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Not too long ago, comfort and price could be the only factors at play when people shopped for a new mattress. But as plastic chemical pollution takes 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 could be frustrating to figure out whom to trust and what to look for can be a headache. 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 the best sustainable mattress and compiled some of the best options.
In this article
- What is sustainable bedding?
- Best organic cotton mattresses
- Best natural latex mattresses
- Best Tencel mattresses
- Best organic wool mattresses
- Is your mattress certified?
What is sustainable bedding, anyway?
While it might seem obvious that natural is good and synthetic is bad, it can get a bit more complex than that. Kiersten Muenchinger, an associate professor of product design with focus on sustainability at the University of Oregon, explains 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, echoes this sentiment, noting that there is little regulation on the use of the word outside of food labeling.
But there are legitimate reasons to go for natural: 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 points 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 coils make up this vegan mattress. 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, trees and the soil around them were not treated in any way with pesticides or chemicals.
Besides being made with natural latex, organic wool and cotton, the Zenhaven mattress can be flipped over to toggle different levels of firmness.
The Idle Latex is also a two-sided mattress you can flip. It's made with 1000-percent organic cotton and natural latex, crafted without formaldehyde, heavy metals or phthalates.
Tencel is a relatively new material that is made from wood pulp and other natural substances. It was purposefully invented with sustainability in mind, uses less water than cotton and boasts closed-loop manufacturing.
Besides Tencel, this mattress uses vegetable-based polyurethane, which Muenchinger says is more sustainable in the sense that it is a renewable resource. Conversely, it takes more energy to produce.
Organic Wool Mattresses
Usually, 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. Humanely-sourced wool ensures that the sheep were not harmed or mistreated. Wool is a natural fire retardant and provides breathability, as well. Arun Badi, MD, PhD, a board-certified sleep specialist, told NBC News 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.” It could also be an important investment for the planet.
Handmade in the US, this Birch mattress gets its cotton from local farms and its humane and organic wool from New Zealand farmers. Besides participating in 1% for the Planet, the company donates an additional one 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 believes that the more certifications a company has, “the more they are committed to their product hitting all the markers” of sustainability. Lee, on the other hand, would 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.
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 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 mentions that even standard mattresses are unlikely to contain high amounts of harmful substances like lead and mercury. This certification is most relevant to people with notable sensitivities. Note that CertiPUR-US-certified mattresses can contain some synthetic materials, which, again, 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.
If you’re still unsure whether a mattress brand is legitimately concerned about the environment or merely greenwashing, Lee suggests you challenge the company to see how well they can back up their claims: Ask them.
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