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Not too long ago, comfort and price were often the only factors at play when people shopped for a new mattress. But as plastic chemical pollution continues to take a toll on the world, environmental impact is increasingly on consumers' minds. The upside? There's a growing market for eco-friendly products, from compost bins to bedding. The downside? It can be frustrating to figure out whom to trust and what to look for.. If you’re eager to shop for a sustainable mattress and put your money where your (green) heart is, we’ve consulted experts on how to choose a sustainable mattress and compiled some top-rated eco-friendly mattress options organized by the materials they’re made out of.
What is sustainable bedding, anyway?
While it might seem obvious that natural is good and synthetic is bad, it’s actually a bit more complex than that. Kiersten Muenchinger, an associate professor of product design with a focus on sustainability at the University of Oregon, explained that there are actually environmental issues linked to most natural materials. Maggie Lee, who manages the SEA circular project at the United Nations Environment Programme, echoed this sentiment, noting that there is little regulation on the use of the word “natural” outside of food labeling.
But there are legitimate reasons to shop for natural products: You may be focused on reducing the number of petroleum-based objects you send into landfills or you may be sensitive to the chemicals and strong odors often found in synthetic products. If you want a natural mattress, the most common materials you’ll find are organic cotton, natural latex, Tencel and wool. But what are they, exactly?
Organic Cotton Mattresses
Organic cotton should contain no chemicals, synthetics or pesticides. Farmworkers, the soil and consumers benefit from reduced exposure to these substances. However, as Lee pointed out, the term “organic” is often more relevant to human health than to sustainability, and just because something is organic, it does not necessarily mean it’s better for the environment. Organic cotton, in particular, could require more resources to process than conventional cotton.
Natural latex, organic cotton and a supportive innerspring unit make up this eco-friendly mattress from Avocado, which features no polyester, polyurethane foams or toxic fire retardants.The company also says it offsets 100 percent of its carbon emissions and is part of the 1% for the Planet program, as well as the Climate Neutral coalition.
Natural Latex Mattresses
Natural latex is made from the sap of rubber trees. An organic label in the context of latex claims that in the production process, no trees and the soil were treated in any way with pesticides or chemicals.
Made with natural latex, organic wool and cotton, the Zenhaven mattress is a breathable mattress that can naturally regulate your body temperature, according to the brand. It can also be flipped over to toggle different levels of firmness.
Nest Bedding provides several natural latex bedding options, including the Certified Organic All Latex mattress and the Natural All Latex. The Natural Hybrid Latex mattress is made from a combination of 100 percent natural Dunlop latex, organic knit cotton, Joma Wool and eco-friendly CertiPUR-US certified comfort foam.
Tencel is a relatively new material that is made from wood pulp and other natural substances. It was purposefully invented with sustainability in mind — it uses less water than cotton and boasts closed-loop manufacturing (in which any waste created is repurposed for another product).
In addition to Tencel, this mattress also uses vegetable-based polyurethane, which Muenchinger says is more sustainable in the sense that it is a renewable resource. Conversely, though, it takes more energy to produce.
Organic Wool Mattresses
Usually, the term “organic” does not define the wool itself — it denotes that the sheep it came from eat organic food and that no chemicals were used in extracting the wool. Purchasing humanely-sourced wool ensures that the sheep were not harmed or mistreated.
Wool is a natural fire retardant and provides breathability. Arun Badi, MD, PhD, a board-certified sleep specialist, told us that breathability can improve quality of sleep by regulating temperature, adding that “a good sleep facilitated by a good mattress is the most important investment anybody can make for their health.”
Handmade in the U.S., this Birch mattress gets its cotton from local farms and its humane and organic wool from New Zealand farmers, according to the brand. Each mattress comes with a cover made from natural organic cotton that’s designed to be highly breathable and contain a subtle stretch for comfort. In addition to participating in 1% for the Planet, the company also donates 1 percent of profits to the National Forest Foundation.
Another option from Avocado, the Green Mattress sources its organic latex, wool and cotton from its own farms and collectives in India. The mattresses are hand-tufted and made in California.
Is your mattress certified?
Sustainability certifications are meant to let consumers know that a company’s claims are legitimate. Muenchinger said that the more certifications a company has, “the more they are committed to their product hitting all the markers” of sustainability. Lee warned, however, that you should take certifications with a grain of salt since there are no global standards or regulations for some of them. With this in mind, you might want to know what some of the most common certifications — in other words, the ones you’ll most likely come across — stand for.
OEKO-TEX certifies that fabrics do not contain harmful chemicals and are free from allergenic substances. The natural latex used in this anti-microbial Plushbeds mattress is OEKO-TEX-certified and doesn’t contain any blends, synthetics or chemicals, according to the brand.
The Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) ensures that companies don’t use loopholes to falsely claim their products as organic. The wool and cotton found in this Brentwood Homes mattress are both GOTS-certified.
If you’re sensitive to chemicals and synthetic materials, you’ll want to look for the GreenGuard Gold certification, which has strict chemical emissions exposure standards. The Original Mattress, as a whole product, boasts this certification.
CertiPUR-US tests for harmful chemicals and emissions in foam. However, Muenchinger said that even standard mattresses without the certification are unlikely to contain high amounts of harmful substances like lead and mercury. This certification is most relevant to people with notable sensitivities. CertiPUR-US-certified mattresses can contain some synthetic materials, but this does not necessarily make them worse for the environment. In the DreamCloud mattress, you won’t have to worry about synthetic flame retardants, ozone depleters or heavy metals.