- Fiberglass, which is an inhalation hazard, can be found in some mattress covers
- A mattress may contain fiberglass, even though it won’t be labeled as such
- Fiberglass is intended to replace harmful flame retardants but is also hazardous
Fiberglass is now being used as a replacement for harmful chemical flame retardants in some mattresses, according to a new study. But it can also pose its own risks.
The researchers found that people might be exposed to inhalable fiberglass fragments from their mattress covers but are unaware about this hidden hazard in their bedroom. If inhaled, fiberglass can irritate or damage the lungs, and cause other harms.
Why is fiberglass in a mattress cover?
Mattresses in the past have been made with foam that includes flame retardants. But those chemicals have been linked to an array of health harms, including cancer and hormone disruption and behavioral problems in children.
Recent changes to California’s flammability standards mean manufacturers can meet those requirements without using toxic chemical additives in the polyurethane foam, so some companies have stopped using them. But some alternatives, such as additives like fiberglass used in mattress coverings, can also pose risks.
If mattress covers are removed or damaged, the fiberglass fragments can escape into the air, creating a potential inhalation hazard and skin and eye irritation, the researchers find.
About the study
The peer-reviewed study, published this week by researchers from the California Department of Public Health, documents the potential for harmful exposure.
The investigation began in part because of 128 complaints of exposure to fiberglass filed with the Consumer Product Safety Commission in 2020. California also launched an investigation last year of a 6-year-old with persistent skin and respiratory irritation, which was linked to fiberglass release from a mattress. The fiberglass had dispersed so much that cleanup required disposal of the mattress, carpet and clothing that were contaminated.
In the study, researchers tested new mattresses from Sealy, Modway and Zinus, and a Graco crib and toddler mattress. The Zinus and Graco crib mattress both used an inner mattress cover that contained fiberglass. The inner covers were inside a zippered outer cover that could lead to consumer exposure if it was ever opened.
All four mattresses tested were advertised as meeting Certi-PUR-US standards, which verify the foam is made without harmful ingredients like heavy metals, phthalates and certain flame retardants.
Consumers may believe the mattresses they’re buying are free from harmful substances when they see the certification, but this declaration is misleading.
It’s an industry-backed standard developed with weak requirements that apply only to the foam, not the additives used in the mattress cover.
It’s not clear how much fiberglass would be released from a used mattress, but it’s concerning if wear over time leads to the release of fiberglass fragments.
The harms of chemical flame retardants are well documented, but using another hazardous material in their place isn’t a solution, and in fact just creates new problems.
What you can do
When you buy a mattress or crib mattress, EWG recommends looking for a company that is transparent about what it uses to meet fireproofing requirements and about the other materials in their products.
Mattresses can meet flammability standards using one of several safer alternatives, including wool or polylactic acid batting. Choose materials like wool and cotton and be wary of overstated claims.
You can find more information on choosing a healthy mattress here.