The CertiPUR-US® program is a foam certification program run by independent nonprofit, the Alliance for Flexible Polyurethane Foam. The program certifies flexible polyurethane foam only (latex is not certified as part of the program).
From a consumer point of view, seeing the CertiPUR-US® logo is an assurance the foam used in the product has met the program’s stringent standards.
According to the CertiPUR-US® program website:
“Certified flexible polyurethane foams meet CertiPUR-US® program standards for content, emissions and durability, and are analyzed by independent, accredited testing laboratories. CertiPUR-US® approved foams are: Made without ozone depleters; PBDEs, TDCPP or TCEP (“Tris”) flame retardants; without mercury, lead, and other heavy metals; without formaldehyde; and without phthalates regulated by the Consumer Product Safety Commission. They also must meet low VOC (Volatile Organic Compound) emissions for indoor air quality (less than 0.5 parts per million). Administered by a not-for-profit organization, CertiPUR-US® is a certification program for flexible polyurethane foam used in bedding and upholstered furniture.”
Introducing CertiPUR-US® Certified Foam
CertiPUR-US® foam is foam, with a twist.
Flexible polyurethane foam can be problematic from both an environmental and health perspective – and that applies to both memory foam and other formulations. Some chemicals used during manufacture can deplete the environment, and some chemicals, such as fire retardants and VOCs, are linked to indoor air pollution and health effects once they’re in your house.
Not all foam uses these chemicals, which is where certified foam comes in.
What’s Wrong with Uncertified Foam?
First of all, it’s important to get the terminology right here.
Instead of talking about conventional foam vs. certified foam, it’s more useful to talk about certified foam vs uncertified foam. Conventional foam is actually a foam formulation, just like memory foam.
In the past, foam was filled with fire retardants. These days, it’s difficult to know.
According to the Alliance for Flexible Polyurethane Foam, these days flammability requirements for residential bedding and upholstery are more commonly met by using a flame retardant fabric barrier or “sock” completely separate from the foam. According to email communication we had with them, it’s rare for foam manufactured in the United States to be filled with fire retardants.
A study at Duke University’s Foam Project backs this up. After analyzing 2215 samples of residential foam sent in by members of the public, Duke found:
“Most samples had either no flame retardant or only one, while 203 samples had 2 or more flame retardant chemicals.”Foam Project
Despite this, fire retardants can do an outsize amount of harm, especially for little kids. Our feeling is it’s worth checking with the manufacturer, or relying on independent certifications like the CertiPUR-US® program, to exercise and abundance of caution.
Additionally, it’s not just fire retardants that are cause for concern in uncertified foam.
According to a 2017 peer-reviewed literature review published in Building and Environment:
“Mattress foam and covers, pillows, and bed frames can emit a variety of volatile and semi-volatile organic compounds, including phthalate plasticizers and organophosphate flame retardants, and emission rates can increase due to localized elevations in surface temperature and moisture near the bed due to close contact with the human body.” [emphasis ours]
Certification Gives You Certainty
Uncertified foam may have some of these chemicals, or they may not.
When a foam mattress does have those chemicals, it’s not a good news story for your indoor air quality or your developmentally-vulnerable baby. And the effects can be made worse when sleeping on it.
The big problem with uncertified foam is you just don’t know whether they have those chemicals or not. With certified foam, you get certainty:
“CertiPUR-US certified foams prohibit phthalates regulated by the US Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) as well as organophosphate FRs.”
And for those of you who want to dig deeper, the Alliance for Flexible Polyurethane Foam makes it pretty easy, publishing their Technical Guidelines on their website.
According to our emails with staff:“We are very transparent – there is nothing behind the curtain – it’s all on our website, including our complete Technical Guidelines – the criteria for certification. It’s a tough standard to pass and many foams fail and has to be reformulated to meet our standards, before they can achieve certification.”
