More than ever, people are stepping away from traditional products in favor of organically grown and sustainably produced items. Though many people associate organic shopping only with food, an increasing number of ‘green mattresses’ are being introduced as well. If you are exploring the possibility of an organic or natural mattress, here are some things you ought to know.
As with other organic products, the benefits of an organic mattress extend both to the environment at large and to its owner more directly.
The construction of an organic mattress begins with more natural materials, such as simple wool and cotton, and then uses a less energy-intensive production process, all of which results in a smaller carbon footprint relative to a traditional mattress. Moreover, organic mattresses are designed to decompose more thoroughly when discarded, which in turn reduces their long-term waste and pollution. This is especially important since nearly 40 million mattresses are discarded each year, with the average queen size mattress weighing more than 60 pounds and occupying over 20 cubic feet of landfill space.
Along the way, in addition to the satisfaction of having minimized their impact on the environment, owners of green mattresses receive more direct benefits as well. Fewer chemicals used in the production of an organic mattress translate into fewer chemicals to which they are exposed every night. Also, many natural materials have the added advantage of being inherently hypo-allergenic, anti-microbial and breathable, in addition to providing excellent moisture absorption.
Much of what makes a mattress green comes down to the materials that go into it. Most commonly, organic mattresses use natural latex, organic cotton, and special techniques for meeting fire-resistance standards. To ensure that certain conditions are met, the USDA monitors production of mattresses that claim to be organic. In order to use the “organic” label, a mattress must meet the same USDA standards required for other organic products – and not every mattress marketed as “natural” is truly organic. If you’re interested in buying an organic mattress, here are a few qualities to look for.
Natural latex. Natural latex, known for its softness and elasticity, as well as its biodegradability and inherent resistance to allergens, is perhaps the most popular core material for organic mattresses. That said, be aware that not all latex mattresses are organic. Natural latex, the material used in organic mattresses, is produced from the sap of rubber trees grown under organic conditions. Synthetic latex, on the other hand, is made through a chemical process using petroleum-based materials, and ‘blended latex’ is made from a combination of natural and synthetic latex. Neither synthetic nor blended latex would be considered truly organic.
Organic cotton. Real organic cotton is grown without pesticides, herbicides, and insecticides, in soil containing no chemical fertilizers. It is also processed without bleaches or artificial dyes. Cotton must come from a field that has not been treated with these chemicals for three years in order to be listed as organic. Many natural mattresses have ticking and other upholstery layers made from organic cotton.
Special flame-resistance techniques. Since 2007, federal law has required that mattresses sold in the United States meet certain standards for flame-resistance. In traditional mattresses, this is typically achieved through the use of fire-retardant chemicals in the outer layers of the mattress. Owners of organic mattresses are frequently concerned about exposure to these chemicals, which are believed to emit dangerous toxins that can be inhaled or absorbed into the skin.
Organic mattress manufacturers have devised several ways to offer a more natural product while still complying with federal fire safety regulations. In some mattresses, the fire retardant chemicals are placed in a separate cover that can be removed by consumers who may be more concerned about long-term exposure to harmful chemicals than they are about fire risk (of course, any decision to remove the protective cover is entirely up to the consumer, and is not necessarily encouraged or recommended). Other models use a layer of organic wool that is sufficiently fire-resistant to meet fire safety standards without being treated with chemicals. Still other mattresses avoid fire safety requirements altogether, through a loophole that allows consumers with a prescription from a doctor to purchase a mattress that does not meet the fire safety regulations. Naturally, this exception is designed for consumers that have a medical reason for avoiding fire-retardant chemicals (eg, an allergic reaction). That said, it is also worth noting a potential bonus of this last approach – since the product has been prescribed by a physician and is not otherwise available to the general public, it may not require sales tax.
Other organic materials. Due to the nascent popularity of green mattresses, organic mattress manufacturers are still exploring a host of other natural materials. For example, certain manufacturers are experimenting with foams made partially from soybean oil. Coir fiber mats, made from shredded coconut shells that have been grown and processed organically, are a durable alternative to non-organic cloth. Other popular materials used in organic bedding include silk, bamboo, hemp, sustainable wood, natural oils, and organic waxes.
When shopping for an organic mattress, be aware that the organic mattress industry is still in its very early stages. Consequently, just as with many other organic products, standard definitions and conventions have yet to be established, which has important implications for you as a mattress shopper.
First, given the lack of widely accepted standards for organic mattresses, manufacturers and retailers will tend to stretch the definition of terms like ‘organic,’ 'eco-friendly,' ‘natural,’ and ‘green’ as far as they are allowed. For example, some manufacturers will label their mattresses “natural” if they contain a blend of natural and synthetic latex. In this case, these mattresses may indeed be more ‘green’ than traditional mattresses, but if you are seeking a mattress that is truly organic, you should make sure that 100% of the latex in the mattress is natural.
Second, not all organic mattresses are created equal. Mattresses advertised as natural or green can vary widely in the quality and quantity of their organic materials. A given model may have some features that are genuinely organic and others that are not. Look for as many of the features described above as possible, and be sure to ask questions about those aspects of the mattress that are not explicitly described as organic. In addition, be aware that the types of materials used in organic mattresses are likely to change over time – while some organic mattress materials, such as latex, are well-established and proven, others are much newer, and their long-term suitability is less well-known. Find out how long the manufacturer has been using these materials in their mattresses, and look for consumer reviews to understand how such materials have fared over time.
Finally, organic mattresses are not yet as easy to find as typical commercial mattresses. However, as demand grows, they are likely to become more common. If you are interested in purchasing an organic mattress, GoodBed provides a wealth of information that can help you decide which product to buy and where to buy it.
Given the rising popularity of 'green' and organic products, it is not surprising that many mattress manufacturers now offer mattresses containing natural and/or eco-friendly features. To find the right organic mattress for you, start your search by browsing our extensive list of manufacturers and product lines below. While each of these mattress brands seems to emphasize 'green' features in its products, please note that they may vary widely in their actual use of natural materials and environmentally friendly business practices, and that GoodBed does not research claims made by manufacturers or retailers in this regard. As such, we encourage you to research these brands yourself in order to draw your own conclusions, and to focus your research on those companies that are willing to provide the most information to substantiate their positioning.