Wool vs. Flame Retardant Chemicals

Do we use flame retardants in our mattresses? No, we don’t! We’ve got something better. We’ve got wool!

But what’s all the fuss about? Aren’t flame retardants good in case of fire? They are, but they are also extremely toxic. That is why we should consider a safe and effective alternative.

Did you know that one of the greatest benefits of wool is its natural resistance to flames? It does not melt like nylon, polyester, or foam. Wool can slow down the combustion of flame spread in bed linens, sofas, and all kinds of furnishings. That’s why it is the best alternative to flame retardants.

Some mattress companies use a layer of wool in their products to meet legal regulations. Some others use a bit of wool for the sake of marketing and a lot of chemicals for the sake of low manufacturing costs. But let’s see how it all started.

What are flame retardants and why are they present in most of the mattresses sold from the ’70s till nowadays in the USA?

Flame retardants are chemical compounds used by the furniture, mattress, and bedding industry to meet fire safety regulations. Most of the chemicals used in the process, however, are proven to be toxic and dangerous to human health.

Everything started back in the days when smoking was cool, glamorous, and cheap. In the 50s and 60s, it was socially acceptable to smoke pretty much everywhere. Even in bed. That caused a lot of fire incidents and was the reason for many injuries and deaths.

No wonder mattresses were treated as the largest fuel source at home. The foam that is used to create them is highly flammable and combustible.

Fire hazards needed to be taken out of the bedroom but without messing up with the interests of the tobacco industry. That’s why in the 70s the Federal Mattress Flammability Standard was presented in the Federal Register and took effect. According to the standard, each mattress manufacturer was supposed to assure that complying mattresses could resist ignition from cigarettes and other small heat sources. That is when mattress manufacturers started using fire retardant chemicals.

Over the years research showed that most of these fire retardant chemicals have detrimental health effects, especially for children and newborns.

A new regulation was issued almost 30 years later in 2007. According to it, mattresses manufactured and sold in the United States had to be resistant to open flame sources, such as candles, matches, and cigarette lighters.

The regulation, however, does not require manufacturers to clearly identify the flame retardant chemicals used in the products. And while there are completely natural materials like wool that could be used as fire retardants, it is much cheaper to pass the tests with the chemicals and most companies prefer using cheap toxic options.

What are the side effects of sleeping on a mattress treated with flame retardant chemicals?

People that are sensitive to chemicals immediately react with rashes and breathing difficulties. Most of us don’t but that does not mean that a mattress loaded with fire retardants is safe. Flame retardants leach out of the material in which they have been added slowly over time, ending up in dust and becoming airborne.

Each and every night we spend in bed, we inhale the dangerous compounds that in the long run cause serious damage to our health. As newborns and babies spend most of their time in bed, we should be extremely cautious and careful of the safety of their beds and mattresses and make sure there are no toxic chemicals in them.

Studies have found that approximately 90 percent of Americans have flame retardant chemicals in their body. As scary as it sounds, flame retardant chemicals can accumulate even in breast milk.

In a number of studies the flame retardant chemicals have been linked to a wide range of serious health problems:

  • Hyperactivity
  • Impaired memory
  • Immune disorders
  • Hormone disorders
  • Learning deficits
  • Reduced IQ
  • Reproductive system disorders
  • Cancer

Yes, fire safety is a thing we should have a solution for. But that doesn’t mean that we should compromise our well-being and health in general. Especially when there are all-natural ways to improve fire safety at home without any side effects.

What makes wool the best alternative to flame retardant chemicals in mattresses and furniture?

The flame resistance of wool comes from the naturally high nitrogen and water content in its fibers. Wool requires a higher temperature and higher levels of oxygen in order to burn. Soldiers, firemen, and policemen have been relying on wool for ages. Even astronauts and Formula 1 drivers wear wool next to their skin, thus reducing the risks in case of danger of being exposed to flames, states the International Wool Textile Organization. 

That is why many companies use wool instead of chemicals, thus creating a non-toxic product and abiding by the fire hazard standards at the same time. Unfortunately, many more prefer to use the more convenient and cheaper toxic flame retardant chemicals. 

All-wool mattresses are not required by law to be sprayed with any additional flame retardant chemicals.

How can we protect ourselves from the negative effects of flame retardants?

Flame retardants are used in pretty much anything: textiles, upholstered furniture, most mattresses, electronic devices, etc. It is impossible to stay safe especially when labeling them is not required by law. There are, however, some tips that can help you reduce their effects.

  • Clean your home with a damp mop or use a HEPA vacuum cleaner. That can help reduce the amount of dust in your home that may contain flame retardants, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) advises. Wet dusting on a regular basis could also help. 
  • Avoid products made with polyurethane foam. Memory and polyurethane foam usually contain high concentrations of flame retardant chemicals.
  • Do additional research on every item you bring home, especially when shopping for your children. Make sure to contact the salesperson or even the manufacturer for more detailed information.
  • Whenever possible, bet on natural flame retardants and mostly wool!

Chronic exposure to toxic flame retardant chemicals during sleep is not the only way to stay safe in case of fire. Luckily there are healthier alternatives and wool is one of them.


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