Should You Be Looking for an Organic Mattress?
In more and more industries, ranging from foods to cosmetics to cars, there is a growing demand from customers for products that can be identified as green, natural, or organic. As a result, it should come as no surprise that increasing attention is being paid to the materials and production processes for mattresses.
Unfortunately, there is a great deal of murkiness when it comes to the way that terms like organic and natural are used in the mattress industry. Without solid standards or industry consensus on what makes a mattress green, customers can become easily overwhelmed by all of the different types of mattresses and the ways that they are described. In this guide, we’ll help to bring some clarity to these issues and offer some recommendations for some of the more environmentally-friendly mattresses on the market.
Why Do Customers Want Greener Mattresses?
There are two main reasons why most customers seek out a mattress that is considered greener than traditional mattresses.
The first reason is health. Many customers are concerned about potential health implications of certain chemicals that may be used to create a mattress. These chemicals can include petrochemicals, adhesives, dyes, flame retardants, and others that are involved in the production of mattress materials. While only some chemicals that can be used in mattresses are known to be potentially dangerous, some health-conscious customers want to avoid as many chemicals as possible, even if the health effects of them may be unknown. For many of these customers, this drives an interest in mattresses that may be advertised as natural, organic, or green.
The second reason is environmental. With greater awareness of climate change and environmental degradation worldwide, a growing number of shoppers are turning to products with reduced environmental footprints. Whether it be in the production of the raw materials or in the industrial processes used to build a mattress, more and more shoppers want to know that the methods of bringing the mattress to market were as sustainable as possible.
It is important to remember that these two issues, though they may be related, are distinct. Products that are safe from a health perspective are not necessarily environmentally-friendly and vice versa. In many cases, mattress marketing materials are designed in ways that conflate these two goals. In order to be as savvy a consumer as possible, it is helpful to avoid treating them as one in the same when considering different mattress options.
As we continue through this guide, we’ll primarily focus on the goal of environmental sustainability, but we’ll point out important information related to the health safety of mattresses as well.
Is There Standard Terminology for Organic Mattresses?
No. There are very few accepted definitions for terms like “green,” “natural,” “all-natural,” or even “organic.” These terms can also be applied in misleading ways, such as by implying that they are for an entire mattress when they may only apply to one mattress component. We encourage you to be skeptical of these terms when you see them and remember that, in general, there is no regulatory body that fact-checks the claims of different mattress sellers.
Lack of standards and terminology has led to rampant “greenwashing.” Greenwashing is a term that is used to describe the use of pleasant-sounding terms, like “all-natural,” to market products that may not offer any meaningful benefits to your health or to the environment. Greenwashing has been a huge problem in many industries, and the mattress industry is no exception.
Because these terms themselves can be used in a fashion that is hollow and misleading, it is necessary for customers to drill down and ask hard questions about what those terms mean in the context of any specific mattress. It can also be useful to ask about certain certifications that apply consistent criteria in evaluating consumer products.
What Certifications Should Consumers Know About?
When considering certifications, it is again important to distinguish between those that focus on issues related to human health and those that focus on environmental impact.
A few certifications that focus predominantly on human health include:
- OEKO-TEX Standard 100: the International Association for Research and Testing in the Field of Textile and Leather Ecology (OEKO-TEX) is an organization comprised of 18 independent textile research and test institutes based in Europe and Japan. The Standard 100 is a OEKO-TEX protocol that tests for harmful substances in textiles and examines all parts of the material.
- CertiPUR-US: CertiPUR-US focuses specifically on foams and is a protocol that tests for harmful materials or emissions. While the standards for CertiPUR-US are generally high, the certification organization was founded by members of the foam industry, which means that it is not a completely independent form of certification or verification. Overall, though, CertiPUR-US does add a useful safety check on polyurethane foams.
- Eco-Institut: the Eco-Institut is a German accreditation organization that tests for hazardous emissions and substances in building products and textiles. This is an independent certification organization, and it is used in the mattress industry mainly by companies producing latex and other textiles.
- GreenGuard: testing by GreenGuard is more limited in that it focuses only on volatile organic compounds (VOCs) produced by materials. For people worried about offgassing or emissions from mattress materials, GreenGuard certification can be meaningful, but it does not address anything besides emissions.
