Mattresses prove a top concern for many eco-friendly shoppers, particularly those worried about indoor chemicals and environmental pollution. Between flame retardants, petrochemicals and manufacturing by-products, the demand for natural and organic mattress options continues growing.
And, when you consider how much time we spend in bed, investing in an eco-friendly mattress makes sense. If you’re sleeping well, you spend about 8 hours per day or over 3,000 hours per year in bed – likely more time than you spend anywhere else in the home!
Sleep is also a time for healing and restoration, and many people are hesitant to spend this time resting on potentially hazardous chemicals. In this guide, we look at the basics of eco-friendly beds and compare the top natural mattress options so you can identify the best option for your family.
What Makes a Mattress Eco-Friendly?
Eco-friendly can mean different things to different people. Generally, it means good for the environment, but it can also mean better for the environment than traditional alternatives. It can also be used facetiously.
When it comes to mattresses, an eco-friendly product would use natural materials that have less of an impact on resources or pollution than regular bedding, while also being healthier for the sleeper. Business practices also play a role.
Eco-Friendly Materials and Manufacturing
Mainstream bedding options typically consist of polyurethane foams, polyester fabric blends, conventionally-grown fibers, polyester fiber padding, and metal springs. Since many of these materials are derived from non-renewable resources, are non-biodegradable and involve pollutive manufacturing processes, they would not be considered eco-friendly by most people.
Alternatives that would make the eco-friendly cut include natural latex foam, organic cotton and wool, hemp, coconut fiber, and other animal hairs. All of these are naturally-derived, highly renewable and cause minimal impact. These natural fibers are also usually biodegradable.
Other potential materials include recycled fibers and foams, or those with partial natural materials. Some brands may use recycled foam matting above springs or incorporate recycled metals into springs (technically more eco-friendly then new foams and virgin metal).
Newer-generation polyurethane foams that replace a portion of petrochemicals with plant-based oils (often called plant-based or bio foams) also offer an alternative that is more eco-friendly than conventional foams. Some producers also go to greater lengths to reduce or negate manufacturing impact.
Limited VOC Off-Gassing and Chemicals
Off-gassing and side effects of flame retardants, adhesives and other chemicals are a top concern for many people seeking natural or organic mattress options.
Many of these chemicals of concern produce volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that can cause respiratory irritation. Some also suspect links between certain VOCs and asthma, behavior disorders, cancer risk and other health issues. Though the most concerning VOCs have been discontinued or banned, many others remain untested for long-term safety.
All mattresses sold in the United States must withstand an open-flame test to limit the real danger of mattress fires. Manufacturers can use different methods to do this. Brominated chemicals like PBDEs, halogens like chlorinated tris, and other additives like antimony are potential methods. Fiberglass fabric barriers and dense wool are considered the more eco-friendly methods.
Adhesives are often used to hold mattress layers, fabrics and seams in place for nicely finished product. However, these adhesives can contain many different VOC-producing ingredients. Water-based adhesives tend to be less odorous. You can also see if the adhesives pass Greenguard or Oeko-Tex certification, both test for hazardous chemicals. Some mattresses also use no adhesives between layers, which would be the most earth-friendly option.
The other major sources of chemicals and VOCs in bedding come from traditional polyurethane foams (petro byproducts), synthetic and blended latex foams (petro byproducts), non-organic fibers (pesticide and fungicide residues), and bleaches/dyes used in manufacturing. Opting for natural latex and organically grown/processed fabrics and fibers helps minimize or eliminate these concern.
Good Business Practices
Company operations are the other factor to consider if eco-friendly purchases are important to your family. From packaging, to processing and labor, to shipping methods and even internal recycling, these secondary factors can have an impact.
Factories that recycle and reuse prevent excess waste, facilities that support fair labor promote social responsibility and conservative shipping processes help reduce fuel use and pollution.
Natural and Organic Mattress Options
Now that you know the dirty on traditional and organic mattresses, let’s take a look to see how the different options compare.
Natural Latex Mattresses
Overall, 80% of people report being satisfied with their latex mattresses according to Sleep Like The Dead’s research.
Natural latex beds rate 15-20% higher than their synthetic or blended counterparts due to low off-gassing, responsive support, and good durability. The primary cons of natural latex is that the material can be somewhat expensive and it may be difficult to shop for due to limited availability, particularly in local stores.
Aside from the percentage of natural latex content, the key point of comparison for this mattress type is the manufacturing method. Latex made in the Dunlop way is supportive and durable, but may have less range of softness. Latex made in the Talalay process is durable, supportive and tends to have a wider range of softness, but is more expensive.
Latex foam can also be certified organic to the Global Organic Latex Standard (GOLS), but so far only Dunlop latex has achieved this certification. Talalay latex requires small amounts of additives, so it can be natural but not organic. Always check the certifications of each material if this is important to you, as sometimes only the covers will actually be certified organic.
A latex mattress may be a good choice for you if you prefer a slightly bouncier and more resilient foam, if you dislike springs, or if you are looking for a truly all-organic bed.
