I can't afford to buy a new mattress. Has anyone invented a "green" alternative to shield us? A mattress cover that would block irritants?

Asked by Missy
Woodland Hills, CA

Can't afford to buy new mattresses, or open all the walls to remove old insulation and/replace, etc. Heard that the chemicals coming from these products causes health risks. Is there a special mattress cover that would block irritants? Special paint or wall coverings that prohibit formaldehyde from escaping?


Kirsten Flynn

Answered by Kirsten Flynn

Palo Alto, CA

Sustainable Home

May 10, 2013

Hello Missy,

I totally understand being on a budget. It is frustrating when you feel that something is unhealthy in your home, and that you cannot afford to fix it.

Let me go over what I think you can do that is both reasonable in price, and improves the health of your home.


Formaldehyde is a common ingredient of adhesives in construction materials. It usually enters the home as a component of plywood products, fiberboard products, or in a glue used for tiles or flooring. There may well be some of these products in your home.

In order to limit your exposure, one choice is to seal your walls with AFM Hard Seal. AFM (American Formulating and Manufacturing) creates all of their products to be safe for even chemically sensitive people. It is specifically intended to seal products that might emit VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds) This should be paired with a careful job caulking any cracks or crevices in your walls with a zero or low VOC caulk.

  • OSI makes a green series of construction sealants, and
  • Green Builder magazine keeps a list of green products like this on their web site here.

As a bonus, this kind of sealing will keep your home more comfortable, and save energy and money.


Most mattresses do not have halogenated flame retardants in the foam, as they do not create enough delay in flame to pass the mattress fire code. They use a fire barrier cloth to protect from fire.

  • However some people are concerned that VOCs are emitted by the polyurethane foam.
  • Additionally, mattresses are assembled out of many layers and some manufacturers use adhesives to to connect the layers. As mentioned above, glues often contain formaldehyde. 

However I do not know of any mattress cover that would be guaranteed to block VOCs and SVOCs (Semi Volatile Organic Compounds, like fire retardants).

If you are worried about chemicals in your mattress, my reccommendation is to go ahead and get a new mattress. Ikea does have a mostly natural latex mattress (here), although it does contain 15% conventional foam. They are comparatively reasonably priced, however they are not as bargain priced as other Ikea mattresses.

I think it is quite frustrating that it costs more to have them take out the chemicals, but the current reality is that natural healthy materials cost more.

Air cleaner

I also think that it is good to invest in a high quality air cleaner, and run it at its lowest speed all of the time that you are home.

An air cleaner that is designed to remove both particulate matter and chemicals will work to remove VOCs and SVOCs. As I have mentioned before, I am a fan of Austin Air Healthmate and Healthmate Jr.

I hope you can take care of your home so that you will feel both safe and healthy.


For more information:

Read "I'm shopping for a new mattress, preferably natural/organic if it's affordable. Any advice?" a Q&A answered by Kirsten Flynn.

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