Conventional mattresses contain a surprisingly large amount of chemicals. Sometimes you can even smell these chemicals off gassing, especially if the mattress is new. We expose our bodies to our mattress for long, continuous amounts of time when we sleep. Most mattresses contain fire retardants, volatile organic compounds, and formaldehyde which off gas into our air while we sleep on them. Because of that, it’s sensible to look into healthier options when buying a new mattress. Besides your health, the environmental impact of your mattress is also important to consider. You don’t want to buy a mattress that causes a lot of fossil fuels to be consumed, or pesticides to be applied.
If you’re serious about choosing an environmentally friendly mattress, you’re going to have to do your homework to find out where its constituent parts came from. This can be difficult, given how complex the supply chain can be, but a company that’s truly committed to being eco-friendly should be as transparent as possible. Bedding industry groups are now establishing green standards and certification programs, but there are several different criteria that each mattress company uses, so it’s best to do your research. This article is intended get you on the right track to find the most environmentally friendly mattress that is right for you.
The most common materials that you will see when looking for an eco-friendly mattress are natural latex, recycled metal springs, sustainably harvested wood, wool, cotton, and bamboo. However, how the materials in a mattress are made or grown will also affect its eco-friendliness. Organic agricultural methods are considered more sustainable than contemporary industrial agricultural for a number of reasons. Synthetic pesticides and fertilizers are forbidden for the most part in organic farming techniques, as these chemicals are hazardous to the environment.
According to European Bedding1, things to look for in an eco-friendly mattress are:
- Made from natural materials.
Check what the mattress is made of. Some popular eco-friendly mattress materials are: latex, wool and cotton. Synthetic materials (e.g. polyurethane or memory foam) will by definition not be environmentally friendly.
- High percentage of the natural material above.
Just because a mattress is advertised as containing, say, natural latex, this does not necessarily mean that latex will be the primary material. Less scrupulous mattress firms may advertise something as ‘eco-friendly’ when in reality it might have as little as 10% natural content, with the remaining mattress layers or core 90% synthetic. Ask questions about the percentage of natural content when you visit the mattress showroom, and ask to see proof of that percentage. Such proof might be from manufacturer’s tag sewn to mattress, or an informational brochure or published online specifications from the manufacturer of that product line. Request to see a sample of the inner cross-section of the actual mattress, or even better unzip the mattress cover to see the actual inner core.
- Sustainable or eco-friendly materials and production.
A truly eco-friendly mattress will not only be made from natural materials, it will also be crafted in a sustainable manner and have a low carbon footprint. For example, if you are planning to buy a latex mattress, check that the latex comes from plantations that are carefully managed in a sustainable way, with new latex trees being constantly planted. If buying green is important to you, then you deserve to be able to find out more about it. Indeed, in a reputable mattress shop, the manager will be very delighted to have a discerning customer who is interested in this aspect of the mattress production.
- Organic content.
A mattress with organic content also tells you that environmentally friendly methods are used in producing the raw materials, with no pesticide usage. This is important if you are buying green out of concern for the environment. Organic may be less important to you if you are buying green primarily for your own health – in that case, all-natural may suit your needs just fine. However, in that situation you should be aware that small traces of pesticides could still find their way into mattress materials if they have been grown non-organically with pesticides, no matter how natural the original material itself is.
- Independent certifications.
Certifications are awards from regulating agencies that tell you the product has been inspected or tested and that it conforms to certain specific international standards. Gaining a certification involves a very stringent process of examination – sometimes of the product itself; sometimes in the way it is produced. Proper certifications allow you to be certain that a product is really what it claims to be. If the product or its method of production fails to conform, then the regulation agency will not award it a certification – it’s as simple as that.
- Comfort and convenience
Make sure the mattress you get is comfortable, in addition to being eco-friendly. There are many luxuriously comfortable eco-friendly mattresses out there, so there is absolutely no need to sacrifice your comfort when you get a green mattress. After all, getting a good night’s sleep is one of the primary reasons for buying a mattress!
As far as certifications go, some mean more than others do. There are many different labels and certifications out there, each making their own claim. For example, the term “natural” is meaningless, with no standards behind it. Even a mattress labeled “organic” may have only some materials that are actually certified organic. “For a mattress to qualify for the USDA Organic seal, it needs at least 95 percent certified organic materials and to be processed without potentially harmful chemicals,” says Charlotte Vallaeys, a Consumer Reports senior policy analyst for sustainability. “As of now, few mattresses meet the USDA Organic standards.”2
Only two mattress labels that I could find meet the best qualifications relevant to being true environmentally friendly: the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) and, for mattresses that contain latex, the Global Organic Latex Standard (GOLS).
GOTS requires that at least 95 percent of the materials in the mattress be certified organic, and it prohibits outright the use of certain substances even for the other 5 percent, such as chemical flame-retardants and polyurethane, the chief ingredient of memory foam.
GOLS ensures that a mattress with latex is made of 95 percent organic latex, with restrictions on the other 5 percent of the mattress’s components. Natural-latex mattresses may have both the GOTS and GOLS labels.
Other certifications out there while not quite as stringent, still show that a company is trying to maintain environmentally friendly standards. Oeko-Tex Standard 100 doesn’t ensure that a mattress’s fiber is produced organically, but it does set limits for the emission of harmful chemicals such as formaldehyde and other volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which are linked to ozone, smog, respiratory illnesses, and memory impairment. It also bans the use of certain chemical flame-retardants, colorants, and allergenic dyes.CertiPUR-US applies only to the polyurethane foam in a mattress. CertiPUR-US prohibits certain substances that are in many types of foam (such as polybrominated diphenyl ether, or PDBE, flame-retardants) and requires testing for formaldehyde and other chemicals. Greenguard requires testing of a finished mattress for specific emission limits of formaldehyde and other volatile organic compounds. Greenguard Gold has more stringent emission limits on the above VOCs. Organic Content Standard 100 refers only to the percentage of certified-organic materials, not to the presence of flame-retardants, VOCs, colorants, or dyes. Note that The Department of Agriculture allows the term “organic” on mattresses if only a portion of the components are certified organic. Other components, in fact, not only don’t need to be organic but also can be processed using potentially harmful chemicals.
Always be leery of mattress companies who claim the use of green memory foam. They call it “eco foam,” but it’s still petroleum-based, and off-gasses VOCs (volatile organic compounds) into your home. They may use foam that mixes traditional chemicals with something greener, but it isn’t any better than regular memory foam. Unless you’re using 100% latex, or 100% organic, you’re still going to end up with a mattress full of various chemical components. Mattress companies are legally required to include a tag with the chemical components, but mattress companies are not required to post this information online. So often, conscious consumers will buy a supposedly eco mattress, then see the tag and realize they’ve been duped. When purchasing a mattress online, first ask that the company send you a full copy of the legal tag, to avoid buyer’s regret after the fact.
In conclusion, a truly eco-friendly mattress should be made primarily from natural materials, have a low carbon footprint; and be produced in a sustainable manner with minimal use of chemicals. I have listed on here several environmentally friendly mattresses on the market today, with general information and pricing to get you started in the right direction. For excellent reviews, Consumer Reports is a great source that offers a mattress ratings and buying guide for over 100 mattresses. Ultimately, you will want your eco-friendly mattress to be durable and comfortable. However, it is important that you do your own research to determine what is best for you.
1 Tips for buying an eco-friendly mattress Europeanbedding.sg/blogs
2 Organic mattress labels you can trust Consumerreports.org