Some of the main certifications that focus predominantly on environmental impacts include:
- United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Organic / National Organic Program (NOP): The USDA Organic label is well-known largely because it is the one most commonly used for organic food. In order for a crop to be labeled as USDA Organic, it must meet standards for organic farming relating to issues such as the use of pesticides. It is important to note that the USDA process focuses specifically on raw agricultural products rather than their derivatives. In other words, it applies to a crop but not necessarily to what that crop later is turned into. For example, USDA organic latex would mean that the rubber was grown using organic farming methods, but the final latex product itself may not be organic.
- Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS): GOTS provides certification for organic fibers, and as a standard based on textiles and not just raw materials, it can apply more broadly than USDA’s NOP. The GOTS standard is well-regarded and includes elements relating to both environmental and social sustainability while also involving restrictions on many chemicals that are hazardous to human health.
- Global Organic Latex Standard (GOLS): GOLS is a companion to GOTS that focuses specifically on latex. It requires that a latex product be produced with at least 95% organically-produced latex, and it also has standards for the composition of any of the up to 5% that was not produced organically.
- OEKO-TEX MADE IN GREEN: this standard from OEKO-TEX goes beyond the OEKO-TEX Standard 100. While the Standard 100 tests for harmful substances in a product, the MADE IN GREEN standard also focuses on the sustainability of the processes used to create a product.
- The Global Recycled Standard: this certification from an independent organization called TextileExchange provides assurances that materials that are claimed to be recycled were actually produced according to high standards for environmental health.
What About Latex Specifically?
Natural latex is not necessarily organic latex. Some latex may be labeled organic based on USDA standards, meaning the the rubber itself was cultivated using organic farming methods. However, steps involved in the processing of the rubber once it is harvested can involve non-organic materials. Latex can also be labeled as organic by GOLS, which takes a wider view of the overall latex material supply chain.
In general, there are two main types of latex — natural and synthetic. Synthetic latex, also known as Styrene-Butadiene Rubber (SBR), is derived from petroleum-based chemicals. A combination of these two materials is also known as blended latex. Latex labeled as natural latex is permitted to contain very small amounts of SBR.
What are the Benefits of a Green Mattress?
There are a number of possible benefits to using a green mattress:
- Potential health benefits: a mattress that meets high standards for green production and materials is unlikely to contain any hazardous chemicals that a sleeper could be exposed to. Exposure can occur through directly lying on the mattress and/or through offgassing. Neither of these should occur with a mattress that has been produced using truly sustainable methods. While most mattresses on the market are likely to be safe, many customers may sleep easier if they know that the mattress has undergone rigorous safety testing.
- Potential environmental benefits: some of the certifications for green mattresses involve requirements that the materials meet standards regarding how they were produced. These can involve an analysis of the environmental impacts of the actual cultivation of the raw materials as well as the fabrication of those raw materials into the actual mattress materials. People who have a particular interest in lessening the environmental footprint of the products they buy may be especially compelled by this potential benefit.
- Potential social benefits: some textile certifications also involve a deep look at the supply chain to examine the conditions for workers and the social ramifications related to the production of the materials.
- May reflect greater attention to detail in manufacturing: designing a mattress that meets high standards of customers and certification protocols may ultimately involve a higher level of care and attention to the componentry of the mattress. On the whole, this may mean greater focus on making sure that no corners are cut in the making of the mattress.
What are the Downsides of a Green Mattress?
Some of the possible downsides to buying a green mattress include:
- Expensive: mattresses that meet complex certifications and can honestly be described as green are often extremely expensive to produce. There are many costs associated with obtaining green certifications. These costs can range from those involved in designing advanced manufacturing processes to the paperwork related to complying with certification protocols. The upshot is that green mattresses almost always come with a price tag that is higher, and often significantly higher, than comparable mattresses on the market.
- Limited options: though many mattresses are marketed as green or natural, the number that actually meet high standards for their production are much fewer and further between. This naturally reduces the range of available mattress options for people who insist on a truly green mattress. For customers who may also have other specific needs, such as a particular firmness feel, this could dramatically decrease their choices.
- Shorter track record for materials: mattresses made with more traditional materials and processes have a long history on the market, and as such, they are known entities as far as their performance. Some of the newer materials and methods for making them do not have the same track record on which we can evaluate their performance and durability.
