If you were to turn back the clock 50 years, you’d find a surprising threat lurking in your home. No, it isn’t a faulty foundation. Or bad heating. Or even lead paint. It’s your mattress. Until 1973, regulations weren’t in place for a fire-retardant mattress.
Back then, 12,000 people died every single year from house fires. And many of those fires started on—and were fueled by—the mattress.
Thankfully, there are now strict regulations surrounding a fire-resistant mattress. But why is finding a fire-retardant mattress so important? What exactly are the fire retardant mattress regulations? And what can you do to prevent a mattress fire in your home?
This guide answers all those questions and more. And for you, that means sounder sleep and peace of mind.
Table of Contents
- Do Mattresses Need to be Fire Retardant?
- How Dangerous Are Mattress Fires?
- How Is Mattress Flammability Regulated?
- What Are Fire Retardants Used on Mattresses?
- 8 Fire Prevention Tips for Your Mattress
- Let Us Help Keep You & Your Family Safe
Do Mattresses Need to be Fire Retardant?
Yes, your mattress needs to have a built-in fire retardant.
Why? Because whether you may know it or not, mattresses are often made of highly flammable materials.
Polyfoam, for instance, comes from crude oil. And even though polyfoam has been highly manufactured, it still contains lots of energy in its materials.
The mattress would alight entirely in seconds if a fire were to go up next to unprotected polyfoam.
Today, mattresses must have a variety of fire retardant components that help slow down a mattress catching fire. They do not need to be fireproof. But they must burn slowly enough to give occupants a chance to escape the blaze.
You never hope to need a fire-retardant mattress. It’s sort of like insurance for your house. You buy it hoping you’ll never need to use it. But when you do, you’ll be pleased you have one.
That’s why it’s crucial to educate yourself about the different types of mattress materials and to research fire-retardant mattress standards.
How Dangerous Are Mattress Fires?
In a word—very.
A government report from 2002 found that as many as 20,800 fires were attributed to mattress fires each year. These fires caused:
- 2,200 injuries
- 380 fatalities
- $104 million in property loss
Here are some more mattress and bedding fire statistics from the U.S. Fire Administration to give you a better idea of the scope of the problem.
- Injuries and deaths from mattress/bedding fires are more than twice those from all residential structure fires.
- Children playing and smoking are the leading causes of mattress/bedding fires, each at 25%.
- Cigarettes are the leading ignition (26%) in mattress/bedding fires, but lighters and matches combined account for 31%. Most (83%) of these fires start in the bedroom.
- More than two-thirds of injuries in mattress/bedding fires occur to persons attempting fire control. Fatalities most often occur (43%) to per- sons who are sleeping.
- Smoke alarms were either absent or did not operate in 62% of mattress/bedding fires.
In 2007, the new flammability standard in mattresses that caught fire helped give families more time to escape safely before their home fires burned out of control.
This act alone was estimated to save as many as 270 lives and prevent 1,330 injuries yearly. A decade later, researchers found that home fire injuries decreased by 34%, and deaths plummeted by 82%.
How Is Mattress Flammability Regulated?
Mattresses must adhere to the U.S. Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC) Federal Flammability Standards.
These fire retardant mattress regulations require all mattresses sold in the U.S.A. to meet some level of flammability protection. The standards break down into:
- CPSC 16 CFR 1632
- CPSC 16 CFR 1633
Here’s what being compliant to each means.
What Does CPSC 16 CFR 1632 Compliant Mean?
CPSC 16 CFR 1632 was the flammability standard for mattresses in 1973 by the Consumer Product Safety Commission.
This testing procedure determines the ignition resistance of a mattress by exposing the surface to lighted cigarettes. To pass, the mattress must not burn through the mattress or create a char length of more than 2 inches in any direction from the nearest point of a cigarette after the test cigarettes have burned out.
The problem with CFR 1632 is that it’s a bit outdated. The biggest reason is the test cigarettes are of an older design and don’t include the self-extinguishing safety mechanisms currently built into all cigarettes sold in the U.S.A. These test cigarettes need to be sourced from third-world countries. So using them as a standard doesn’t make much sense.
What Does CPSC 16 CFR 1633 Compliant Mean?
CPSC 16 CFR 1633 is the more modern standard for mattress flammability. It was put in place in 2007.
This test applies an open flame to the mattress’s side and top. The flame is timed, and the amounts of gas used to power each flame are held at set standards across all tests.
Once the burners shut off, the person administering the trial will continue to monitor the mattress. The test takes a full 30 minutes to complete.
If you want to get a better picture of the test, look at the mockup drawing from the National Institutes of Science and Technology.
The testing also uses various sensors above and around the mattress. These sensors measure heat output at any given moment and the cumulative heat output.
To be CFR 1633 compliant, the total heat the mattress releases can’t exceed 10 megajoules in the first 10 minutes.
It also can’t release more than 200 kilowatts at any given moment.
Here’s a video of one of our mattresses passing the test for CFR 1633 compliance to give you a better idea of what the test looks like.
As you can see, the flame dropped when the gas burner was turned off. Unfortunately, most mattresses burn for 30 minutes—this one self-extinguished at about the 12-minute mark.
What Are Fire Retardants Used on Mattresses?
Now that you understand why mattresses need to be fire retardant and how they’re regulated, let’s look at which fire retardants are used in the mattress industry.
There are a lot of different fire retardants that are used on mattresses today, hundreds even. It depends on the mattress and the manufacturer.
Some retardants come from natural materials. Others are synthetic and sprayed on the mattress or the mattress cover to slow the time it takes to combust fully.
But ultimately, the retardant type comes down to either synthetic or natural.
What Are Synthetic Fire Retardants?
Synthetic retardants are materials that are manufactured and then added to the mattress. These materials can be weaved into the fabrics, encase the mattress completely, or added/sprayed onto existing materials to create a fire-resistant barrier.
Examples of synthetic fire retardants include:
- Organohalogen flame retardants (OFRs)
- Antimony trioxide
- Decabromodiphenyl oxide (Deca)
- Polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs)
- Vinylidene chloride
Controversy Surrounding Synthetic Fire Retardants
There’s a lot of controversy over the long-term health effects of exposure to these synthetic fire retardants. And studies have shown they may cause:
- Damage to the immune system
- Reproductive toxicity
- Impaired neurological function
- Disrupted endocrine and thyroid systems
Some synthetic fire retardants may be safe—but only when manufactured to high-quality standards.
For example, fiberglass covers are great at slowing burning and boosting protection against mattress fires. However, if these covers are built hastily or use low-quality materials, they can cause a severe problem if they’re punctured or removed from the mattress.
When shoddy fiberglass covers are punctured or removed, they can send countless particles into the air and onto your carpet, furniture, and clothing.
They can even get sucked up into your home’s HVAC system. These particles can then cause:
- Skin irritation
- Eye, nose, and throat irritation
- Worsened conditions like asthma or bronchitis
Cleaning up using a professional service can cost tens of thousands of dollars.
Considering all the health risks associated with synthetic retardants, you should always opt for mattresses that use natural fire retardants instead.
What Are Natural Fire Retardants?
Natural fire retardants are materials that occur naturally in the world. These materials are harvested or gathered. They may undergo processing before being added to a mattress as a fire retardant.
Examples of natural fire retardants include:
Although natural fire retardants don’t carry the same health risks as synthetic ones, that doesn’t mean all raw materials work well.
For instance, some rayons are effective at holding off flames. But once they ignite, they can burn at extremely high temperatures, making them not great candidates for fire protection.
That’s why you should always consult an expert before buying if you’re searching for your perfect mattress.
8 Fire Prevention Tips for Your Mattress
Though fire-resistant mattresses help slow a fire, most are not entirely fireproof. And that means your mattress will likely burn if it’s wholly ignited—even if it’s a newer model.
Following these eight mattress fire prevention strategies are in your and your family’s interest.
- Find a safe mattress. Only buy mattresses manufactured in the U.S.A. that are CFR 1632 and 1633 compliant. It would be best to look for mattresses that contain natural fire retardants like cotton or rayon.
- Don’t smoke in bed. Smoking is one of the leading causes of home fires, according to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). In 2016 alone, smoking-related home fires caused 660 deaths, 1,060 injuries, and $372 million in direct property damage. And smoking in the bedroom was the second most common place where home fires started. Smoking is also the leading cause of home fire deaths for roughly four decades.
- Don’t let children play with fire. Keep lighters and matches away from young children. Children playing with fire cause more than 20,000 fires every year.
- Avoid candles in the bedroom. Home candle fires caused an annual average of 90 deaths, 670 injuries, and $291 million in direct property damage, according to the NFPA. And more than one-third (37%) of home candle fires started in the bedroom.
- Give space heaters plenty of room. The NFPA reports that most home heating fire deaths (88%) involve stationary or portable space heaters. Follow all the space heater manufacturer’s instructions and warnings before using.
- Don’t run electrical cords under your bed. Home fires involving electrical distribution and lighting equipment occur most often in the bedroom, according to the NFPA. So be sure to give room for heat from cords to dissipate and avoid placing lamps where they can fall on the bed.
- Promptly dispose of old mattresses. Keeping old mattresses in your bedroom or home fuels fires that may break out inside. This is especially dangerous if your old mattress was made before 2007 and even more so if it’s older than 1973.
- Have a fire plan. Estimates for how many Americans don’t have fire extinguishers range from 29% to 43% to 75%. And if you don’t have one nearby that’s readily accessible, you’re at risk. Regularly go over how to operate your extinguisher. Be sure to check your smoke alarms monthly. And have a plan for what to do if a fire does break out in your home.
Let Us Help Keep You & Your Family Safe
The Beloit Mattress Company has been building some of the safest and most comfortable mattresses since 1929. It’s our pride. It’s our passion. And it’s our honor to help keep you and your family safe.
That’s why we use only natural fire retardants in our mattresses. Our unique construction process allows our mattresses to meet the highest safety standards and achieve CFR 1632 and 1633 compliance with flying colors.
So if you want to invest in a fire retardant mattress, find your perfect (and safe) mattress today.
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