Image by Savvy Rest
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A question I’m often asked these days is, “What kind of mattress should I get?”
That’s because regular consumers are waking up to the fact that conventional mattresses are one of the more toxic things you can bring into your home, with fire retardants, volatile organic compounds, and formaldehyde. Mattress companies will tell you to just let a new mattress air out with the windows open for 48 hours. But a 2019 study that looked at mattresses that had been allowed to off-gas (release chemicals into the air) for a full 28 days found that body heat would likely cause them to continue to release more toxic substances into the air.
And those VOCs could combine with others coming from other types of furniture, fashion, or your kitchen to bring them to dangerous levels. At first, VOCs will just cause eye irritation, asthma, headache, fatigue and nausea. But in the long term, that can lead to liver, kidneys, and central nervous system damage.
Not all mattress companies that bill themselves as eco-friendly are truly sustainable and non-toxic. The problem is, mattress companies are not required to disclose what exactly is in their mattress. It can get confusing, so here are some simple things to look for when shopping for a healthy, safe, and sustainable mattress.
Latex Instead of Synthetic Foam
A company may call it “eco foam” or “cool gel” but unless it’s natural latex, it’s most likely petroleum-based polyurethane foam, which one study (funded by the owner of an organic mattress company) found emits dozens of chemicals, including carcinogenic chemicals benzene and naphthalene. Polyurethane also off-gasses isocyanates, and recent research has identified a link between these chemicals and eczema.
You want natural latex, which is made from tree-based rubber. Look for the Global Organic Latex Standard, which requires latex to be at least 95 percent organic and sets limits on toxic substances in the latex. Also, don’t be fooled by the CertiPUR-US certification. It was created by the Alliance for Flexible Polyurethane Foam, an astroturf organization created by the foam industry to give the appearance of safety.
If you are allergic to latex, look for a mattress that has an OEKO-TEX Standard 100 or Greenguard Gold certification.
Wool Instead of Fire Retardants
Fire retardants are endocrine disruptors, meaning they interfere with your hormones. They’ve been linked to thyroid disease, which can manifest as fertility and menstrual problems, fatigue, racing heart, unhealthy weight loss or gain, and thinning hair.
But mattresses don’t need fire retardants if they include wool. They don’t even really need fire retardants if they’re vegan. The government requires mattresses to pass a fire safety test, but if you’re really worried, just don’t smoke in bed or place candles next to your bed.
Buttons and Thread Instead of Glue
Binding mattress layers together with solvent-based glue can introduce more toxic chemicals into the mix. Look for mattress companies that sew the mattress layers together, or use water-based glue.
Is this all too complicated? Just look for a trustworthy certification!
Made Safe is the most exacting. It has a list of 6,500 banned substances for reasons related to both human and planetary health. Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) certifies that a mattress is at least 70% organic and natural, and doesn’t contain flame retardants, phthalates, or other toxic substances. Then there is Standard 100 by OEKO-TEX, which does allow for some substances below certain limits based on human health. Just make sure it’s for the whole mattress and not one of the materials inside it. Similarly, Greenguard gold means chemical emissions low enough to make it suitable for use around children or the elderly. GREENGUARD Certified products are certified for low chemical emissions into indoor air.
Avoid anything with California’s Prop 65 label, which warns you if there are carcinogens and reproductive toxins in a consumer product. And like we said above, don’t trust the CertiPUR-US label, it was created by the polyurethane foam industry and just tells you that the maker has done the bare minimum and has not put anything illegal in there. That’s such a low bar as to be meaningless.
