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The "Other" Chemical Problem In The Mattress Business

Jan 10, 2014

Going up against the chemical companies and the tobacco companies is not the smartest thing some people have done, and yet nothing ever changes until someone is willing to stand up and say something. Arlene Blum, executive director of the Green Science Policy Institute, was one person who stood up and said that Chlorinated Tris, which was being applied to children's pajamas in the '70's under the auspice of saving lives due to fire danger. The practice was halted due to her actions, and now decades later, there is a new movement afoot to do the same for the furniture industry. 

This has brought new focus on the mattress business, which does not have to treat their foams like the furniture industry does, rather, the mattress industry merely has to pass a fire test, allowing manufacturers to use whatever means they see fit to pass that test. Unfortunately, many large manufacturers still use a chemical agent to pass that test, and do not divulge this information to their customers or the general public. I am hoping that this focus on the furniture industry will bleed over into the mattress business and lead to more scrutiny and eventually more awareness and genuine change.

There is however another issue not being discussed, and the vast majority of the public and lawmakers are not aware exists, and that is the State mandate in California that allows a mattress retailer to resell a used mattress if it has been treated with chemicals. And the State even mandates one specific chemical: Steri-Fab. 

Many retailers of mattress throughout the State of California advertise that they will take a mattress back and refund a customer 100% of their money. Where do those mattresses go? Do they just throw them away? No. Most major retailers follow the Bureau of Home Furnishing's mandate on how to refurbish and resell used mattresses. Here is a LINK to the site instructing them how to do so. Go into the clearance center or clearance stores of major mattress retailers and you will see a selection of mattresses, wrapped in plastic, with red tags. These red tags mean these beds are reconditioned. 

There are two ways to recondition mattresses: Spray them with Steri-Fab or basically cook them, subjecting them to a large oven type chamber, heating them to the point of sanitizing them. Obviously it is much cheaper to spray them with a chemical. 

What is wrong with spraying this chemical on the mattresses? Now, if you press the issue, they will tell you there is nothing wrong with this practice, that they are merely spraying what basically constitutes rubbing alcohol on the mattresses. This is partially true.

What they are spraying is much more than that however. Here is a link to the ingredients of Steri-Fab. Basically, here is what is in it:

  • Steri fab is a combination of a synthetic pyrethroid, a dual quat, isopropyl alcohol and water. When the product dries (15 - 20 minutes at room temperature) it is no longer active.

Let's look at two ingredients that raise red flags: Synthetic Pyrethroids and a Dual Quat. What the heck are those?


A Synthetic Pyrethroid in lay terms is an insecticide. Bug killer. Here is some more about what synthetic pyrethroids are and what they can do. Basically, they can cause health issue like many other chemicals used to kill insects. This is NOT something you want exposed to your body, the air you breath and certainly NOT that of your children's, and yet the State of California not only endorses it mandates it.

Dual Quat? Here is the warning label on Dual Quat:

DANGER: CORROSIVE. Causes irreversible eye damage and skin burns. Harmful if swallowed. Do not get in eyes, on skin, or on clothing. Wear protective eyewear (goggles, face shield or safety glasses), protective clothing and protective gloves (rubber or chemical resistant). Harmful if inhaled. Wash thoroughly with soap and water after handling. Remove contaminated clothing and wash clothing before reuse.

Here is a link to what Dual Quat is, simply Dual Quat is used in Veterinarian treatment of animals and is a Disinfectant Pseudomonacidal Staphylocidal Salmonellacidal Bactericidal Fungicidal Mildewstatic and Virucidal. After reading that page on what it does, is this something you want to sleep on?

As you can see from the above, we in the natural and organic mattress business, those of us who care about this industry, have a long road ahead and a tough battle to bring to an end the slow poisoning of consumers by harmful toxic chemicals. Mattresses and bedding, these intimate products that come in close contact with our skin, eyes and the air we breath, and those of  our children and pets, should be held to a higher standard. They should be made with natural materials or materials that have been tested safe. And our government agencies should be protecting us not allowing us to be in contact with these poisons. 

  • fire chemicalsmattress chemicalstoxic mattresses