Organic products are everywhere – vegetables, fruits, groceries, wines, cotton clothing, baby clothing, skin care – offering more healthy, environmental and ethical choices. And now the humble mattress has gone organic! I was a little skeptical at first. So how do you find the best organic mattress and is it worth the investment? Read on to discover why my friend decided to buy an organic mattress after reading a draft of this blog post.
Short on time? Want to get to the “meaty bits” because you need to replace your mattress ASAP? I get it. Just scroll through the content on this blog post below to identify what you’re really interested in reading. But if you have the time, please read my blog post from start to the finish to find out more about the toxicity of mattresses and the impact on your health, as well as the positives, and negatives, of organic mattresses. Happy reading!
If you sleep seven hours each night consider yourself lucky! The big picture is you’re spending at least 2,555 hours a year – about a third of your life – in bed. But restorative sleep is more than the quantity of sleep you get. It’s about the quality of sleep too. That means uninterrupted sleep.
If you’re sleeping on a lumpy or aged mattress, which offers little support, or a conventional mattress, which can off-gas chemicals for years and cause a number of health problems then your sleep may not be as healthy for you as you think.
As if the choosing mattresses wasn’t confusing enough…enter the organic mattress. It’s made from certified organic components and, depending on the certification, is guaranteed to be non-toxic. But you can’t buy any organic mattress on face value: alot of people claim their mattress is the best organic mattress. So how can you tell the good one from the not-so-good ones?
Is The Best Organic Mattress Expensive?
If you think an organic mattress sounds expensive, you’re partly right. So let’s address this elephant in the room first.
Organic mattresses typically cost a little more than conventional mattresses. Production costs are higher because the raw materials are purer and closer to their natural state (therefore more expensive) rather than being highly processed and mass-produced. But the additional cost isn’t all that significant, and if you look at your mattress as an investment in good health and better sleep, paying a little more will be less painful.
Think of it this way. The average American spends 46 minutes a day in the car, according to the AAA Foundation. The average cost of a new car is $32,086, and it’s replaced an average of every six years. In contrast, the average American spends a full eight hours a day in bed and spends just $1,000 on a new mattress that’s replaced every ten or so years. A $32,086 car ends up costing $5,347 per year for 45 minutes of use per day. A $1,000 mattress ends up costing $100 per year for 8 hours of use per day. These numbers should help you feel justified in shelling out a little more money for a high quality, non-toxic mattress, but if it doesn’t, read on to learn why, exactly, you might want to consider going organic and how to choose the best possible organic bed for your budget.
What Chemicals Are Lurking In Your Mattress?
As of July 1, 2007, all mattresses manufactured in the United States are required by law to be extremely flame retardant. That means not catching fire when exposed to the flame of a blow torch. To satisfy this requirement, most manufacturers douse their mattresses in flame-retardant chemicals that are highly toxic to humans. These chemicals include:
|Polybrominated diphenyl ether (PBDE)||· Banned in Europe, Canada, and several states due to its link to brain damage, reproductive problems, infertility, thyroid issues and cancer.
· Most commonly used fire retardant for mattresses.
· When you inhale or otherwise absorb PBDE, it remains in your body and builds up over time.
|TDDCP||Associated with cancer, brain damage, nerve function problems, and altered DNA.|
|Boric acid||Causes respiratory damage in humans.|
|Antimony||· Highly toxic metal that your body will absorb at a rate of .8 mg per night–over 27 times the maximum exposure recommended by the Environmental Protection Agency.
· Antimony exposure through the air can cause eye, lung, and heart problems.
|Formaldehyde||Causes throat, nose, and eye irritation and is linked to cancer.|
The synthetic materials used in conventional beds include petroleum-based products like non-memory polyurethane foams, polyester fabric, press board, and vinyl. Conventional beds are also treated with chemical dyes and anti-microbial solutions, and the various layers are bound together with potent chemical adhesives. All of these materials and substances off-gas, or send chemicals and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) into the air where you breathe them in. This can cause eye, throat, and nose irritation, liver and kidney damage, and increase the risk of cancer.
Mattress manufacturers aren’t required to disclose information about the chemicals used in their mattresses, and in fact, many will claim that their mattresses are non-toxic, which likely isn’t the case. Remember that…a non-toxic mattress isn’t necessarily an organic mattress.
