Is it safe to use a used Crib Mattress?

You have a crib for your new baby but it is without a crib mattress or, if it is not your first baby, you might still have the older sibling’s mattress. The question most parents have is whether it is safe to use a used crib mattress for your new baby.  

In principle, it is ok to use a used crib mattress for your new baby if the mattress still conforms to certain criteria. The criteria include that, amongst other things, it should be spotlessly clean, still firm and without a broken frame and have no traces of mold, mildew, or bed bugs.  If the used mattress complies with all the criteria, you can use it for your baby and have peace of mind that it will be just as safe as a new one. 

In this article, I’ll discuss some of the reasons why people sometimes don’t want to re-use a crib mattress, but most importantly, I’ll provide criteria to “test” a secondhand mattress to determine whether it can safely be re-used. If the used mattress complies with the criteria you can use it for your baby and have peace of mind that it will just as safe a new one. 

What is a “previously used” crib mattress?

Before I discuss the question of whether it is ok to use a used crib mattress let’s first determine what is meant by “used.” In this article, I use the term for any crib mattress that has previously been used by someone else than your new baby. This definition includes used crib mattresses that were

  • bought at a secondhand store,
  • bought online from marketplaces such as Gumtree and eBay, or
  • were used by an older sibling, or family member or a friend’s baby.  

In other words, in this article, a “secondhand” or “used” crib mattress refers to any mattress which has been used previously in any way.

Is it safe to use a used crib mattress?

When we look at the question of whether it is ok to use a used crib mattress, there are different opinions. There are many parents who in principle don’t “hand down” crib mattresses to younger siblings and will never offer a used mattress to somebody. There are many reasons for this standpoint, but one of their main reasons have been for years that used crib mattress have bacteria which can cause serious SIDS problems for the next user. 

Some people say it is not safe – afraid of bacteria

Until a few years ago, there was a belief among many parents that certain bacteria that might attribute to SIDS can be found in secondhand crib mattresses. Many parents still believe it. However, it was discovered by scientists that these specific bacteria are normally found on the skin and in the nose and throats of healthy adults and infants as well. 

No evidence exists that the bacteria are a SIDS risk for babies sleeping on a previously used crib mattress, providing that the baby always sleeps on his or her back on a firm, well-fitted and clean mattress with no bedding covering the face or head.  And as you can see, these provisions are exactly the same whether your baby sleeps on a brand new or previously used mattress.

Thus, “bad” bacteria as such are not necessarily more of a negative factor when you are using a previously used crib mattress than when your baby is sleeping on a brand new mattress.   

If the used mattress complies with certain criteria, it is safe to re-use

So, if you can afford a new crib mattress it would be the ideal solution if you buy a brand new one for your new baby. But as a new crib mattress can cost several hundred dollars, you sometimes just can’t afford a new mattress for your baby. Then you have to look for a cheaper option. It is ok to use a used mattress if the mattress complies with certain criteria.  

What to do to find a still usable used crib mattress 

Take the time and search in shops and even online until you get a mattress which at least is made with a completely sealed waterproof cover and still has no tears, cracks or holes. Also, ensure that old cracks and holes are not only being “patched up” or that a brand new waterproof cover has been fitted over a dirty mattress. 

It should be the original, undamaged, sealed waterproof cover. This will guarantee that no urine and other liquids and substances are on the “inside” mattress. When you’ve received the mattress, wash the waterproof cover (with the crib mattress inside) with soap and water and if you find any signs of mold, ensure that you remove it completely. Let the mattress dry completely before putting it into the crib.  

Other criteria to determine whether a used crib mattress is safe to use

For your convenience, I’ve listed four main criteria you can use to determine whether the crib mattress you want to use will be safe for your new baby. 

1. The mattress is safe only when it fits the crib properly

The size of a crib mattress matters. A mattress that does not fit hundred percent into the crib can cause serious safety hazards. Although most cribs use a standard-sized crib mattress, there are cribs coming with smaller or larger than usual mattresses. So, before you start looking for a used mattress measure your baby’s crib and look for a matching mattress size. 

There should be no more than two finger widths of space between the frame of the crib and the mattress itself. A larger gap might get your baby entrapped between the two.

2. The mattress is safe if it is firm

If the mattress fits the crib, ensure that the mattress surface is still firm and even. No sagging or signs of body contouring must be on the mattress. If the mattress is not firm, your baby can turn on his or her stomach more easily and might suffocate.  The mattress must also be firm to prevent falling once your baby starts standing up in the crib.

You can test the firmness of a crib mattress by pressing your hand into the center and around the edges of the mattress. When you remove your hand a resilient and still usable mattress will quickly regain its shape. 

Another test for firmness can be done by finding something weighing about the same as an infant and placing it on the mattress. If it sinks too much, then the crib mattress is not firm enough to be used. 

These firmness tests are difficult to do when you are buying online. You can perhaps make it a condition in the buying contract that if the mattress is not as firm as advertised, it can be returned to the seller.

