Are Mattress Flame Retardants Harmful? Here’s What You Need to Know

Last Updated On January 30th, 2024
Are Mattress Flame Retardants Harmful? Here’s What You Need to Know

Key Takeaways

  • Dangers of Chemical Retardants: Flame retardants are added to mattresses to meet federal flammability standards and reduce fire risks. However, some chemical flame retardants like PBDEs and antimony trioxide have been associated with potential health hazards.
  • Non-Chemical Retardants: Fiberglass replaced dangerous chemical retardants in mattresses, but it has its own hazards. Safer, non-toxic alternatives exist, like wool, latex, and graphite. These materials can act as natural flame retardants without using potentially harmful chemicals or carrying the skin irritation risk of fiberglass.
  • Do Your Homework on Flame Retardants: When mattress shopping, research which flame retardants are used. Opt for safer materials like wool or latex. Certifications like CertiPUR-US can also indicate safer foam.

When it comes to mattresses, a flame retardant is legally required. However, the safety of mattress flame retardants can vary. How can you determine if the flame retardant in your mattress might be harmful?

In this extensive guide, we explore what lies beneath the surface to reveal the facts about mattress flame retardants. You will gain vital knowledge to make informed choices about your mattress’s safety and safeguard your well-being.

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What Is A Flame Retardant?

A flame retardant is a chemical or natural material layer that is incorporated into mattresses to meet flammability standards. It is not only used in mattresses but also in various other common items such as electronics, furniture, construction materials, transportation products, and more.

The purpose of a flame retardant is to inhibit the ignition of a fire or slow down its growth. By incorporating flame retardants into mattresses, it helps to reduce the risk of fires and enhance overall safety. These specially designed layers act as a protective barrier, providing peace of mind and ensuring that potential fire hazards are minimized.

Understanding Mattress Flame Retardants

Flame retardants are crucial components found in mattresses to enhance fire safety. It’s important to note that mattresses contain flame retardants to protect against the risk of fires. These additives play a significant role in preventing fires by initiating a chemical reaction that hinders or delays their progression. Different types of flame retardants act at various stages of a fire, whether it is in the solid or gas phase, by breaking down the flammable components.

Some flame retardants work by cooling down materials and impeding the spread of fires. When mattresses contain flame retardants, these additives create a protective barrier on the surface of the material and release carbon dioxide and water-soluble chemicals.

This process dilutes the intensity of the flames and helps control their expansion, ultimately mitigating the fire’s impact. The incorporation of flame retardants in mattresses contributes to a safer sleeping environment by reducing the risk of fire incidents.

Why Are Many Mattress Fire Retardants Harmful?

Many flame retardant chemicals used in mattresses can be harmful for several reasons. They have the potential to cause skin irritation, resulting in discomfort and rashes. Exposure to these dangerous chemicals can also affect learning and memory, making it harder to remember things and learn new information.

Some chemical fire retardants have even been associated with the development of cancers, posing serious long-term health risks and harming human health. They can harm important organs like the heart, lungs, and kidneys, affecting overall health. Chronic exposure to these fire retardant chemicals can even lead to birth defects in newborns.

It’s important to remember that these toxic chemicals can build up in the body over time, appearing in the bloodstream, breast milk, and umbilical cord blood. Fire retardants are commonly found in various household items, including pillows, couches, children’s clothing, carpets, computers, and baby toys.

Safety Rules: Exploring Mattress Flame Retardants

In 2007, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission issued safety regulations requiring all mattresses to have flame retardants in order to pass flammability tests. This is because these regulations aim to make mattresses safer by allowing them to withstand exposure to open flames for a longer time.

For instance, if there is an accident like a cigarette or candle causing a fire, having flame retardant mattresses gives you more time to get out of bed, put out the fire, and safely leave your home.

When chemicals are added to common household products, people naturally become concerned. Therefore, it’s not surprising that there has been a lot of controversy surrounding the safety of flame retardant mattresses. However, it’s important to note that there are mattresses available with safe flame retardants.

In order to meet federal standards, certified mattresses must pass two tests: the Cigarette Ignition Test (16 CFR 1632) and the Open Flame Test (16 CFR 1633). Although these standards don’t make a mattress completely fire-proof, they do slow down the spread of fire when it comes into contact with the mattress or box spring.