What Types of Mattresses Are Available?
You can read a lot more detail about the different types of mattress options that are on the market in our Buyer’s Guide, but we’ll provide a quick refresher here. You can classify almost all mattresses into the following categories:
These mattresses are built with several layers of foam, and the exact foam composition and specifications can vary. One of the most common types of foam mattress construction involves a base of polyurethane support foam with one or more comfort layers on top. The comfort layers are most often composed of memory foam or another type of foam with a similar feel. Specifically, this type of comfort layer responds to the amount of pressure applied in each specific place, which helps to provide appropriate support to each part of the body.
Most foams for mattresses are produced using petrochemicals or other chemicals that can make it extremely difficult to meet rigorous standards for green production. While many meet standards for human safety, there are very few that hit higher standards related to environmental and social standards.
These mattresses use coils inside the mattress to provide spring and support. This is the most traditional type of mattress, and the innerspring coils often have a slightly softer top layer, such as a pillowtop, that provides additional plushness or comfort. There are numerous types of innerspring construction that can affect the support and performance of an innerspring mattress.
Some innerspring mattresses are labeled as green and may involve sustainable production methods; however, most produce their springs and/or the materials in their comfort layers using industrial processes that are not truly green.
Hybrid mattresses include elements of memory foam, innerspring coils, and/or latex. Specifically, a hybrid mattress has a layer of memory foam, latex, or a similar type of foam on top of a support core of innerspring coils. The goal of a hybrid is usually to try to capture both the benefits of an innerspring and a foam mattress. That said, the benefits and downsides of a hybrid mattress depend in large part on the layering and materials involved in its construction.
As with innerspring mattresses, most hybrids include materials — either in the innerspring layer or comfort layer — that are not normally considered to be sustainably produced.
These mattresses are made from either natural or synthetic rubber. Latex tends to be a heavier and more expensive material, so it is not uncommon to see all-latex mattresses sell for thousands of dollars. Latex offers a high level of responsiveness, but it also tends to be bouncier and more resilient than many foams on the market.
Latex is the material that is most frequently described as organic, natural, or green. Because latex is cultivated initially from rubber trees, fewer chemicals are necessarily involved in its production. Nevertheless, it is important for customers to closely scrutinize claims about the safety and sustainability of latex mattresses as many still involve non-organic materials including synthetic latex.
Shopping Considerations for Green Mattresses
In this section, we’ll review some of the key issues to consider and questions to ask when you are preparing to buy a mattress, especially a green mattress.
What’s real and what’s hype?
One of the biggest considerations for anyone searching for a green mattress is determining whether the marketing hype about a mattress actually comports with reality. Here are some questions that you can ask to best sort through the hype and figure out the real deal.
- How does the company describe their mattress? If a company only uses very general terms to describe their mattress without offering any specifics about the production process, then you should be very concerned that those terms may be more marketing than reality.
- What certifications does it have? If the company truly uses green materials and processes, then hopefully they have the certifications to prove it. You can ask for details from the company about any certifications they have obtained.
- Are the certifications valid and transparent? Having a certification logo posted on a website is one thing; having an actual valid, up-to date certification is another. Any company with valid certification should have the details readily available including the date they were last certified and confirmation information about the receipt of the certification.
Price and value
As we mentioned before, green mattresses usually cost quite a bit more than comparable mattresses without green or organic materials. Customers should have a good sense of their budget and how much extra they are willing to pay for green materials. Customers may also want to make sure that they look into any promotions or coupons that may be available. For more about getting the best deal, you can review our Guide to Mattress Sales and Discounts.
Are the other features up to par?
While many shoppers place a high value on whether the mattress is green, it is also important that the mattress be able to offer a supportive and comfortable sleeping experience. In the following section, we’ll provide more details about features to look for to know that a mattress is built with materials that will deliver on a great night’s sleep.
Features to Look For
When you start searching for different mattress options, there are many different designs and finishes that can influence how the mattress performs. In this section, we’ll try to help simplify this by providing details about the key features to look for.
