You spend 7 to 9 hours sleeping on your mattress. So buying a new one is a seriously big decision. Sure, COMFORT is important. Always has been: you don’t want a new mattress that leaves you sore and tired when you wake up. But people increasingly look for a mattress that is HEALTHY too. Just as people want to eat more natural foods and wear more natural fibers, they also want a mattress made with natural materials. But this non-regulated market means you need to be a savvy shopper. Let’s find out what you need to know so you don’t get conned.
Do you want a healthier mattress to sleep on but are confused by the terms “natural”, “organic”, “green” and “eco-friendly”? Do you feel overwhelmed by the choice of natural materials: mattresses made with cotton, wool, latex, bamboo, latex, aloe vera, green tea, goji berries? Alright, I’m kidding about the goji berries! Paleo mattresses anyone??
When John and I went shopping for our new healthier mattress, we were confused and overwhelmed too. We found out that some materials were more natural than others. We found out that true natural mattresses were more expensive than normal mattresses. When you have finished reading this Guide, you will be a savvy shopper, armed with the practical information you need to get out there and buy the right natural mattress for your needs and your dollar.
Interested in this topic but don’t have much time? Click on the topics that interest you the most from the list below to help you speed read through this article. Alternatively, take the slow boat: grab a green tea and maybe a small handful of goji berries) and enjoy the revelation behind so-called natural mattresses.
Getting the Terminology Right
Based on my extensive research on buying a mattress for John and I and our toddler Tobias, here’s my view on the terminology. I hope this gives you some clarity (or maybe confuses you further?)
- An eco-friendly mattress is one where the mattress manufacturer minimizes the impact on the environment during their production process or the manufacturer uses materials in the mattress that are close to nature as possible. Read more about the eco-friendly mattress;
- There is some overlap between a natural mattress and an eco-friendly mattress because both can source 100% natural materials in the production of that mattress;
- A genuinely natural mattress should be certified as such, going through a stringent testing process to prove it is natural and free of synthetic materials and harmful toxins;
- A natural mattress is different to an organic mattress;
- To be organic, mattresses need to be certified to be truly organic. Again, this is another round of stringent testing.
- The testing and certifications for a natural mattress are different to that for an organic mattress;
- And a green mattress – I honestly don’t know! I believe a green mattress is the same as eco-friendly but who knows?
Don’t fall for mattress salespeople throwing around the terms natural, organic, green, eco-friendly. Revert back to your 5-year-old self when the world was a curious place and you kept asking your parents “Why?”, “Why?” “Why?”. Push back on the claims being made and ask for proof and verification. Be a savvy shopper!
Are You Breathing In Dust Mites, Mold and Mildew?
Did you know that the box spring mattress, one of the most common types of mattresses, tends to accumulate dust mites as well as mold and mildew, which can trigger allergies, asthma, and respiratory problems? After 10 years (the average lifespan of a mattress), all this extra debris can double the weight of mattresses and the health burden on your body. Don’t let your sleep be disrupted with swollen lips, sneezing, coughing, nausea, nosebleeds, headaches, migraines, aching and sore joints, arthritis, eczema, hives and itchy red eyes!
Look for mattresses that deter dust mites and allow the mattress to breathe and prevent the build-up of mold and mildew. The Bamboo Gel 11 inch and 13 inch thick Brentwood mattress with a bamboo cover naturally resists dust mites, is hypoallergenic and anti-microbial.
Also wash your bed linen every week to 10 days in hot water 130 degrees. Protect your mattresses with natural anti-allergy covers for your mattress and pillows, as recommended by Web MD.
What Questionable Chemicals Are Hiding in Your Mattress?
Your trusty mattress may be harboring more than a few questionable chemicals. Since 2007, all mattresses in the U.S. have been required to be fire resistant, but this means that the materials are saturated with flame-retardant chemicals, such as:
- Polybrominated diphenyl ether, or PDBE, which accumulates in the body over time and has been banned in several other countries due to its toxicity;
- Formaldehyde, which is believed by some to be carcinogenic;
- Boric acid, which can irritate your airways; and
- Antimony, a metal that can cause skin irritation, hair loss and lung damage in animal studies.
Mattresses are liberally coated with these chemicals, and the toxins may be released into the air you breathe every time whilst resting peacefully on your dear mattress.
Become A Savvy Shopper: Know Your Natural from Non-Natural Materials In Your Mattress
In the U.S., the terms “natural”, “green” and “sustainable” are either not regulated or minimally regulated. This means that a bed that labeled “natural” may be no more chemical-free than a bed saturated with formaldehyde and PDBEs. Still, with the right information, you can be drifting off to a healthier dreamland before you know it. When shopping for a natural bed, you will need to become an avid label reader. If you are already reading the labels of packaged products you buy in your supermarket, this will come easy!
Materials that are commonly used to make natural mattresses include the following.
Cotton is often used as batting. Because cotton is not fire resistant, it is generally used in conjunction with wool, which does have some flame retardant properties.
If the mattress you are wanting the buy is labelled as ‘Treated Cotton,’ it is likely to be treated with boric acid. Also know that non-organic cotton has absorbed chemicals during the bleaching process. And here’s an interesting fact:
If you want a natural mattress, look for mattresses made with organic cotton to minimize your exposure to bleach and other chemicals.
