Free shipping on orders over $99!

Using Boric Acid as a Fire Retardant

Boric Acid naturally-derived, safe alternative for your futon mattress

boric acid fire retardant safe

If we spend a third of our lives sleeping, it’s only natural to expect that the mattresses we’re sleeping on is good for us, right?  

It makes perfect sense, but it’s not always the case. In 1975, when fire retardant standards were implemented by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission as a reaction to an increasing number of household fires caused by cigarettes, it sparked a new mandate for mattress manufacturers: All mattresses would have to comply with new fire retardant standards. To do so, most manufacturers turned to chemicals like polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) and Chlorinated Tris, now known to be associated with a slew of health hazards including cancer, thyroid disruption, learning problems, lower IQ, developmental delays, early puberty, miscarriages, hormone disruption, an increased risk of ALS, and reduced fertility.

The good news is that, thanks to public outcry over the widespread use of these toxic chemicals, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission passed new federal standards for mattress flammability in 2007. These standards still require mattresses to pass an open flame test, but prohibited manufacturers from using the most harmful of the fire-retardant chemicals, including decabrom and PBDEs, in their products.

But even so, there are still a handful of widely-used fire retardant chemicals with less-than-stellar side effects, like Chlorinated Tris, a derivative of the Tris chemicals that were banned from children’s clothing nearly 40 years ago, and a known carcinogen under California’s Proposition 65.


So how do you make sure you’re not sleeping on top of a pile of chemicals when the use of fire retardants is still required for mattress manufacturers to meet flammability standards?

 The best way to ensure that your good night’s sleep is truly good for you is to opt for a natural fire-retardant alternative, which more and more mattress manufacturers are choosing. There are a number of naturally fire retardant materials, like wool, and naturally occurring fire-retardant compounds which can ensure product safety without putting your health in jeopardy.

At J-Life, we’ve chosen to use boric acid-treated cotton fibers for our futon mattresses, to ensure that they meet Consumer Product Safety Standards and uphold the integrity of traditional shiki futon construction, but do so without posing undue health risks. After extensively researching fire retardant options for our mattresses, we feel that borate, a naturally occurring compound, is the safest fire retardant option currently available, for many, many reasons.

boric acid safety
So what is boric acid exactly?


Boric acid is a naturally occurring chemical compound made of hydrogen, oxygen, and boron. It’s found in seawater, mined from the ground in parts of California and Nevada, as well as regions in Italy, Japan, Nicaragua, and others, and can also be found naturally in almost all fruits and vegetables, as well as some nuts and grains. You may recognize the terms borate or boric acid because it’s a commonly used in household cleaning products like laundry detergent (Borax), medicines, and fertilizer. It’s a natural antifungal, a required nutrient for plants, and found in various supplements and multivitamins. Boron is also used to create
Borosilicate glass, also known as Pyrex.

Is boric acid safe?

Boric acid is a safe alternative to chemical flame retardants.

Because it’s everywhere, boron and boric acid have been extensively studied and consistently deemed “low toxicity” for both animals and humans, and neither boron nor boric acid are listed as known carcinogens by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). In fact, they are classified as “Group E--Evidence of Non Carcinogenicity,” because in studies done in which mice and rats were fed boric acid and borax for two years, no evidence was found that either caused cancer.

Boric acid has also been used for centuries in everything from food, food preservatives, multivitamins, and medicines, to cookware and cleaning solutions. Boron is also a key micronutrient in the cellular structure of plants, and most people ingest about 1-3 mg of boron per day as part of a normal diet. Boric acid is also a common building material used in green buildings and construction.

For transparency’s sake, however, we do want to note that, like many things, purposely ingesting large amounts of borate or boric acid can be harmful. Doing so can lead to boric acid poisoning, which can cause vomiting, diarrhea and skin rash. According to The Merck Index, which ranks substance, chemical, and biologic toxicity based on the median lethal dose, boric acid and borates have a similar toxicity to table salt, which means very large amounts would need to be ingested in order to cause harm.

boric acid fire retardant
How does borate act as a fire retardant?

Borate works in a number of ways to act as a fire retardant, including preventing flame combustion, promoting char formation, and suppressing smoldering, glowing and smoke.  According to the American Borate Company, “boric acid, a non-alkaline borate will react both as a fire retardant and smolder suppressant.  Boric acid releases water as well to help extinguish the fire, but provides char forming value on the surface of the cellulose due to the presence of its boron value.”

How much boric acid will I be exposed to from my mattress?

It’s our goal to make our mattresses as natural and safe as possible, so we take precautions to ensure that you’ll be exposed to as little borate as possible (even less than what you’d typically ingest in a day). We sprinkle a small amount of boric acid into the cotton fibers of our mattresses during production, so exposure is negligible.


Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published