Coil Springs: Electromagnetic Radiation Amplifiers
It’s not just the textiles and adhesives in a conventional mattress that can cause health problems. According to Scientific American, a coil-spring mattress acts as an antenna that magnifies the intensity of electromagnetic radiation. Sleeping on a coil spring mattress may increase your risk of developing various cancers, including melanoma and breast cancer. In fact, a recent peer-reviewed study found that Americans are more likely to get breast cancer on the left side than on the right side, and melanoma most commonly occurs on the left side of the hips, thighs, and torso, which are all areas that come into contact with a mattress.
Studies show that men and women tend to prefer sleeping on their right side, and the strength of the electromagnetic radiation is strongest 75 centimeters above the mattress, which corresponds with the left side of the body. It’s interesting to note that in Japan and other Far East countries, there’s no left-side prevalence for these cancers. The aforementioned study’s researchers concluded that this is because beds in that part of the world are typically coil-free futons.
The Best Organic Mattress is Truly Organic
In order for a manufacturer to call a mattress “organic,” it MUST be certified as such by an independent third-party organization. If it’s certified organic, it means that 95 percent of the mattress is comprised of certified organic materials. This is the best organic mattress.
A number of these independent organizations are responsible for certifying various products organic, including beds.
Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS)
Every material in a GOTS-certified organic mattress is made from at least 95% USDA-certified organic raw materials and will is guaranteed non-toxic. To receive a GOTS certification:
. All chemicals used must meet the requirements for low toxicity and biodegradability;
. Organic fibers must be kept separate from conventional fibers at all stages of processing;
. Manufacturers must have environmental policies in place; and
. Packaging materials must be recycled or certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) or the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC.)
Global Organic Latex Standard (GOLS)
The GOLS certification requires that sustainable and chemical-free processing methods are used for latex, and it ensures latex products are made from at least 95% organic raw materials.
The USDA National Organic Program (NOP)
This organization regulates every stage of the production of certified organic products, from manufacture and handling to labeling and packaging.
USDA Certified Organic Cotton
Certified organic cotton is that which is purchased from USDA-certified sources to ensure it’s completely organic and chemical-free.
OCS100 Organic Content Standard
This certification ensures that a product’s organic materials have been tracked from the source to the finished product to ensure it meets high organic standards.
GREENGUARD certification means that a product meets stringent chemical emissions limits, and it certifies that the land used to grow any raw materials is chemical-free and non-toxic within a 50-mile radius.
Oeko-Tex certification ensures that a product adheres to strict limits for formaldehyde, heavy metals, phthalates, chlorinated phenols, and pesticides.
Oregon Tilth Certified Organic (OTCO)
OTCO offers certifications that meet a wide range of programs including the USDA NOP, the ACB EU Equivalency Standard, Canada Organic Products Regulation, and Global Organic Textile Standards.
American Humane Certified (AHC)
This certification ensures that any involved animals are humanely treated.
The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC)
A CPSC certification ensures that organic fire retardants–usually wool–pass the required fire tests.
What’s the Difference: Natural and Eco-Friendly Mattresses vs. Organic Mattresses?
Just as “all-natural” means very little at the grocery store these days, it also means very little in the mattress world. Mattresses described as “natural”, “eco-friendly,” “green,” “non-toxic,” “chemical-free,” and “environmentally friendly” should never be taken to mean that a mattress is organic.
“Natural” and “green” mattresses may make use of materials like natural latex, natural or sustainable fabrics, and plant-based poly foams, but these components will likely be treated with chemicals and bound with dangerous adhesives, and they may comprise only a small percentage of the entire mattress.
“Natural” also doesn’t mean “chemical-free.” The mattress may be made from natural cotton, but that cotton is likely doused in fire-retardant chemicals and bonded to other layers with adhesives and glues that off-gas VOCs. Plant-based components like soy foam may comprise a small portion of the polyurethane foam, but unless it comprises at least 95%, these plant-based foams aren’t going to make much of a difference in the toxicity of the mattress or its carbon footprint.
Types of Organic Mattresses: Which is Right For You?