So it is impossible to find a mattress made within the U.S. recently that isn’t a flame retardant mattress. But it is not possible but advisable to find a mattress not only free of banned chemical flame retardants but also harmful mattress flame retardants like fiberglass.

What about Amerisleep’s commitment to sleeper safety? To ensure compliance with these regulations, all of our certified mattresses undergo thorough third-party testing. CertiPUR-US® ensures polyurethane foam is produced without PBDEs, TDCPP or TCEP (“Tris”) flame retardants, along with other hazardous materials.

Which Chemical Flame Retardants in Mattresses Should You Avoid?

When it comes to harmful chemical flame retardants, it’s crucial for consumers Verified Source Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) The United States’ health protection agency that defends against dangers to health and safety. View source to know that some substances are more toxic and dangerous than others. Now, let’s take a closer look at a few of these potentially harmful chemicals that are commonly used as flame retardants Verified Source Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) The United States’ health protection agency that defends against dangers to health and safety. View source .

Polybrominated Diphenyl Ethers (PBDEs)

Brominated flame retardants, such as Polybrominated Diphenyl Ethers (PBDEs), were frequently used as flame retardants in furniture and mattresses. These chemicals were specifically added to the foam parts of mattresses, posed significant risks due to their potential danger.

Though they were once common as some of the earliest flame retardants, exposure to PBDEs has been associated with adverse health effects, including disruptions to hormone levels and potential impacts on neurological development.

Boric Acid

Boric acid is a chemical that easily dissolves in water, and when you sleep, your skin can easily absorb it. Since boric acid is commonly used to eliminate roaches, it’s probably not something you would want to sleep on every night. It’s important to avoid prolonged exposure to boric acid as it may have potential health risks, and it’s best to choose mattresses that do not contain this chemical.

Antimony Trioxide

Although this chemical doesn’t dissolve in water as easily as boric acid, it can still come to the surface of the mattress if it gets wet, such as from saliva or urine. Additionally, it can become airborne while you use the mattress. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has classified antimony trioxide as a toxic substance due to its potentially harmful effects. It is advisable to choose mattresses that are free from this chemical to minimize any associated risks.

Decabromodiphenyl Oxide

Decabromodiphenyl oxide, also known as Deca, is a fire retardant that shares similarities with PBDE. Unlike boric acid, it is not highly soluble in water, but certain substances like urine, sweat, water spills, and saliva can still transport it to the mattress surface. It is important to be cautious of these potential sources as they can lead to exposure to Deca, which may pose risks to your health.


Melamine, a chemical that easily dissolves in water, can seep through a mattress and enter your skin. The FDA found that when melamine gets into your bloodstream, it can form crystals that can hurt your kidney cells, which might lead to kidney damage. It’s crucial to understand the dangers of melamine exposure and take steps to prevent it to keep yourself healthy and safe.

Vinylidene Chloride

Vinylidene Chloride, a less commonly used fire retardant in mattresses, can still make its way to the surface if the mattress gets wet. Prolonged exposure to this chemical primarily affects the central nervous system, leading to potential negative effects.

What Are Safe Mattress Flame Retardants?

The mattress industry requires flame retardants in their mattresses to ensure they meet flammability safety standards. However, it’s important to note that not all flame retardants used in mattresses are toxic chemicals. You can find a non-toxic and chemical-free mattress free of dangerous flame retardants.

Many mattress manufacturers opt for safer and natural alternatives, from making more safe memory foam mattresses to natural latex beds and springy hybrids. These natural materials act as natural flame retardants, providing a safer choice for consumers.

Usually, you can find what mattress flame retardants are used by reading the mattress tag or looking at the specs online. If you don’t see it listed, try reaching out to customer service.


We have to preface this material’s inclusion with a caveat—fiberglass is chemical-free and safer than many older flame resistant chemicals, but it is not without its drawbacks. Shoppers have come to search for fiberglass-free mattresses after complaints surfaced of mattress owners complaining about the material slipping through thin cover fabrics and irritating their skin, respiratory system, and digestive system.

Worse, if the particles escape the mattress, it can be difficult for a sleeper to clean up loose mattress fiberglass. The material is small enough to circulate through the air conditioning or heating systems, spreading throughout the home if a person is not careful and quick to catch a mattress fiberglass leak.


