First, a quick backgrounder on the Chemicals in our Mattresses and Furniture...
Conventional mattresses are usually made of polyurethane foam or synthetic latex which generally off-gas VOCs. It's difficult to find out exactly which chemicals were used in a particular mattress. On top of that, flame retardants like PBDEs, chlorinated Tris, or newer chemicals are often added, and won't be listed anywhere in sight. Couches, curtains and pillows also frequently contain flame retardants.
You also want to avoid mattresses, curtains and upholstery that are stain resistant, as they contain harmful perfluorochemicals. Similiarly, the chemical that makes sheets (and clothes) wrinkle-free releases formaldehyde.
With furniture you want to avoid: plywood, paneling, particleboard, fiberboard, and any furniture and cabinets which contain chemicals including formaldehyde. (More about kitchen cabinetry and countertops in: A Non-Toxic Kitchen). Stay away from wood that has been treated with conventional stains, paints or varathane as these are noxious chemicals.
VOC-Free Organic Mattresses
Natural latex, or wool mattresses with cotton (or wool) covers are two great chemical-free options.
There are plenty of options for natural latex mattresses made in US and Canada. I have tried to source out the most affordable ones. (Make sure it is 100% natural latex, claims zero-VOCs, and test for odours/sensitivities to make sure nothing was added to it).
For a more affordable option you can make your own quite easily by ordering the (natural) latex and mattress cover.
From Nest Bedding you can get a 6 inch piece of latex for $650 and a mattress cover for $250 (queen size, plus tax and shipping from the US). I was able to test a couple samples - they do have a rubber smell, but it didn't cause me to feel sick. The smell dissipates slightly but does not go away. An organic mattress cover would also block a lot of the scent.
A slightly more economical option - for $233 (plus tax and shipping) you can get 2 inches of Natural Latex Foam from Amazon (queen). Maybe you don't need 6 inches of foam?
I think the purest option is a 100% wool mattress from Shepard's Dream (California). It is a (relatively) economical choice at 1200$ for a queen (skinny version pictured). That is the mattress I use and it does have a fairly strong wool scent.
Cheaper DIY Options
Inspired by an article from EI Wellspring, I started thinking... for those of us severely disabled with MCS but on very tight budget, what is the absolute simplest bedding option that will be tolerable?
1) Check out this cool DIY twist mattress! This company will sell the organic cotton canvasses and buckwheat hulls that you twist together yourself (300$ for the canvass)! They don't seem to guarantee that the buckwheat is organic so I would source the hull yourself (plus they don't deliver hull to Canada). A mattress topper or pad would likly be needed for comfort. Or, you could fill the canvass with Organic Cotton Batting, wool batt, or even recycled wool sweaters, and use the same twist system to make your own true DIY chemical-free mattress!
2) Organic mattress pads could be piled up. At $115 each, you would probably need 7 to make a typical mattress, but see if you can do with fewer. Towels or blankets can be piled up underneath to add more firmness and thickness.
Other Options: Futons are often affordable and often don't use flame retardants - but look for organic cotton or wool filled. I have heard of silk filled mattresses (which seem to be more affordable in the UK) if you cannot tolerate cotton, wool or latex. Or for a quick and easy solution maybe a camping cot will do! Check what type of material they are made of and let it off gas a bit first. The plus side is there is not much to off gas there so some time in the sun should do it.
Pillows and Sheets
Coyuchi makes organic sheets, pillows and other bedding that is made with the chemically sensitive person in mind. The best bet is always non-dyed fabric but they do use natural dyes. If you react to the product you can return it. I've been really happy with their products.
Cotton that has been processed into fabric (sheets, pillow cases etc) no longer contains pesticides in thoery. But stay away from permanent pressed finish (wrinkle-free finish), and make sure the dyes are steadfast or all natural. I find that a lot of cotton that is not labeled organic has a chemical added to it and smells horrible.
NB (While we are on the topic of chemical-free fabrics here is a guide to buying chemical-free clothing or removing "sizing" chemicals and other harmful odours.)
|my bed with Coyuchi Blankets|
A non toxic wood bed frame is $585 for a queen (ships from the US) from Organic Grace. With the skinny wool mattress above, your bed will cost $1785 plus tax and shipping.
Your least expensive option for a bed with a frame is this unfinished pine frame from IKEA, (a steal at $49), with a custom ordered piece of natural latex, and covering of your choice. Frame + latex (including cover) will cost you $950 plus tax and shipping. I've had good luck with IKEA unfinished wood or wood finished with urethane offgassed outside for one month.
Or, a simple DIY option would be to make your own pallet and use a latex foam cushion with a fabric cover on top. The price would probably be comparable to the IKEA bed frame option.
Couches are tricky. I'm having a carpenter make me a base out of maple and the glue of my choosing with a custom sized piece of natural latex covered on top.
A futon is also a good option if it is filled with 100% organic cotton or wool batting. With an unfinished or naturally finished wood.
The best option for curtains is to buy your own fabric and make them yourself (or have them made) so that you can get something that has no flame retardants, stain repellants, or "wrinkle-free" chemicals.
With other furniture you will also want to look for inert materials like metal, glass, solid wood with natural finishes, tables with ceramic tiles etc..
Vintage furniture might be tolerable for some if you are sure it hasn't bee re-finished recently with conventional products, and has not been exposed to chemical cleaning products, smoke, mould, or other substances in its previous life.