In general, organic mattresses come in three types:
. Organic futons, which are typically made from wool or cotton batting that’s covered with organic cotton. These aren’t the most comfortable beds for most people, although if you like a hard mattress, you may be happy with an organic futon mattress.
. Organic innerspring models made with organic padding and fabrics.
. Spring-free models, which are typically made from several layers of natural, organic latex foam or memory foam wrapped with organic wool and covered with organic cotton.
When choosing an organic mattress, keep in mind that a good night’s sleep is essential for optimum nervous system repair, immune system regeneration, and memory consolidation. Restlessness at night pulls you out of the deeper stages of sleep when the body is repairing itself, and fragmented sleep leaves your mind and body sluggish and tired the next day.
Don’t underestimate the importance of your mattress to a good night sleep. Sound sleep requires adequate support to prevent you from frequently shifting positions due to pressure build up around the body. A mattress should push the hip and torso area up and into alignment while you sleep. If your mattress doesn’t promote proper alignment, you may also have low back problems and trouble with movement during the day.
Although many people find futons and innerspring mattresses plenty comfortable, these don’t provide the high level of support memory foam offers for a truly restful sleep. Memory foam mattresses improve blood circulation and conform to your body so that your weight is evenly distributed. This ensures your back, shoulders, neck, knees, and legs are properly supported and spinal pressure is reduced to prevent tossing and turning throughout the night. When you’re no longer lying on it, memory foam returns to its original shape.
What’s Inside The Best Organic Mattress?
The best organic mattress is a certified mattress. The most common components of a certified organic mattress are organic wool, organic cotton, and natural, organic latex foam or memory foam.
Wool is often used as padding or as a fire barrier wrapping since it’s a natural fire retardant. In most cases, mattresses made with wool are able to pass the Federal regulation tests without any additional chemicals. Wool also wicks away moisture–great for night sweats–and it’s naturally resistant to dust mites and other allergens. It’s sustainable and non-allergenic, it helps to regulate temperature, and the wool fiber itself is supportive and resilient.
An article in a U.K. newspaper claims that a wool-stuffed mattress can outlast modern day mattresses by 50 years.
Organic beds are generally made with all-natural, untreated wool sheared from humanely treated sheep.
Used for both padding and for covers, cotton is a common component of organic and non-organic beds. Conventionally grown cotton accounts for around 25 percent of the world’s insecticide use and 10 percent of all pesticide use, and these end up in the finished product….your mattress! Organic cotton is grown without these chemicals, and it’s non-GMO.
Latex foam made from natural rubber can be called “natural” even if natural latex comprises just 30 percent of the finished product. Certified organic latex is deemed as such by the Global Organic Latex Standard, or GOLS. To be GOLS-certified organic, organic latex foam must be comprised of organically-grown latex liquid, and it has to contain at least 95 percent raw organic ingredients.
Organic latex foam is made from the sap of the rubber tree, a renewable and sustainable resource that makes organic latex foam mattresses an eco-friendly option. Two major processes for manufacturing organic latex are the Dunlop process and the Talalay process. The Dunlop process requires less energy than the Talalay process and is truly 100 percent organic, while the Talalay process uses other materials in its foam production that make it less than 100 percent organic, but no less than 95 percent. Dunlop latex is firmer than Talalay latex, which is springier.
Synthetic memory foam is made with toluene di-isocyanate, which is carcinogenic for humans, according to the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control. Wikipedia references the Ullmann’s Encyclopedia of Industrial Chemistry where TDI is classified as “very toxic” by the European Community. In contrast, certified organic memory foam contains at least 95% organic latex made from the sap of the rubber tree.
How Important Is Density In Mattresses?
If you’re choosing an organic memory foam mattress, you’ll want to make sure all layers are of high density. Density refers to how much the memory foam weighs. Here are a couple of points to remember when shopping:
- The lower the density, the softer the mattress. If you like the thought of your mattress sinking into your body the moment you lie on it, then you will be better off with 3lb density or less. If you prefer something stiffer and less of that “sinking feeling” then go for a 5lb density. Special orthopedic mattresses will have 6lbs density or more. And if you’re like Goldilocks, preferring some “just right” (not too hard and not too soft), then choose a 4lb density.
- Generally speaking, the higher the density, the higher the price and the longer your mattress will last.
- Check the density concentration. In many cases, a manufacturer will claim that a mattress is made of dense 5-pound memory foam, when in actuality only the first inch of the mattress is high density with 3lb density. The rest of the mattress may be less dense – and less supportive – with 2-pound memory foam.
Does Organic Mean Non-Toxic?
While certified organic mattresses are typically non-toxic, this isn’t always the case. A certified organic mattress may be made with organic cotton, wool, or foam, but the layers may be bound together by dangerous adhesives or the wool treated with additional fire retardants. To ensure a mattress is non-toxic, look for certification by the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS,) which means it has met strict organic and non-toxic standards. This will ensure you are buying the best organic mattress.
What Are The Negatives Of Organic Mattresses?
Organic beds are most definitely better for your health, but they do come with some downside.
It’s hard to find quality and genuine organic mattresses
Organic mattresses can be more difficult to find than conventional beds. Major mattress retail outlets don’t typically stock certified organic beds. While you can find them online, testing them out isn’t generally an option. However, many online organic bed retailers have return and exchange policies in place that benefit the consumer, and if you have an idea of the firmness you want, you’ll probably end up with a bed that’s just right.
Because organic mattresses are not mass-produced like conventional mattresses, the choice is more limited. It’s kind of like the Model T-Ford: you can have every color provided it’s black!! Organic beds are not the norm, and so the various options available on conventional beds may not be available on organic beds. But a lack of choice doesn’t mean there is a compromise on quality.
They are more expensive
Organic mattresses typically cost more since the materials are more expensive to source. The certification process is also rather expensive, and those additional costs are transferred to the consumer.
Confusing and misleading information
It can be confusing to shop for an organic mattress. A manufacturer may use ambiguous terminology to imply a bed is organic when in reality, the only organic component is, say, the cover!!
Misleading information or a lack of information can make finding a truly organic bed rather difficult, which is why it’s important to make sure a bed is certified organic. This is largely a matter of asking the right questions when you’re shopping around. It’s a good thing you are reading this blog post so you know what to look out for and what questions to ask.
Questions to Ask When Buying an Organic Mattress
To ensure you’re getting the organic bed you want, it’s important to ask some pointed questions.
How close is each component of the mattress 100% organic?
First, you’ll want to know if each component of the mattress is as close to 100 percent organic as possible, keeping in mind that no mattress is 100 percent organic. Ask about the bed’s certifications, and have a list of the certifications mentioned in this blog post on hand so that you can refer back to it while you’re shopping. The closer to 100%, the more the mattress is the best organic mattress – pure and simple.
What can you tell me about each layer inside the mattress?
Secondly, you’ll want information about every layer in the mattress. What’s each layer made of, and what chemicals is it treated with? How are the layers bound together? You’ll also want to know where each component was manufactured. Although many mattress companies claim the U.S. or Canada as the origin of their mattresses, this may simply mean that the components are imported and merely assembled in the U.S. or Canada. It can be difficult to know with certainty what chemicals are actually used in the manufacturing process of imported mattress components.
One thing is for certain, the fewer chemicals in your mattress, the more likely it is the best organic mattress.
What binds these layers together?
Finally, you’ll want to know what binds the layers together. Harsh glues and adhesives can quickly negate the benefits of an organic mattress.
Any reputable mattress brand selling the best organic mattress will have the answers to these questions along with documents to back them up. If they don’t, it’s best to find your bed elsewhere.
For a mattress made with GOTS certified organic cotton, take a look at my detailed review of the Pure Echo, made by My Green Mattress.
Is Organic Best?
Whether you have allergies, asthma, high-risk factors for any number of chronic diseases, or you simply want to reduce your exposure to chemicals and lower your carbon footprint, a certified organic mattress is your best bet. You can find organic mattresses online or in boutique bed retail outlets. In some cases, a major bed retailer may carry a line of organic mattresses.
The key to buying organic is to know your budget ahead of time, arm yourself with as much about organic mattresses as possible before you shop, and know what questions to ask. That way you are sure to buy the best organic mattress for you. Once you’ve made your choice and have started sleeping in your new organic mattress with excellent results, you’ll be glad you invested the time and energy to conduct proper research into organic mattresses.