What Is GreenGuard Certification?

The indoor air quality of where you sleep matters and your mattress can contribute in a positive or negative way.

By Sheryl Grassie

GreenGuard and GreenGuard Gold are the two levels of certification than came out of the GreenGuard Environmental Institute which is part of Underwriters Laboratories (UL Environment), an independent non-profit lab that tests products for safe levels of chemical emissions and volatile organic compounds (VOCs). They test all kinds of interior merchandise and building materials, support sustainability, and maintain a searchable database of more than 130,000 products. Their goal is to help promote clean indoor air quality. 

If you are curious about something you have recently purchased or something you are considering purchasing, like a new mattress or pillow, check out their SPOT product registry. Very few mattresses, however, pass the strict guidelines for GreenGuard Certification.

The Two Levels of GreenGuard Certification

Although both levels of certification are stringent, they have slightly different criteria. GreenGuard was the original certification and tests for thousands of harmful chemicals. The GreenGuard Gold certification tests for these same chemicals, but the levels must be lower still. GreenGuard Gold was developed as a secondary program from UL Laboratories for schools, day cares, and healthcare facilities like hospitals and clinics. Children in particular are more susceptible to chemicals and VOCs and need cleaner indoor air to stay healthy.

What Is GreenGuard Certification? How are Products Tested?

UL Environment operates with the goal of helping produce healthier indoor environments. All the products tested are placed in an element controlled dynamic environmental chamber and emissions are monitored over days and even weeks to get an accurate reading on emissions. 

Picture a large room-size stainless steel chamber where products as large as mattresses and couches can be placed and monitored. These chambers can identify up to 300 different chemicals coming out of a product, and if the levels are low enough, they will certify the product with the GreenGuard label. 

If levels are too high, products fail certification. UL Environment tests for approximately 10,000 different chemicals. This process gives assurance to consumers and helps manufacturers create healthy products.  

Mattresses, unless natural and organically made, have volatile organic compounds or VOCs that “off gas” or enter the air and stay in the environment. We then breathe in these compounds when we sleep and while we are awake, and they can greatly compromise our health.

Lots of products, big and small, have chemicals that off gas and contribute to the quality of the air in our homes, offices, schools, or other indoor settings. Think of all the products from cleaners and cosmetics, to linens and living room furniture that are made from synthetic compounds that do indeed have chemicals that enter the air. Your mattress and pillows, which take up a large space in your home, are in close proximity while you breathe their fumes for an extended period every night. They are especially significant in terms of emissions.

Why Are Emissions and Air Quality so Important? 

What we breathe equates to how healthy we are. Short-term exposure to harmful chemicals can give us headaches, trigger asthma, cause upper respiratory and sinus problems, and make us feel nauseous. Long-term exposure to these same chemicals can have devastating effects on health including, immune function, liver damage (the liver processes out all those toxins), cancer, kidney failure, and nervous system disorders. Again, these emissions are even more dangerous for children to breathe. 

Most indoor air is shockingly two to five times more polluted than outdoor air. On top of that, we humans spend a great deal of our time indoors. Estimates are that the average person is only outside for about 10% of their time, leaving exposure to indoor air as 90% of what we breathe. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that 72% of all the harmful chemicals we are exposed to happen inside our personal residences, making what you purchase for your home especially important.

Air Quality and Sleep

The air quality that surrounds you while you sleep, whether from chemical emissions from your mattress or from the air quality in your home, also has an effect on how well you sleep. In general, air quality is worse at night, a time when air doesn’t move much and a time when you are breathing in one specific location. Research on indoor air quality and sleep supports a direct correlation between lower air quality and lower quality of sleep

Improve Your Indoor Air Quality for Better Sleep

  • Get an Organic or GreenGuard Certified mattress and pillows
  • Check the VOC’s and chemical contents on the new products you bring into your home
  • Don’t smoke indoors
  • Open windows and have a well-ventilated house
  • Add house plants for cleaner air
  • Use an air filter system like a HEPA
  • Manage the moisture in your home against mold

Summary

What is GreenGuard Certification? In essence, a way to know that your mattress or other household products have low levels of chemical emissions in order to keep indoor air quality healthy. UL Environment, an independent testing lab, rigorously tests against thousands of chemicals that can contribute to indoor air pollution. Poor indoor air can cause health problems and sleep problems, especially in children.


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