People often choose latex foam as a preferred option for an organic mattress, and as a bonus the material is natural fire resistant. Natural latex mattresses are made from the sap of rubber trees. However, it’s important to note that not all mattresses labeled as “latex” are completely free of fire retardants. Some mattresses may be made with synthetic latex or a blend of materials.


Wool is a popular choice for mattress manufacturers due to its natural fire retardant properties. It has the ability to absorb up to 30% of its weight in moisture, which makes it harder to catch fire. When wool does burn, it does so slowly and produces minimal heat, charring, and smoldering instead of igniting quickly.


Graphite has a high melting point and is a poor conductor of heat, which means it can effectively resist and slow down the spread of fire. Furthermore, graphite is known for its ability to release non-toxic gases when exposed to high temperatures, further enhancing its fire-resistant properties. When incorporated into mattress materials, graphite forms a protective layer that acts as a barrier against flames.


Another mineral is silica and it can also function as a natural flame retardant in mattresses. It possesses excellent heat resistance properties, allowing it to withstand high temperatures without easily igniting. The fact that silica can absorb and dissipate heat also limits the fire’s ability to sustain itself. When mixed into mattress materials, silica acts as a physical barrier, preventing flames from spreading and reducing the intensity of the fire.


Rayon is a fabric made by combining cellulose fiber with silica. While it is an option for mattresses, it is important to note that it is not entirely natural or eco-friendly. However, one advantage is that it doesn’t contain harmful chemicals commonly found in flame retardants.


Kevlar is a strong synthetic material made from durable plastic fibers that can resist fire. It doesn’t require any harmful chemicals, making it non-toxic and safe for humans. Although it’s the priciest choice, it has been tested to be inert and doesn’t release any harmful chemicals or particles into your sleeping area.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the most flame retardant natural fabric in mattresses?

Wool is considered one of the most flame retardant natural fabrics used in mattresses. It has inherent fire-resistant properties, such as its ability to hold moisture. The accumulated moisture helps it burn slowly, making it an effective natural flame retardant material.

Do I need to protect myself from mattress flame retardants?

It is important to be aware of mattress flame retardants and their potential effects on health. While flame retardants are used to meet safety regulations, some chemicals may pose risks. We suggest choosing mattresses with safer alternatives, such as natural flame retardant materials like wool or latex, and to research and select products that prioritize consumer safety.

How do you know if a mattress is fire-retardant?

You can determine if a mattress is fire-retardant by checking for labels or certifications that indicate its compliance with safety standards. Look for indications that the mattress has passed flammability tests, such as the Cigarette Ignition Test (16 CFR 1632) or the Open Flame Test (16 CFR 1633). Essentially, if the mattress was made in the U.S. within the past 15 years, then it should have passed these flammability tests.

Are all new mattresses fire retardant?

Not all new mattresses are automatically fire retardant. However, in the United States, federal regulations require mattresses to meet certain flammability standards. This means that most new mattresses sold in the country are designed to be fire retardant to some extent.

Are mattress flame retardant chemicals safe?

The safety of mattress flame retardant chemicals is a subject of debate and concern. While a chemical flame retardant is used to reduce the risk of fire, some of them have been associated with potential health risks. Even chemical flame retardants’ replacement of fiberglass has faced its own criticism for its potential effects on the human body, leaving many to look for mattresses without fiberglass.

It is important to research and choose mattresses that use safer flame retardant alternatives or are certified to meet fire safety standards without using harmful chemicals. For example, not all memory foam mattresses have fiberglass, but many lower-quality ones will to keep costs low.


Mattress flame retardants serve the purpose of enhancing fire safety and reducing the risk of fires. However, the safety of these chemicals can vary, and some may pose potential health risks.

It is essential to be informed about the flame retardants used in mattresses and choose products that prioritize consumer safety by opting for safer alternatives such as wool or latex. By making informed choices and understanding nontoxic flame retardants,, you can ensure a safer sleeping environment and protect your well-being.

About the author

Marygrace Taylor is an award-winning health writer for Amerisleep. Her commitment to sleep health is evident in her ability to consistently prioritize eight hours of sleep each night. Her in-depth interviews with industry experts, such as Ken Ceder on "Why Light is Essential for Great Sleep and Optimum Health," highlight her dedication to delivering valuable insights. Marygrace's work has been featured in reputable publications like Business Insider, Glamour, Refinery29, Metro UK, and Hunker, further solidifying her expertise in the field.

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