Wool is naturally fire resistant, and it also repels dust mites and bedbugs, which makes it a cleaner, healthier choice especially for those prone to allergies. The lanolin oil the wool naturally contains also repels liquid, so it is naturally resistant to mildew and mold.
Traditional memory foam mattress has antimicrobial qualities and is resistant to dust mites but it’s manufactured from crude oil. A more natural choice would be to select memory foam mattresses where the manufacturer has replaced the petroleum-based oils in the mattress with natural plant oils.
Mattress manufacturers claim that bamboo fibers are naturally antibacterial, breathable and extraordinarily soft. It wicks moisture away from your skin leaving your body feeling fresh whilst you sleep. They can be woven with other materials like latex or cotton to create a more comfortable, durable mattress. Have a read of my Savvy Shoppers Guide to Bamboo Mattresses if you are interested in bamboo-infused memory foam mattresses or memory foam mattresses with a bamboo fabric cover.
The Bamboo Gel 11 and Gel 13 inch Memory Foam Brentwood Mattress has a cover made from bamboo fibers. You can zip this cover on and off for convenient cleaning.
The 10 inch thick Ultimate Dreams Latex DreamFoam Mattress has a 1 inch thick bamboo cover. DreamFoam says that bamboo as a material for a mattress cover is up to 4 times more absorbent and softer than a cotton cover. The bamboo cover also transfers the heat of your body away from the top of the mattress and into the mattress, keeping you cooler whilst you sleep.
Latex is a material that is harvested from the cores of rubber trees.
It begins as a liquid but is then solidified and shaped to create a resilient surface with antifungal and antimicrobial properties.
Two types of latex are available:
- Dunlop latex;
- Talalay latex.
Dunlop tends to be less expensive, but it is also less durable. Talalay latex foam mattresses distribute body heat and weight more evenly, relieve pressure more effectively than man-made foams, and has a buoyant, feather-light feel.
Talalay latex foam mattresses distribute body heat and weight more evenly, relieve pressure more effectively than man-made foams, and has a buoyant, feather-light feel.
If you are looking for a Talalay mattress, look at my review of the Ultimate Dreams Latex DreamFoam Mattress. Beneath the 1-inch bamboo cover lies a 3-inch layer of Talalay Latex foam.
Yep, you can find mattress like the 12 inch Queen-sized Zinus Memory Foam Mattress infused with green tea. The green tea extract in this mattress is an antioxidant and keep your mattress fresher for longer. This mattress is made without formaldehyde.
What to Ask Before Buying A Natural Mattress
Step 1 – Ask if the mattress you are buying is certified as natural or organic
You can read more about the certifications and the qualified mattress brands selling in the U.S. by reading my article on eco-friendly mattresses. In summary, the certifications you are looking for are:
I would recommend the CertiPUR-US certification as a minimum for any mattress you buy. This site only reviews mattresses that, at a minimum, have a CertiPUR certification. These mattresses include the Ultimate Dreams Latex DreamFoam Mattress, the 12 inch Queen-sized Zinus Memory Foam Mattress infused with green tea and the Bamboo Gel 11 and Gel 13 inch Memory Foam Brentwood Mattress .
Step 2 – Ask about the layers in the mattress you are buying
Most mattresses have a layer of memory foam over cotton, wool or other layers. Each individual layer should be as close to its source as it can be. In other words, the cotton should be unbleached, and the wool should ideally be sourced from “Pure Grow Wool,” which means it comes from organically raised and humanely treated animals. Some organic mattresses also contain additional ingredients, such as essential oils and natural plant extracts. These have antimicrobial properties that help keep your bed fresh and offer an alternative to harsher chemicals.
Some organic mattresses also contain additional ingredients, such as essential oils and natural plant extracts. These have antimicrobial properties that help keep your bed fresh and offer an alternative to harsher chemicals.
Finally, ask about how the layers are fused together: Glues and other chemicals can add unwanted hazards to even the most natural and organic mattresses. If possible, your Talalay latex mattress will be made using non-toxic adhesives, such as acrylic resin or liquid latex.
If you are looking for a natural mattress, have a read of my comprehensive review of My Green Mattress’ Pure Echo organic cotton natural mattress. Underneath the organic cotton top layer of this mattress, lies the flame barrier made from Joma wool sourced from New Zealand. This mattress is natural in the sense that it uses natural wool instead of toxic flame retardant chemicals as a flame barrier, meeting the Standard for Flammability of Mattress Sets 16 CFR 1633.
Image source: My Green Mattress
What About the Cost Of A Natural Mattress?
A natural mattress will be more expensive than a synthetic mattress. It’s more costly to retain raw materials in their natural state: the production processes are more complex and transportation costs are higher, traveling from farm to factory vs. originating a synthetic mattress in a factory.
The cost may be higher, but you are investing in your health, a better night’s sleep and a natural mattress that is designed to last for many years.
It’s a Wrap
The main takeaway from this article is that, as the savvy shopper, you now know to IGNORE the terms “green”, “natural”, “eco-friendly” and “organic”. Focus on the facts:
- Look for companies that clearly explain what goes into their mattress to minimize chemical toxins and environmental impact;
- Look for companies that are committed enough to take put their mattresses through the rigorous testing procedures to obtain the certifications shown in Table 1.
Challenge any claims that a manufacturer makes without the proper certifications.
May the zzzz be with you!