Our Natural and Organic Latex Mattress Picks:
Astrabeds Serenity Bed, $1999 in queen. Contains seven inches of certified organic Dunlop latex, one inch of organic wool, and an organic cotton cover. Firmness is fully customizable with dual options for couples. The brand includes a 25 year limited warranty and 90 day return/layer exchange policy.
Lifekind The Euro, $2495 in queen. Contains six inches of certified organic Dunlop latex with an organic cotton and organic wool cover. Three firmness options available. The brand includes a 20 year limited warranty and 90 day exchange policy.
SavvyRest Serenity Bed, $2899 in queen. Contains up to nine inches of certified organic Dunlop latex with an organic cotton and wool cover. Firmness is fully customizable with dual options for couples. The brand includes a 20 year limited warranty and 90 day exchange policy.
Natural Memory Foam Mattresses
Memory foam has the highest owner satisfaction rating as a whole, with 81% of people happy.
Memory foam tends to do very well on comfort and pain relief, though heat, odor and ease of movement can be an issue for some. There are not comprehensive statistics for plant-based memory foam as the category only includes a couple of brands, but generally plant-based foams tend to have significantly fewer odor and heat complaints compared to traditional memory foam.
Memory foam beds are typically compared by the thickness and density of memory foam layers. Higher density foams feel more buoyant and excel at pressure relief, but can feel warmer and more difficult to move on. Low density foams, while cheaper, are also more prone to compression.
Natural and plant-based memory foams can very in the percentage of natural content and in fabrics and other materials used. Certifications like Certipur, Greenguard, and Oeko-Tex require passing VOC emissions standards.
A natural memory foam mattress may be a good choice for you if prefer the cradling/contouring sensation memory foam gives over latex or springs, if you want a very plush bed, or if you are on a budget.
Our Natural Memory Foam Mattress Picks:
Amerisleep AS3 (formerly known as Liberty) Bed, $1299 in queen. Contains three inches of plant-based memory foam (4.5 lb density), bio core foam (2.0 lb density), and a cotton-blend cover. The beds use a Greenguard-certified fire barrier, and have strong reviews online. Includes a 20 year limited warranty and 90-day return period.
Keetsa Tea Leaf Supreme, $1679 in queen. Contains four inches of plant memory foam (3.0 lb density), bio foam (1.8 lb density), and a hemp-blend cover. The beds use an Oeko-Tex certified fire barrier, and have good reviews online. Includes a 12 year limited warranty and 90-day return period.
Natural Innerspring Mattresses
In contrast to latex and memory foam, only 63% of innerspring bed owners are satisfied making it the worst-rated mattress type.
Innerspring beds tend to excel at availability and affordability, but long-term comfort and durability tend to be key issues for consumers. There are only a handful of companies producing organic innerspring beds, but they do tend to receive slightly higher ratings than standard spring beds (but are often considerably more expensive as well).
The main ways innerspring beds are compared are the coil systems and comfort layers. Beds with individual pocket coils and offset coils tend to rate higher than bonnell and continuous coil beds. Higher coil counts are thought to provide better support and motion isolation, with average for queen sizes being about 725 coils. In terms of comfort layers, higher quality materials like latex and memory foam tend to rate better than fiber and polypropylene which compress quickly.
There are organic innerspring beds available, usually containing organic cotton and wool or organic/natural latex. Always check the certifications of each material if this is important to you, as sometimes only the covers will actually be certified organic.
A natural or organic innerspring mattress may be a good choice for you if like the traditional bounce springs give or if you dislike latex or memory foam.
Our Natural and Organic Innerspring Mattress Picks:
Naturally Organic Innerspring, $2299 in queen. Contains organic cotton fabric and organic wool padding. Uses a 14 gauge bonnell coil system with 608 coils. The brand includes a 20 year limited warranty but no return or exchange policy.
Naturepedic Essentials, $2499 in queen. Contains organic cotton and wool fill, plant fiber padding, and an organic cotton cover. Uses three layers of pocketed coils for a total coil count of 2,800, and has three firmness options. The brand includes a 20 year limited warranty and 90 day partial exchange policy.
Organicpedic Classic, $2795 in queen. Contains organic cotton padding and organic cotton fabric (no wool). Uses a bonnell coil system with varying coil counts. The brand includes a 20 year limited warranty but return policy may vary by vendor.
Whichever type of mattress you are considering, always make sure to do your research to avoid buyer’s remorse and surprises down the road.
Organic and healthy materials are good, but don’t get blinded – always look at the quality of the mattress layer-by-layer, and compare pricing to similar beds to determine if you are getting a good value. It’s not uncommon to see beds advertised as natural and organic mattresses that have only a tiny percentage of eco-friendly materials.
Checking reviews can be a helpful way to sort out hopeful candidates as well, and don’t forget to take a look at return and warranty policies to ensure the bed is backed by the manufacturer. Get familiar with the market, take your time, and you should be able to find a natural or organic mattress that meets your budget and comfort needs.
Have any other questions about natural or organic mattress materials? Let us know below.