CertiPUR-US® Foam is “Made Without” Foam
CertiPUR-US® certified foam has to meet the following criteria to become certified:
- Made without ozone depleters
- Made without PBDEs, TDCPP or TCEP (”Tris”) flame retardants
- Made without mercury, lead, and other heavy metals
- Made without formaldehyde
- Made without phthalates regulated by the Consumer Product Safety Commission
- Low VOC (Volatile Organic Compound) emissions for indoor air quality (less than 0.5 parts per million)
If you buy a product with certified foam, you know it’s been analyzed by independent, accredited testing laboratories and meets CertiPUR-US® standards for content, emissions and durability.
The CertiPUR-US® Program is Stringent About What Companies Can and Can’t Claim
As consumers (and bloggers) it’s easy to throw around terms like environmentally-friendly, eco-friendly, chemical-free, and non-toxic. As a culture, we have a generally shared understanding of what those terms mean.
That said, our colloquial use of these terms really aren’t all that precise – and sometimes they’re downright inaccurate.
Chemical-free is a great example. Pretty much nothing in the world is chemical free.
And while something may seem eco-friendly because it uses recycled materials, such as PETE bottles, it may not actually be any better for the environment than a product using raw materials.
Is CertiPUR-US® Foam Safe and Healthy for your Family?
Our take is that CertiPUR-US® certified foam is a far better alternative to uncertified foam.
However, it’s not perfect.
“The CertiPUR-US® program prohibits only the FRs [fire retardants] that have been identified by the Globally Harmonized System (GHS) as substances that may cause cancer, may cause genetic defects, or may damage fertility or the unborn child (1A, 1B). Currently we prohibit the use of the following FRs, but the list may change as science and research dictate:
- Pentabromodiphenyl ether
- Octabromodiphenyl ether
- Decabromodiphenyl ether
- Chlorinated phenols (PCP, TeCP)
- Dimethyl Methylphosphonate (DMMP)
- Polybrominated Biphenyls (PBB)
- Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCB)
- Polychlorinated Terphenyls (PCT)
- Tri-(2,3-dibromo-propyl)-phosphate (TRIS)
- Tris-(aziridinyl)-phosphinoxide (TEPA)
- Tris-(2-chloroethyl)-phosphate (TCEP)
- Tris-(1,3-dichloro-2-propyl)-phosphate (TDCPP)”
In other words, there are limits to what the program tests for, but those limits are set by best-available evidence, and evolve as the science changes. And unfortunately, there is limited science available about some flame retardants on the market, meaning for some of these chemicals – we just don’t know, and we don’t know what we don’t know.
It also still has some of the same problems as uncertified foam.
These include running a bit hotter than more breathable materials, which means you’ll need to pay close attention to what your baby wears to bed, and nursery temperature (preferably by using a thermometer).
They also seem to have less edge support, meaning you have to make sure crib mattresses really fit properly in the crib, and mattresses being used as a floor bed aren’t up against the wall for safety reasons.
Likewise (and this is just from personal experience), I find foam mattresses aren’t as firm as some alternative materials, and a firm mattress is crucial for a baby’s safety.
What Does This Mean When Shopping for Your Family?
Buying products with CertiPUR-US® certified foam isn’t a fail safe against all harmful chemicals – it screens for those that are recognized internationally as some of the worst offenders.
However, it’s also up to you to do your research.
If you’re shopping for a foam crib mattress, our advice is to look for the CertiPUR-US® in combination with other certifications, such as GREENGUARD Gold, or avoid foam all together.
Likewise, many pack and plays have a foam mattress included (Phil & Ted’s aside), and some cribs do too. While tempting to try to make pack and plays more comfortable with more padding, etc., I strongly advise against this, unless you’re using a manufacturer approved method, and always pay attention to usage guidelines, such as weight limits.
If you want to get certified foam, Nook crib mattresses combine CertiPUR-US® certified foam with other certifications.
And if you want to double check whether your foam crib mattress uses CertiPUR-US® certified foam, you can find a complete list of companies and brands offering products containing CertiPUR-US certified foam at www.certipur.us/listings.
If in doubt, you should also reach out to the manufacturer for more info.