Expecting a baby on a budget is a daunting experience! Our guide to used crib mattress safety will help you decide on either a new or used crib mattress.
A new crib mattress for every new baby is the safest option. However, it is possible to use a second-hand crib mattress safely. If you’re considering a second-hand crib mattress, check the mattress for firmness and edge support, mold and stains, recalls, third-hand smoke, bed bugs, and allergens. Avoid mattresses with visible stains or a musty smell, and invest in a good quality, non-toxic mattress cover.
There are other things you can do to ensure your second-hand crib mattress is safe for your baby. Keep reading for our comprehensive checklist for purchasing a second-hand crib mattress.
Potential Issues with Used Crib Mattresses
When it comes to baby crib mattresses (and pack n play mattresses, too), firmer is always better.
Soft crib mattresses are a safety hazard, as are crib mattresses that sag, slump, or have uneven firmness across the surface. With a soft or uneven crib mattress, the mattress can conform to your baby’s face, potentially suffocating them while sleeping.
As mattresses age, they can deteriorate, becoming softer overall. The inner bits – foam density on a foam mattress, coils on an innerspring, and proprietary materials with brands like Naturepedic – don’t necessarily deteriorate at the same rate across the mattress, which can create uneven firmness across the surface. This can be dangerous for a baby.
Besides, your baby will be used to a firm mattress from their bassinet. When it comes time to transition baby from their bassinet to a crib, a similarly firm mattress will feel just right, and could even minimize the chance of sleep disruption (so long as you’re not in the middle of a sleep regression).
One area in which a used crib mattress may be inferior to a new mattress, in particular, is edge support: how firm and well-supported the edges of the mattress are. When a mattress has good edge support, it will feel comfortable to sit on the edge, and you won’t feel like the mattress is sinking, or forcing you off.
Edge support in a crib mattress is important for several reasons.
Crib mattress edges that are soft and pliable have the potential to create gaps between the mattress edge and crib side. If the space between the crib and mattress edge is too large (current recommendations call for no more than two finger widths), babies can get stuck, introducing the possibility of injury or suffocation.
Same goes if you’re using a mattress on the floor – if you put it up against the wall (a big no no!) and are using a mattress with poor edge support, there’s a chance your baby could roll between the wall and the mattress and get stuck.
Edge support is also important if you plan on using the same mattress during the toddler years. When you’re sitting on the edge of the mattress during storytime, you’ll want something that is supportive for you.
Likewise, a firm mattress will minimize the chance of falls once your baby starts standing up in the crib, or your toddler starts trying to climb out of the crib!
Finally, many people report that mattresses with good edge support feel safer, and reduce the feeling like they may fall out of bed. In this regard, good edge support will be important for your peace of mind and child’s safety when they switch to a toddler bed.
Whenever you buy anything second-hand for your baby, including cribs or crib mattresses, it’s important to check the recall list.
If you’re an American, you can check recalls with the Consumer Product Safety Commission. In Canada, you can check recalls on the government-run Healthy Canadians website.
Third-hand smoke is what’s left over once a cigarette or cigar is extinguished. It’s the poisons that cling to clothing, hair and skin, furniture, floors and carpets, walls, and curtains. It tends to resist cleaning, and can build up over time, even getting into your household dust (source).
While third-hand smoke is dangerous for all members of your family, it’s particularly dangerous for children. According to the government-funded tobacco-awareness website, Breathe Easy Maine, “Infants exposed to thirdhand smoke are more likely to die from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), and those exposed are at an increased risk for asthma.”
If you’re buying a second-hand crib mattress for your infant, you want to be sure it comes from a non-smoking home to avoid third-hand smoke exposure.
Mold and Fungus
One of the biggest problems with using a second-hand crib mattress is the unknown that mold introduces.
Unfortunately, it’s impossible to know for sure whether or not a mattress is infected with mold, unless you can see inside the mattress, like with the Newton breathable crib mattress.
You can, however, do a thorough inspection to minimize the chances of bringing a moldy mattress into your baby’s nursery.
Stains are a big giveaway – if there are stains on the mattress, it’s probably a good sign that liquid got into the mattress at some point. Babies pee through their diapers fairly often, soiling the mattress underneath them. Because of this, mold is a real concern.
Foam mattresses are more susceptible to mold than innerspring mattresses, so you may want to think twice about getting a used foam crib mattress. Mattresses that have been waterproofed with safe materials, such as Naturepedic’s line of crib mattresses, are one way to feel more confident there’s no mold lurking in the mattress.
Likewise, if you live in a humid climate, you may want to invest in a new mattress: mold loves humidity, and a humid climate increases the chances of mold problems.
Finally, if a second-hand crib mattress smells musty or wet, give it a pass – it’s probably a sign of deeper problems.
