29). Consumer Reports.

[8] OSHA – NIOSH Hazard Alert, 1 – Bromopropane. OSHA.

[9] Neuro – reproductive toxicities of 1 – bromopropane and 2 – bromopropane. Gaku Ichihara. (2004, December 10). Springer Link.

[10] Report on Carcinogens Profile: 1 – Bromopropane. National Toxicology Program.

[11] EPA Grants First-Ever Petition to Add to Hazardous Air Pollutants List Under Clean Air Act. EPA Press Office. (2020, June 18). EPA Press Office. United States Environmental Protection Agency.

[12] PFAs Forever Chemicals (Also PFOA, PFOS). Breat Cancer Prevention Parnters.

[13] Count Down. Shanna H. Swan. (2021, February 23). Scribner.

[14] Perfluorooctanoic Acid (PFOA), Perfluorooctane Sulfonate (PFOS), and Related Chemicals. American Cancer Society.

[15] Polyfluoroalkyl Chemicals in the U.S. Population: Data from the National Health and Nutrition Examintation Survery (NHANES) 2003-2004 and Comparisons with NHANES 1999-2000. Antonia M. Calafet, Lee-Yang Wong, Zsuzsanna Kuklenyik, John A. Reidy, Larry L. Needham. (2007, November). PubMed Central.

[16] Vinyl Chloride. Agency of Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.

[17] Our Health & PVC: What’s the connection?. Center for Health, Environment & Justice.'s%20the%20Connection%20-%20REP%20022.pdf

[18] Our Health & PVC: What’s the connection?. Center for Health, Environment & Justice.'s%20the%20Connection%20-%20REP%20022.pdf

[19] Our Health & PVC: What’s the connection?. Center for Health, Environment & Justice.'s%20the%20Connection%20-%20REP%20022.pdf

[20] Our Health & PVC: What’s the connection?. Center for Health, Environment & Justice.'s%20the%20Connection%20-%20REP%20022.pdf 

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