No one wants to think about a fire in their home. But, you might be surprised to find out that bedrooms are the 2nd most common location of home fires, next to kitchens. Mattresses and bedding account for over 20,000 fires every year, according to the National Institute of Standards and Technology — U.S. Department of Commerce.1
What Are the Federal Flammability Standards?
All mattresses sold in the United States must meet the requirements of 16 CFR Parts 1632 and 1633, as regulated by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). In short, it requires all mattresses and mattress pads manufactured or imported into the U.S.meet rigorous standards to reduce the severity of fires.
The Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC) standard has been in effect since July 1, 2007.
The federal flammability standards require:
- Third-party testing for children’s products subject to a product safety rule to be conducted by an in-house lab or third party lab.
- That manufacturers and importers of mattress products, including children’s and crib mattresses, subject to CPSC safety standards to issue a General Conformity Certificate stating compliance with product safety rules.
Why Do the Federal Flammability Standards Matter?
“The purpose of the standard is to reduce deaths and injuries associated with mattress fires by limiting the size of the fire generated by a mattress set during a 30-minute test,” according to 1633.1.
What Makes a Mattress Fireproof?
Most mattresses contain fire retardant chemicals to ward off the possibility of fire. However, the CPSC does not explicitly require mattress manufacturers to use these chemicals to meet the requirements of the CPSC standard.
Some manufacturers use natural flame retardants. As long as they pass the 30-minute flammability test over an open flame, they can be approved for distribution. If a mattress doesn’t pass the test, the mattress has to go through a number of modifications before the manufacturer can legally create and distribute that mattress. All mattresses that pass the open flame test receive a label.
Are the Mattress Fire Retardants Safe?
Most mattress fire retardants are safe. However, some fire retardant chemicals can make you sick. They might impair thyroid function, mess with your immune system, cause neurological problems, cancer, and even cause birth defects, according to an article by Consumer Reports.
Quick Note: Since 2005, PBDEs have been banned in the U.S. If you own a mattress that was manufactured prior to 2005, and it has ripped, or the foam is breaking down, it might be a good idea to replace your mattress.
Unsafe Retardant Materials
There are several especially harmful mattress flame retardants that are unsafe for your family.
Halogenated flame retardants
This fire retardant contains bromine or chlorine bonded to carbon. This can cause:
- Endocrine disruption
- Immune suppression
Organophosphorus flame retardants
These flame retardants contain phosphorus bonded to carbon.
- They are very bad for the environment
- They can affect fertility, are neurotoxic and carcinogenic
Polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs)
These ethers are harmful and should be avoided if possible. They can build up in your body over time and have caused toxicity in mice and rats, according to the Green Science Policy Institute. In addition:
- They are harmful to the environment
- They are considered endocrine-disrupting chemicals
- Can interrupt mental and physical development
Found in roach killers and pesticides, boric acid has a high level of toxicity that can also be absorbed by your skin, just like PBDEs. Over long periods of exposure, boric acid can cause:
- Kidney damage
- Impaired fertility
- Cardiovascular issues
Melamine is highly water-soluble, meaning it can easily be absorbed into your skin. For this reason, melamine can cause:
- Kidney malfunction
- Bladder cancer
- Reproductive system damage
You might also want to stay away from mattresses that have chemicals applied to the foams inside. That’s because foam mattresses can off-gas, releasing chemicals into the air.
Safe Retardant Materials
Not all mattress flame retardant chemicals should be a cause for concern. Many mattress manufacturers are also concerned about the potential hazards of chemical retardants.
That’s why many manufacturers now use blends of natural fibers, like silk, cotton, and wool mixed with manmade fibers like polyester and rayon instead. These materials, along with plant-based sprays, create a flame retardant barrier without the use of harmful chemicals. As a result, these mattresses also meet the requirements of the CPSC standard.
Some safer retardant materials include:
Quick note: Although many U.S. manufacturers use natural flame retardants in the manufacturing process, several overseas manufacturers have not adopted this practice and continue using harmful chemicals.
Yes. All mattresses must meet strict requirements by the CPSC. However, the CPSC does not specifically require mattress manufacturers to use these chemicals to meet the requirements of the CPSC standard.
That depends on the chemicals used. Some chemicals used as flame retardants are toxic, while others are not. Many U.S. mattress manufacturers now use natural flame retardants that are not toxic. However, many overseas manufacturers still use toxic chemicals.
If a mattress has passed the strict federal flammability standards for mattresses, it will have a 16 CFR 1633 label. These labels also contain the name and address of the manufacturer. In addition, it is possible to go to a manufacturer’s website to see a list of flame retardants used.