As you may have heard, most mattresses are made with materials that are not natural. Memory foam and latex foam are rarely made with natural ingredients. As consumers are becoming more aware of this, and with the recent upswing of so-called “green” products, manufacturers are increasingly providing organic and all-natural mattresses, or in other cases just “eco-friendly” mattresses. But what makes a mattress green or eco-friendly? Well, as with most other aspects of the mattress industry, there are no real standards and there’s a lot of vague and confusing information out there on the subject. I am going to try to list out a few of the things you can look for to see how truly green the mattresses you are looking at really are.
Most people don’t realize that most foam mattresses are made with petroleum. Companies that offer “green” mattresses usually replace some portion of the oils in the memory foam (which is normally all petroleum-based) with plant-based or as most call it “bio-based” foams. At the end of the day, the percentage of the memory foam that is bio-based is usually still quite low. If you want to do some sleuthing, figure out what percentage of the foam is bio-based and what percentage is based on petroleum. You’d be surprised at how many “natural” mattresses are majority-comprised of petroleum-based foam.
Almost all mattresses will have some chemicals in them. What you want to look for is ones that have a lower number of volatile organic compounds, or VOCs. VOCs are found in everyday products. Your exposure to them on a mattress is fairly innocuous, but the exposure can add up over time. A good way to measure the “naturalness” of a foam mattress is to assess the amount of VOCs that the mattress exposes you to.
Another issue with memory foam is the problem of off-gassing. The chemicals used in the processing of the foam can give off an unpleasant odor that most people like to avoid. The smell often lessens over time, but certainly almost everybody would prefer to avoid off-gassing in the first place.
All-natural latex mattresses can be quite expensive. They are normally made from rubber tree sap and that sourcing process can significantly drive up the cost of manufacturing. As a result, there aren’t a ton of 100% natural latex mattresses, and most latex mattresses are synthetic and processed with petrochemicals.
One thing you can look for in a green mattress is a cover made from organic cotton. Cotton is fairly prevalent in mattress covers, so you can get an added bonus if the cotton is organically grown.
Mattresses are required to be fire retardant. They have to withstand a pretty rigorous fire test to be compliant. Many companies address this issue by using processed chemicals to meet these standards. More and more evidence is coming out that these chemicals can have harmful health effects and should be avoided. What you should look for is a mattress that is flame retardant without needing to be processed with chemicals. In addition to health effects, some foams are processed with formaldehyde and other solutions that can simply be irritating for those sleeping on it. You will also want to try to find mattresses that are hypo-allergenic, as some chemicals used in the manufacture of foam mattresses can occasionally cause allergic reactions.
One thing that should be noted that you probably don’t immediately think of is that companies that sell online have a business model that is much more sustainable and good for the environment than the traditional retailer model. By not having stores, these companies save on all the electricity involved in running a retail operation, and customers do not have to use all of the gas it takes to go to and from a store. When you add up those two elements, it starts to make a pretty big impact. So, if you are looking for a company that has a low impact on the environment, you should consider the effect of the company’s business model and whether they sell online or in retail stores.
Because the definitions of “organic” or “natural” or “eco-friendly” can take on any number of interpretations, you should look for companies that are very clear about what goes into their mattresses and where everything is sourced. If the company says it has eco-friendly products, but then it is not very clear how that is the case, then maybe the company knows its products aren’t really that eco-friendly. The company should clearly state how the mattress is made and what all the components are and how they are sourced. I have noticed that the most eco-friendly companies are normally the most transparent.