Ready to pick out your comfy and safe mattress? Let’s go:
This B-Corp certified and employee-owned brand makes organic mattresses with organic cotton, organic wool batting, and natural latex of your choice—Dunlop and/or Talalay—for customizable comfort. This pure, natural latex is sourced from independently tested and certified suppliers. And because Savvy Rest uses wool, a natural flame barrier, no chemical flame retardants are needed. There is also no use of pesticides, bleaches, or harmful dyes. Not only are the mattress materials GOTS-certified, so are its warehouse, woodshop, and sewing facilities, for a healthy and non-toxic process all the way through. Its mattresses, pillows, and toppers are also certified to GREENGUARD GOLD standards for low chemical emissions indoors. And, if you want to try it out before bringing it in your home (because returning a mattress once it’s up your stairs is a pain), you can visit a dealer near you. Use the code ECOSAVVY20 to get 20% off your purchase.
Based in North Carolina, Turmerry is a female-owned home goods company that uses sustainably sourced materials. Its mattresses are GOTS, and OEKO-TEX certified and are manufactured at a carbon neutralized factory using 100% natural latex, organic cotton, and New Zealand wool.
$899 – $1,399
Awara’s organic luxury mattress is made from natural latex foam, humanely sourced New Zealand wool (a natural fire retardant), and organic cotton (for moisture-wicking and breathability). Its natural Dunlop latex foam is sourced from thoughtfully-grown, Rainforest Alliance-certified rubber trees and has temperature regulating qualities to keep you cool. Ten trees will be planted with your purchase too!
$899 – $1,699
Spindle mattresses are produced by 4th generation mattress makers. The mattresses are manufactured using OEKO-TEX-certified organic Dunlop latex from Sri Lanka; organic cotton grown in Texas, New Mexico and sometimes India that is knit in the Carolinas; and OEKO-TEX-certified organic wool from New Zealand that is carded by Woolgatherers Carding Mill in California. You assemble the shipped mattress yourself in order to get it to your exact firmness specifications, and you can easily swap out latex layers later to make it softer or firmer. Customers can also buy an organic hybrid mattress with no assembly required. Spindle’s latex mattresses don’t include chemical flame retardants, synthetic rubber or harmful VOCs. The brand donates one mattress for every 10 Spindle mattresses sold and also donates 10% of its profits to environmental organizations.
$299 – $2,448
Founded in 2008, PlushBeds mattresses are certified by Greenguard, GOTS Organic, USDA Organic, and OEKO-TEX. It has quite a selection of different organic, natural, and hybrid mattresses. All of its mattresses are made in-house, in its 80,000 sq.ft. factory in Camarillo, California. And they and go through a meticulous 95-point inspection before being shipped directly to its customers. PlushBeds ensures all its materials are harvested in an ethical, worker-friendly, sustainable manner. And its team personally meets with its suppliers on a regular basis. Since 2008, PlushBeds has given scholarships to dozens of students willing to dedicate their lives to improving the environment.
Happsy believes that, “Organic materials are simply more bio-compatible and frankly, more comfortable.” Those natural materials include organic cotton, organic wool, and certified latex. It manufactures its own pocketed springs, which it claims are and more supportive than the “off-the-shelf” units used by other mattress companies. There are no glues or adhesives in the entire mattress, which is fully Oeko-Tex-certified to be free of harmful substances.
$959 – $1,599
Avocado’s mattresses are Made Safe and GREENGUARD Gold Certified. They are made with natural and organic materials, including eco-INSTITUT certified, Dunlop latex from tree-tapped and sustainable sources; GOTS certified wool from its very own herd of sheep in India; and GOTS certified organic cotton. Avocado exceeds all federal flammability and CPSC standards without using chemical flame retardants. It combines the finest natural cushioning with an internal, zoned, pressure-point support system for proper back support and extended durability, making the mattress last twice as long as a conventional mattress. A note that both I and a friend both had trouble getting our delivery in a reasonable period in 2021, but those supply chain hangups seem to have been resolved in 2022.
Obasan handcrafts research-based quality mattresses in Canada. They are designed with an exclusive “multi-zone” system that not only allows you to customize your side of the bed, but update it for life changes (such as pregnancy or a new partner) as needed. The GOTS-certified brand uses traceable organic wool, cotton, and rubber, as well as untreated wood from local responsibly-managed forests.