Generally speaking, mold is a health risk to your baby. In addition to keeping it away from their bed, you’ll want to make sure their bath tub and bath toys stay mold free, and choose non toxic bath toys that don’t have holes in them.
Any time you bringing used furniture into your house, there’s a chance you’ll introduce bed bugs to your home. While that may be enough to put you off second-hand crib mattresses, it’s worth noting you can also pick up bed bugs through your daily life: on public transit, at a restaurant, on a flight, or at a movie theatre.
Because bed bugs can be such a huge effort to eliminate, it’s worth taking the time to inspect a used mattress before you bring it into your home. While a visual inspection isn’t a fail safe, it can help to catch an infestation before you welcome the bed bugs home.
Bed bugs are visible to the naked eye. If they exist on a mattress, you might be able to see them. The problem is that bed bugs are great at hiding. You’ll need to look closely at vent holes, crevices, corners and seams – anywhere they could burrow.
You’ll also want to look for small black dots and splotches. Imagine a toddler took a black felt-tip marker, and stabbed it all over the mattress. Those black dots are a telltale sign of bed bugs, and are actually excess blood the bugs have expelled after a too-big meal (aka, bedbug barf).
Worth noting, thrift stores generally have a solid bed bug inspection and control process. If you purchase a second-hand crib mattress from a reputable thrift store, you’re less likely to get bed bugs than buying from an individual.
The downside of a thrift store purchase? You won’t be able to ask the previous owner questions to ensure the mattress hasn’t collected third-hand smoke, pet dander, etc.
Unlike bed bugs, dust mites are invisible to the naked eye. However, mattresses and bedding are like paradise for dust mites, who eat our shedded flakes of skin and thrive in warm, moist environments.
Dust mites can be allergy-causing, which is why you want to keep them under control. If you do buy a used crib mattress, give it a thorough cleaning when you get it home. You can sprinkle it with baking soda, vacuuming (ideally with a HEPA vacuum) it up after allowing the baking soda to sit for 15 or 20 minutes. You can also use a damp cloth with vinegar and lemon to wipe the surface of the mattress.
Unfortunately, the only way to be sure your crib mattress isn’t full of dust mites is to buy a latex mattress – latex is dust mite resistant. Alternatively, invest in a good (and safe) mattress cover to seal any existing mites in, as much as possible.
Fire Retardants & Other Chemicals
Older crib mattresses may still incorporate harmful fire retardants, such as PBDEs, which have been banned in Europe and phased out in the United States. For this reason, it’s best to only buy a used crib mattress that’s a few years old, and to stay on top of changes in harmful chemical regulations.
On a positive note, furniture tends to off-gas and emit the most VOCs when it’s relatively new. By purchasing a used crib mattress, you won’t have to worry quite so much.
Should You Buy a Second-Hand Crib Mattress?
As with most things in life and parenting, this is one of those, weigh the risks vs. the benefits situations. While a new crib mattress is probably the safest bet for the reasons listed above, most people who choose to purchase a used crib mattress probably won’t have any problems.
Generally speaking, buying used baby gear, including high chairs, cribs, pack n plays, etc, can come with some risk.
If you do decide to go ahead and get a used crib mattress for your baby, we hope this checklist will help you evaluate any mattress you’re considering.
Second-Hand Crib Mattress Inspection Checklist
If you’re planning on using a second-hand crib mattress for your baby, print off this second-hand crib mattress inspection checklist and inspect each mattress for safety. Same goes for a mini crib or a pack n play!
- Signs of sagging
- Peaks and valleys across the mattress
- Rips and tears to the fabric
- Soft, pliable edges that seem softer/less dense than other parts of the mattress. If it’s easy to “squish” the corners of the mattress in towards the center of the mattress, they are too soft.
- Stains that suggest the mattress has gotten wet, or any other visible signs of mold or mildew.
- Musty, damp smell, or smell of urine.
- Mattress is more than 10 years old
- Mattress is on a recall list.
- Mattress firmness test. Conduct in different parts of the mattress, and make sure the results are consistent across it.
- For innerspring mattresses, apply pressure across the mattress to ensure there aren’t any springs protruding that may poke your baby
- Inspect the mattress for signs of mold and mildew. The first visible sign of either are patches and spots.
- How old is the mattress and how many children have used it and for how long?
- Are you the original owner or did you purchase the mattress used?
- Is this a non-smoking home?
- Is this a pet-free home (if you want to avoid pet dander)?
- Have you used a waterproof mattress cover on this mattress? (If no, there’s a good chance the mattress has had liquid soak into it)
- Where has this mattress been stored when not in use? (if it’s been stored in a damp basement, walk away).
- Did you run a humidifier in your baby’s room when this mattress was in use? (increases chance of mold).