High-quality materials: Nothing determines the performance of a mattress more than the quality of the actual components that are used to make it. You’ll come across a lot of fancy marketing terms for different features, but — just as with greenwashing — sometimes this is just window dressing to cover over a mattress built with shoddy internal parts. When looking at the materials, here are some questions to think through:
- Does the company provide detailed specifications? For example, do they list the actual thickness of each layer of the mattress? If it’s a foam layer, do they publicly share the density and/or ILD of the foam? If it’s an innerspring layer, do they tell you about the type of innerspring construction? The more vague the details, the more skeptical you should be that perhaps the company cut corners in choosing their materials.
- Is there a weak spot? Some mattresses may use great materials in the comfort layer but use a low-quality foam for support. Remember that one weak layer can dramatically reduce the overall performance of the mattress.
- How thick is the comfort layer? An extremely thin comfort layer may degrade the feel and performance of a mattress and may limit its long-term durability as more pressure will be put on the supporting layers. In general, look for a comfort layer that is at least 2” thick, and if you are a heavier sleeper or someone with major pressure points, you likely want an even thicker comfort layer.
Free shipping: It’s important to consider the total cost of buying a mattress and not just the price of the mattress itself. Most online mattress companies offer free shipping. If you’re enticed by a mattress that has a shipping charge, just make sure to factor that into your total assessment of the value of the mattress.
Free and no-hassle returns: Many people get concerned about buying a mattress online because they don’t have an opportunity to scope the mattress out in a store. Thankfully, most direct-to-consumer mattress companies offer an extended sleep trial that allows you to try the mattress out in your own home for several months. If you realize during the sleep trial that the mattress isn’t right for you, you can return it at no charge and with no hassle from the company. Whenever possible, we suggest choosing a mattress that has this type of sleep trial and return policy to help protect your investment in case you find that the mattress just isn’t the right fit.
Solid verified reviews: As we’ve stated, there’s a lot of marketing that takes place in the mattress industry, and one of the best ways to cut through the noise is to only rely on trusted reviews. We’ve tried to do a lot of this legwork for you, and you can read more about any specific mattress in our brand reviews.
In addition to what we’ve listed below, here are two additional considerations as you start researching and shopping:
- Bedding selection: Even though your bedding (including pillows, sheets, and blankets) is something that you use every night along with your mattress, many people overlook finding high-quality bedding. It is important to select bedding that is comfortable, and for people who want to ensure that they have green products, bedding that also meets high standards for green materials and production processes.
- Shopping for two?: For anyone who is shopping for a new mattress that they will share with a partner, it is extremely important to talk about key issues — such as price, firmness preference, and material preference — before starting to home in on potential mattress choices. Check out our guide to the Best Mattresses for Couples for more in-depth tips on finding the best mattress for two.
Why? The factory where Essentia produces its mattresses is both GOTS and GOLS Certified, and their mattresses are OEKO-TEX 100 certified as well. They use latex foams and a “natural memory foam,” which is essentially a latex-derived foam with characteristics similar to memory foam. They generally have as quality track record from customer reviews.
Why not? The Essentia mattresses certainly reflect the elevated price point relative to other mattresses on the market. Their sleep trial is also only 60 nights, and the company does not offer a full refund if you decide to return the mattress as they deduct 9% of the purchase price as a return fee.
The Bottom Line: We wish that the Essentia mattresses were within the budget of more customers, and we also wish that their sleep trial and refund policy was akin to those offered by most bed-in-a-box mattress companies. Despite this, for customers who really want a green mattress, Essentia represents one of the few companies that meets numerous tough criteria for sustainability.
Honorable Mention: we award honorable mention for the best green mattress to the Sleep on Latex Pure Green Latex Mattress.
Why? The Sleep on Latex PureGreen mattress comes in numerous size and firmness options and has a track record of excellent performance. The company has certification from OEKO-TEX 100 and the Eco-Institut, but they do not use exclusively organic latex. However, they do use natural rather than blended or synthetic latex. Importantly, these mattresses are available at a much more accessible price point than the Essentia mattresses and come with a risk-free sleep trial.
Why not? For customers who want to ensure that their mattress was produced only using the highest standards, including organic farming of rubber trees to develop the latex, the Sleep on Latex mattress may not make the grade. It does not have GOLS and GOTS certifications like the Essentia options.
The Bottom Line: for customers who want a greener mattress but who can’t afford to splurge, the Sleep on Latex mattress should be a very strong consideration.
For people researching green mattresses and want much greater detail about the issues involved, you can review the following articles and resources: