When you’re buying a mattress, Mattress standards, how do you know you’re getting one that’s safe to use or is of good quality? Well, it’s thanks to the existence of rules and regulations to which manufacturers and retailers must conform when making and selling mattresses. Before a mattress goes on sale, it undergoes rigorous testing, especially if the company is a member of the National Bed Federation (NBF), the leading bed industry trade association, which approves its members’ products. Anyone who sees the mark of approval from the NBF knows they’re buying a mattress that meets the legal requirements for being a safe, reliable product.
When looking for a new mattress, you should always look at the mattress labels and tags, which reveal information about the mattress and its manufacture(r). It would be best if you also kept your eye open for any certifications, either in the product description or on the packaging or labels. They’re another sign that the mattress meets certain standards of safety, quality or transparency.
The National Bed Federation (NBF)
The NBF represents bed manufacturers and their suppliers. It provides professional, impartial advice and aims to ensure that all its members operate legally and ethically.
To guide its members, the NBF offers its own code of practice, the NBF Code of Practice. This code helps them operate within the different rules and regulations around manufacturing, labelling, and other issues. When members produce goods, the NBF audits them to receive NBF approval, and the business can sell them.
Below are some of the issues that the code addresses:
A member business that produces mattresses, beds, mattress toppers, mattress pads or divans must show that the products comply with BS 7177:2008+A1:2011 (discussed further down this guide). This is a separate British Standard that stipulates the requirements for resistance to the ignition of these items.
Members must prove they’re in control of their supply base. They must know from where they’re getting their filling materials. Any fillings they use must comply with the requirements of BS 1425-1:1991, the standard on the cleanliness of fillings, bedding, upholstery and other domestic articles. Specification for fillings and stuffings other than feather and/or down.
If a manufacturer uses recycled materials in their products, they must declare these materials on their labels. The NBF won’t approve the use of uncleaned, reused materials in any part of a new mattress, headboard or base. This would breach its code of practice.
To put things bluntly, product specifications and labels must do, as the NBF code puts it, “what it says on the tin.” Labels shouldn’t be misleading. This is to comply with the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008, which prohibit misleading prices and misleading omissions or acts in descriptions.
Any product that goes on the market should conform to the relevant specification for types of mattress (tufted, etc), spring unity type, gauge, spring count, filling, labelling and size. Sellers may not sell a used product as if it were new.
Of course, chemicals are another big area where manufacturers must take great care. NBF members must be able to prove they’re complying with the three main pieces of legislation below:
- Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation of Chemicals (REACH)
- Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) Stockholm Convention
- EU Biocidal Product Regulations 2012
Under REACH, any manufacturer importing chemicals into the EU must register them with the European Chemicals Agency (EHCA). They must submit a dossier to the EHCA in which they outline the different chemicals, the risks the chemicals pose and how the business will manage them. The agency will evaluate the dossier and authorise the use of the chemical (s). Businesses that use harmful chemicals in products must display information about these chemicals clearly on the product labels.
The POPs Stockholm Convention came into force on 22 May 2001 in Stockholm, Sweden. This international treaty sets out to protect human health and the environment from chemicals that stay in the environment’s condition for a long time.
Under the convention, the parties shall stop using the chemicals the treaty sets out in Annex B of the text and shall produce, use, import and export the POPs in Annex B more sparingly. The convention also sets out provisions for stopping businesses from releasing POPs into the environment and managing stockpiled waste containing POPs in an environmentally conscious way.
EU Biocidal Product Regulations 2012 (Biocidal products)
If a business uses products that use chemical or biological means to control harmful or unwanted organisms (biocidal products), it must comply with the EU Biocidal Product Regulations 2012. This also applies to any business that manufactures treated products that contain one or more biocidal products. It could apply to preservatives that manufacturers use to treat timber and materials with an antibacterial or antimicrobial function.
Cot mattress standards
The standards for cot mattresses are a little different. Parents should look out for the standards below when buying a cot mattress:
- BS 1877-10+A1:2012. This is an older standard that specifies the necessary materials, production and dimensions for manufacturing cot mattresses.
- BS 7177:1996. This standard assures the customer that the mattress has passed flammability standards.
- BS EN 16890:2017. This is a voluntary standard that involves a larger number of tests to ensure the cot mattress’s safety. One test includes checking that no parts of the mattress can detach and become a potential choking hazard. Another test involves checking the mattress’s firmness so that if the baby rolls over onto its stomach, the child can’t bury its face into the mattress and suffocate.
Any testing laboratory that conducts fire safety testing must have specific accreditation for the full set of testing: bed, mattress, furniture, foam and filling. This means accreditation to test for compliance with BS 7177 and with the Furniture and Furnishings (Fire) (Safety) Regulations 1988, a statutory instrument of the Consumer Protection Act 1987. The regulations that don’t cover must still conform to the General Product Safety Regulations 2005 (GPSR).
The BS 7177 standard tests their resistance to materials used for smoking, such as cigarettes and matches. The tests take place using cigarettes, simulated match flames and full-size mattresses or replicas of the mattress unit that feature the same composition and surface properties. The mattress must pass the Low Hazard rating of BS 7177:2008+A1:2011. Mattresses must now undergo regular testing rather than just passing once for fire safety.
Mattress fillings must meet the same requirements as upholstered furniture, but these requirements depend upon whether the filling is a single filling or a composite one. Single ones should meet the tests in the Furniture and Furnishings (Fire) (Safety) Regulations. In contrast to composite fillings, every layer must meet the stipulations for a single filling, or the total composite must conform to Schedule 2 Part IV of the Regulations.
Mattress manufacturers and suppliers can’t place any old labels on their products. Labelling must comply with the Textile Products (Labelling and Composition) Regulations 2012 and offer certain specifications:
The label must state the fibre content of the outer cover
Only mattresses must abide by this regulation just now. The mattress label must display the fibre content of the cover and the percentage. Consumers must be able to read the content clearly. If the mattress contains any non-textile parts from animals, the manufacturer should indicate this.
The label should not always just be in English
If the product is going to a market in a foreign-speaking country, the label must be understandable to the countries’ consumers into which it is going. Creating the label in English only is not permitted.
Seals and certifications
Mattresses receive all sorts of certifications. As well as the NBF, another important body is the Furniture International Research Association (FIRA). The UK’s national accreditation body, the UKAS, has accredited the FIRA to test furniture, including commercial and domestic beds and mattresses.
There are additional important seals and certifications for mattresses. This is especially the case in terms of textiles and the use of organic materials in bed manufacture. Below are some of the standards you might come across:
Global Organic Textile Standards (GOTS)
Some mattresses will have GOTS certification. Textiles must have at least 70% organic fibres to achieve this certification if the manufacturer wants to label them as “made with organic.” If they label the product as “organic,” the textile must contain at least 95% organic fibres.
Meanwhile, manufacturing must follow strict environmental criteria. These include separating organic and conventional fibre products and avoiding chlorine bleaching and critical inputs such as formaldehyde, toxic heavy metals, and genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Ultimately, the standard is as much about ethical production as organic production.
Global Organic Latex Standard (GOLS)
The Global Organic Latex Standard is similar to the GOTS certification. It’s as much about human health, safety and welfare, and the environment as it is about the material itself. The name of the standard is self-explanatory, of course, and outlines the requirements for latex products manufactured from raw organic material and material from non-organic sources.
To achieve certification, the product must contain over 95% certified organic raw material, using the standard to certify rubber plantations and processing units right through to the final retailer.
Soil Association Certification
The Soil Association is a charity and certification body and provides a wide range of organic and sustainable certification schemes. The body bases its standards on EU regulations but deems its own standards more robust. It belongs to a group of certification bodies and helps to ensure the world is meeting strict organic standards.
The Soil Association certifies half of the organic farming in the UK. It is also involved in the GOTS scheme and the Textile Exchange’s Organic Content Standard, the latter being a scheme that verifies that a product’s content is organically grown but doesn’t address the social and environmental factors of the production.
Mattresses must have tags on them. You’ll often find them at the top of the mattress, and they’re not the wish of some lawmaker somewhere who has too much time on their hands. The tag’s job is to protect consumers, which is why you shouldn’t remove them (especially if you give or sell the mattress to someone else or donate it to a charity).
In the 19th century and early 20th century, some manufacturers would stuff mattresses with old, used materials but pass the mattresses off as being new. They did this to cut costs, but (US) government officials started to worry the sneaky practice could spread disease. The mattress(es) could become full of bacteria (or did become full of it) and spread diseases such as tuberculosis or smallpox.
Tags help the businesses
One good reason to keep the tag on a mattress is that it provides information not just about the mattress itself but about the manufacturer, too. Businesses can use the tag on the mattress to:
- Trace the batch number and the factory that made the mattress
- Follow up warranty claims
- Implement return policies
- Address recalls
Tags help the consumer
Of course, not just the business benefits from the tags; consumers can glean a whole load of information about a mattress from its tag. Below are just some of the items of info you can gather from one:
- Mattress’s weight
- Mattress’s size
- Percentage of materials
- The manufacture date
- Cautionary measures that might be necessary
- Flammability information
- Country of origin
- Maintenance tips
Final observations on mattress standards and regulation
A mattress should feel safe and comfortable. It’s the job of the industry’s regulations and standards to ensure that mattress manufacturers and retailers produce and sell mattresses that make this possible. The existence of approval by organisations such as the NBF reassures consumers they’re buying a quality mattress that meets legal requirements and isn’t subject to shady manufacturing practices.
When shopping for a mattress, always look at the label and any tags on the mattress. They can provide you with lots of information about the mattress, including crucial information such as flammability or any safety issues you need to be aware of. If you see the NBF seal of approval on a mattress, you’ll know the manufacturer has taken extra special care to meet standards and offer a good product.