Consider natural fibers when selecting drapes and window coverings to avoid fabric treatments and off-gassing.
Soft goods are designed to make your home cozy and comfortable. They include mattresses, pads, bedding, cushions, and drapes. Unfortunately, the very things that make them soft can make them unsafe to breathe. Fabric treatments, foams, and synthetic fibers can release chemicals that are harmful to your health.
The Flame-Retardant Controversy To lower the risk of household fires, the federal government requires mattresses to meet certain flammability standards. Manufacturers have taken various approaches to meet the requirements: Some use fibers that are slow to burn; others treat various components of the mattress with flame-retardant chemicals. Flame retardants are also widely used in fabrics and in foams, battings, and fillers found in cushions and furniture.
The federal Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) says the more common fire-retardant chemicals, including melamine, vinyl chloride, antimony trioxide, boric acid, and decabromodiphenyl oxide, donít pose a risk to people. "We looked at all the real-world scenarios, including bed wetting and jumping up and down, and it proved that even under extreme-use conditions there is an insignificant risk of health problems to consumers," says CPSC spokeswoman Patty Davis.
Consumer and health advocacy groups disagree. The U.S. Public Interest Research Group cites studies linking fire retardants to health effects including neurological damage, reproductive problems, and permanent memory loss. Advocates have called for banning the use of these chemicals and/or labeling chemically treated products to guide consumers. The federal government does not require such labels, says Steve Ecklund of the Federal Trade Commission, because "there are no laws to require disclosure of these chemicals." In addition to fire-retardants, the covers of mattresses and pads can contain soft plastics with other chemicals, such as polyvinyl chloride (PVC), which may also be associated with health problems.
When selecting a mattress, consider healthy alternatives like natural rubber cores surrounded by organic cotton fabrics and wool mattress pads that repel moisture and act as a natural flame retardant.
If you want to protect yourself from possible chemical exposure in bedding, there are many alternatives on the market featuring natural, untreated components. You can select mattresses and toppers filled with foam made from natural rubber, lined with wool, which is a natural fire retardant, and covered with organic, chemical-free cottons. There are also chemical-free steel-coil mattresses with organic cotton covers and battings. Since these special beds are often pricey, you may be able to ask your doctor to prescribe one. You can also buy cushions, pillows, and comforters filled with organic cotton, buckwheat hulls, wool or hypoallergenic down that are covered with organic fabrics.