What Makes A Mattress Organic?

An organic mattress is one that is made from natural versus man-made materials. These fibers are both grown and processed without any harmful chemicals.

By Dr. Sheryl Grassie

Organic mattresses have specific advantages over synthetic mattresses for the health conscious and eco-focused individual. Let’s take a look at what constitutes an organic mattress, what it takes to be certified organic, and the benefits you might experience from having one.

An organic mattress is made from natural fibers and free from synthetic materials. The fibers used to construct the mattress must be grown in compliance with organic standards, meaning not sprayed with any pesticides or herbicides. The mattress cannot be treated with any chemicals and must meet certain standards for certification in order to obtain an organic label.

Made from Natural Fibers

Organic mattresses are constructed out of natural fibers that come from the earth or are found in the natural environment; they are plant or animal based. Natural fibers are either grown as crops such as cotton, kapok, bamboo, latex (extracted from rubber trees), or harvested from animals like wool (from sheep) and silk (from silkworms). For mattresses, the most common natural materials are cotton, wool, and latex.

In contrast, synthetic fibers originate in a lab, are made by chemists, and are composed of a combination of natural and artificial ingredients. They may be processed with various harsh or toxic chemicals and have flame retardants added. A synthetic mattress made with polyurethane foam, which comes from petroleum, is known to “off gas” (emit tiny breathable particles) in the form of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC’s). These potentially harmful micro-toxins are linked to respiratory illnesses and various types of health problems. Examples of other synthetic fibers used in mattresses are nylon, polyester, and acrylic.

Not Treated With Chemicals

In addition to being made from natural plant and animal fibers, an organic mattress cannot have any chemicals applied to it as part of either processing the fibers or constructing the mattress. In the past, it has been commonplace to add chemicals like flame-retardants to a mattress.

Chemicals like polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) or polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), along with formaldehyde and plastic resins, have been used on mattresses and are now linked to cancer and other health problems. These chemical compounds have large molecular structures that are hard for humans to break down and can get stored in the body for long periods of time. Organic mattresses are free from all these possible contaminants.

Organic Certifications

It is not always easy to understand what terms like natural and organic actually mean.  Some mattresses may only have only a portion that is organic, like the top layer, others may use terms like natural or organic without having a certification.

To insure that there are standards for organic mattresses, a number of organizations, both nonprofits and independent laboratories, offer certifications. Consumer interest in health and the environment is driving the need for standards in order to judge the quality of chemical-free and organic. Here are some of the common certifications to look for when purchasing an organic mattress:

  • CertiPUR-US: Certifies foams, like memory foam used in mattresses, to ensure they are free from flame retardants, mercury, lead, formaldehyde and phthalates, as well as testing for low emission levels. A mattress that is CertiPUR-US is not necessarily organic, but may have less harmful chemicals.
  • GOLS – Global Organic Latex Standard: To meet this standard, the product must be at least 95% certified organic latex. This certification includes emissions testing for the allowable percentage of non-organic materials.
  • GOTS – Global Organic Textile Standard: This certification is the gold standard of world-wide organic recognition. If your mattress has this certification, 95% of the materials used in constructing the mattress are organic. GOTS further looks at sustainability practices and chemical content of textiles from raw materials through finished product.
  • GreenGuard and GreenGuard Gold: This certification is performed by Underwriters Laboratories (UL Environment) and tests interior air quality in relation to products and their off gassing of VOCs. Mattresses do have an off gassing process when they are made with synthetic materials; GreenGuard ensures your mattress has healthy levels. They can be certified at one of two levels regarding allowable levels of chemicals.
  • MADESAFE: Is a non-toxic chemical seal. It certifies all kinds of products, including mattresses, against a list of known chemicals.
  • OEKO-TEK: Is a specific label from the International Association for Research and Testing that indicates a product’s materials have been tested for toxic substances. This is not an organic label, but it does tell you that the mattress is free from a number of harmful chemicals.

The Benefits of an Organic Mattress

The demand for organic mattresses is increasing along with the selection. Consumers want safe, chemical-free products, especially when it comes to where they sleep. There are a number of benefits from purchasing an organic mattress. In addition to being a healthier option, and one that is environmentally friendly, they are very comfortable and offer great support. They also have natural flame retardants and are long-lasting.

Healthier Option

Natural fibers made into a natural or organic mattress are considered a healthier option. Synthetic materials and toxic chemicals used in manufacturing mattresses are linked to cancer, thyroid disease, obesity, and developmental disorders. They can have short-term and long-term effects on health.

An organic mattress has none of these chemicals and is hypoallergenic. All the individual fibers of latex, wool, and cotton are, in their natural states, hypoallergenic. They also have natural properties that resist moisture and don’t allow for the buildup of mold or dust mites. Organic mattresses can often alleviate allergies and respiratory problems.

Environmentally Friendly

Another benefit to an organic mattress is the environmental impact. First, the organic fibers are grown in ways that sustain and replenish the earth. Animals are treated humanely; plants are grown without herbicides and pesticides which help keep water supplies cleaner and overall air quality better.

A second consideration is the biodegradability. What happens to your mattress when you are one with it? Natural fibers can decompose at a different rate and in a less harmful way than synthetic fibers, not taking up space in landfills like regular mattresses do.

Comfort

Organic mattresses are rated as very comfortable and offer great support. Organic latex is malleable and adapts to body shape for exceptional comfort. It also has a natural elasticity that keeps it from compressing and distributes body weight evenly which can improve circulation. This is true for organic wool as well. It has natural buoyancy that allows it to bounce back and not get compressed.

Organic mattresses are often a combination of latex, wool, and cotton. These natural fibers are breathable and wick moisture away. It makes them temperature adaptable, keeping you warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer.

Natural Flame Retardant

The wool used in organic mattresses is a natural flame retardant and meets federal fire retardant standards. This eliminates the need to add toxic chemicals to the mattress for fire prevention. Wool is made of keratin, a protein compound, and has a Lanolin coating that makes it challenging for it to ignite or burn.

Long-Lasting

Organic mattresses have a much longer lifespan than do synthetic ones. A regular mattress is expected to hold its shape and stay supportive for an average of 8 years, whereas an organic mattress can easily last 20 years or more. This is due partially to the nature of the natural fibers that can bend and recover for a more prolonged period than synthetic fibers.

Additionally, with an organic mattress no chemicals are used in the growing or manufacturing process which keeps the fibers intact. Toxic chemicals have a naturally corrosive effect on our bodies and on things in the natural environment like natural fibers. Without these chemicals things last longer and stay truer to their nature.


Summary

Organic mattresses are made with natural versus man-made materials and processed without chemicals. To be genuinely organic, the mattress must have a certification like GOTS or GOLS which attest to at least 95% of the mattress content being organic.

Organic mattresses have a number of notable benefits, especially for good health. They are also better for the environment, biodegradable, very comfortable and supportive, naturally flame retardant, and last up to twice as long as synthetic mattresses. There are many options in the marketplace, look for certified organic and sleep in natural comfort.


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