3. The mattress is safe if the frame of the mattress is not broken 

If the mattress fits the crib and is still firm your next step is to determine whether the secondhand mattress you want to use has an overall good frame. Don’t use a crib mattress with any signs of a broken frame or support bars. Also, if it is an innerspring mattress and you can feel springs sticking up through the cushioning, do not purchase or use the mattress. As with the firmness test, this is difficult to determine when buying online. 

4. The mattress is safe if it is clean and mold and bug-free

The last but definitely not the least aspect to verify is the hygienic aspect. It goes without saying that a previously used mattress should be spotlessly clean. Especially, look for signs of mold. Even if you don’t see mold, it still might be there. A telltale sign of mold or mildew is a musty odor. 

Also, inspect the mattress for bed bugs. They are small, flat, reddish bugs, normally staying hidden during the day. If you find any bugs, don’t purchase or use the mattress. If you’ve already received the mattress, consult an exterminator. 

When is a used crib mattress not safe to use?

It is sometimes easier to decide whether you should use a specific secondhand mattress or not if you look at the issue from the other side – not how a mattress should be, but when is a crib mattress not safe to use. 

Generally speaking, don’t purchase or use a crib mattress if it has been frequently used for more than 10 years, or if you detect any of the following:

Signs of sagging, and peaks and valleys across the mattress.

  • Tears to the fabric.
  • Stains suggesting that the mattress has gotten wet. 
  • Visible signs of mold or mildew.
  • Damp or musty smell.
  • Strong smell of urine.
  • Have signs that there might be bed bugs.

When do parents usually replace a crib mattress?

When you are looking for a previously used crib mattress to purchase or use for your new baby’s crib, it is good to know when parents usually replace a crib mattress. Remember, you are looking for a good secondhand crib mattress to use and not one that has been replaced because it is not fit for use anymore. Let’s look at some of the reasons why crib mattresses are being replaced by parents. This will help you not to buy or use a “bad” mattress.

Parents often replace a mattress when it is not firm anymore

When a baby’s crib mattress is showing signs of sagging or body contouring, it is time for the parents to start thinking of replacing the mattress. Also, if the parent presses a hand into the center and around the edges of the mattress and it doesn’t regain its shape quickly it is not firm enough anymore and the mattress is normally replaced.

Parents usually replace the crib mattress if the frame of the mattress is broken 

If the parents find that the frame of the mattress has been broken or they can feel coils sticking up through the cushioning if it is an innerspring mattress, most parents replace the mattress immediately. 

Parents often throw away a mattress with “unremovable” mold or mildew

When mold or mildew is forming on the mattress and the parents can’t get it out, the mattress is often replaced. Sometimes, the parents can’t see mold or mildew but there is a musty odor on the mattress, and the mattress is replaced. 

Bed bugs on the mattress very often cause the parents to throw away the crib mattress

Bed bugs are small, flat, reddish bugs, normally staying hidden during the day. Small black dots and splotches on the mattress are telltale signs of bed bugs. If parents find evidence of bugs on the mattress and they can’t remove them all, the mattress is also often replaced. 

Does a crib mattress have an expiry date?

Now that you know what are the reasons why parents usually replace their babies’ crib mattresses you know what to beware of when you want to purchase or use a secondhand mattress. It is also good to know whether crib mattresses have expiry dates. If they have expiry dates, it is something to keep in mind when looking for a previously used mattress. 

The lifespan of a crib mattress 

However, there is normally no “official” expiry date for crib mattresses. According to the manufacturers, most crib mattresses are designed to last about five to six years. The lifespan of a crib mattress depends on the type of material it is made of. It can be a memory foam or an innerspring mattress. Generally speaking, innerspring mattresses tend to last longer than memory foam ones. But the spring coils might poke through and then you have to replace the mattress. 

A foam mattress tends to lose its shape and as a result also its supporting capabilities more quickly than the innerspring models. And an indentation poses a suffocation risk. 

It is also proven that a waterproof mattress normally has a much longer life than a non-waterproof one. 

Expanding the lifespan 

If you intend to use your crib mattress for baby #2 later as well, it is good practice to maintain the mattress as well as you can while baby #1 is still using it. And if you are a new parent looking for a secondhand mattress, it would give you peace of mind if you know the previous owner has maintained the mattress well.

You maintain a crib mattress well and expand its lifespan if you, amongst other things, 

  • regularly clean the mattress by washing the cover, 
  • from time to time use antibacterial sprays, 
  • vacuum your mattress monthly if it is equipped with a removable cover, 
  • clean spots with a soapy sponge whenever you detect any stains, and 
  • flip and turn it regularly.

A well-maintained crib mattress can be used for 10 or more years

Conclusion

Although some people will, out of principle, never use a used crib mattress for their new baby, there is no problem to re-use a well-maintained mattress if the mattress conforms to certain criteria as explained in this article. In some families, the same mattress has been used for two or even three siblings.  

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