Nowadays we have a rainbow of options when it comes to the surface we sleep on, so it’s easy to forget about the small details that make our snooze comfortable and healthy.
If we look back at our prehistoric ancestors, they used a rudimentary type of mattress, built using organic materials (leaves, branches, straw, wool, furs, and so on).
However, as the mattress industry and society evolved, producers started using man-made materials, such as memory foam, synthetic weaves, steel coils, and more.
Man-made materials are cheaper and offer some level of comfort, but are not as durable over time and don’t always support a healthy sleep routine. That’s why some producers have returned to natural materials such as latex, wool, or cotton.
So, what exactly is an organic mattress?
In general, an organic mattress is a mattress that is made of natural materials like latex, wool, or cotton. These materials are harvested from organic sources and processed without the use of harmful chemical agents.
(Keep in mind that there aren’t many strict rules defining how the label ‘organic’ can be used on mattresses, so there can be a wide definition of organic mattresses. We’ll talk about this more later on).
While it’s true that a high-end organic mattress is a bit pricier than traditional mattresses, the long-term benefits of such a bed are priceless.
If you’re curious, keep reading as we’ll discuss the types of organic beds, their benefits for the environment, and the pros that make organic mattresses so great (along with some cons too).
Types of Organic Mattresses
We don’t have (yet) a standard that can define an organic mattress using strict parameters. As such, producers are allowed to put the label ‘organic’ on a wide spectrum of beds.
For instance, some mattresses are only slightly organic, as they use a combination of synthetic and natural materials, but don’t use harmful chemical agents during the production process. This is why, if you want a green mattress, you must pay attention to the type of materials used in the product and for the cover.
Buyers can also get a bit of help from organizations that test beds in order to make sure they respect the standards for organic products. There are several certifications to look for, and each serves a different purpose.
In this section, we’ll talk about the various types of organic beds and the certifications you should follow to make sure the materials are indeed green.
There are two types of latex used in the mattress industry: natural and synthetic.
The natural kind is obtained from the sap of the rubber tree, which is harvested in an environmentally conscious manner.
Once the sap is extracted, it is processed into a latex foam, using either the Talalay or the Dunlop method. Both methods use some level of chemical elements, but the result is extremely close to natural.
The main difference between the two methods is in the firmness of the mattress, with the Dunlop being firmer than the Talalay.
If you’re not sure about the level of natural latex in your bed (some producers do combine natural and synthetic versions), check for certifications such as GOLS, Greenguard, eco-Institut, or Oeko-Tex. These guarantee the use of natural materials and low emissions.
An innerspring mattress uses one or two layers of stainless-steel coils as a support system and has one or several layers of fibers at the top (aka the topper), to provide comfort.
Now, while the coils can’t be found in nature, some producers do use recycled materials to reduce the impact on the environment.
However, an innerspring can be considered organic even if it only uses natural materials for the topper. The most common materials are wool and latex, but you may also find some that use feathers or other naturally sourced materials.
Memory foam is a 100% manmade material, so it will never be organic.
However, some producers tried to make it less synthetic by adding plant-based materials to create a mattress that maintains the main features of memory foam, but is not completely artificial.
Overall, as long as it is not made with harmful chemicals and it uses environmentally-friendly processing methods, memory foam is not a bad choice.
To make sure the memory foam in your bed doesn’t have chemicals such as formaldehyde, low Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs), and heavy metals, look for CertiPUR certification.
How Environmentally Friendly are Organic Mattresses?
A mattress that is truly organic should consume low levels of energy during production, should not emit any fumes into the atmosphere, and should be biodegradable once it’s out of use.
Sadly, there is no such mattress right now (unless you’re willing to sleep on a bed made of straws), but we are getting there.
Producers have started to look into recycled materials and are trying to use processing methods that don’t require high levels of energy, or the use of harmful chemicals.
As such, the difference between a traditional mattress and one that’s made from natural latex is huge when we compare the production costs. While a traditional mattress has a series of manmade elements (coils, frame, topper, cover), the latex bed only uses natural latex and an organic cover.
It’s true that both beds need processing and consume energy. However, the environmental impact is lower with organic beds (as long as the producer implements environmental-friendly methods).
Pros & Cons of an Organic Mattress
If you’re interested in buying a green mattress, it’s best to know the pros and cons before you go out shopping.
Pros of an Organic Mattress:
- They provide a healthy sleeping experience – The natural materials used by these products don’t come with chemical compounds (some don’t even use glue to stick the layers together). This means you won’t breathe harmful chemicals that, even in low concentration, can have an impact over time.
- Friendly towards the environment – The concern for Mother Nature is growing daily, and it’s something we should all think about. As such, buyers should support producers who use eco-friendly methods by buying their products.
- No allergies – Memory foam and other synthetic materials can be irritating for people with allergies. So, unless you are allergic to latex or wool, a green mattress is the best choice in this case. Natural materials are better tolerated by our system and don’t allow allergens to settle down.
- High durability – Organic mattresses have a long lifespan (longer than most synthetic designs) and react better to constant use. Therefore, you’ll find the best warranties with these products.
Cons of an Organic Mattress
- The price – Mattresses that use real natural materials are a bit more expensive than synthetic designs because there is the added cost of transport and processing the materials. However, due to their long lifespan, the investment makes a lot of sense.
- The risk of fraud – Because there is no strict regulation on what constitutes an organic mattress, many producers use natural materials to promote surfaces that are only partially organic. So, buyers are forced to do deep research, to ensure they are buying a truly green product.
- They are heavy – Natural materials, such as latex, are denser than synthetic ones. This is the reason why they’re more durable, but also the reason why they are heavier and a bit more difficult to maneuver.
At the end of the day, an organic mattress is a bed that uses mostly natural materials and leaves a lower carbon footprint on the environment.
While they are a bit pricier than traditional designs, as more and more producers board the eco-friendly train, we may see better products at lower prices very soon.
About the Author: Stacey Morgan
Stacey is a sleep expert and co-owner of Mattress-Guides. She is dedicated to helping people improve their sleep by making their own informed choices.