In the past decade, consumers have increased demand for transparency in product ingredients. As a result, there has been an increase in natural, organic, and non-toxic products—mattress manufacturers have taken notice.
Traditionally, mattresses have not been known for their eco-friendly materials. Researchers found that out of a sampling of mattresses, 18.2% contained harmful flame retardant chemicals.
Another study, conducted in 2014, found 20 crib mattresses from 10 different manufacturers contained 30 VOCs (volatile organic compounds). VOCs are chemicals in products that are released from contact with body heat. Polyurethane and other compounds, such as flame retardants and polymers, are found in VOCs.
As this information has become public knowledge, mattress manufacturers have taken the steps to create safer, greener, and better quality mattresses. If you’ve ever wondered what goes into making a mattress, this guide breaks down the materials used in your mattress, the environmental impact of mattresses, and how to make sure you’re getting a quality and safe mattress.
Prior to the early 20th century, primitive mattresses were made from feathers, straw, and animal hair. In 1857, the steel coil spring was invented and the evolution of the modern mattress began. The steel coil spring was first used in couches and chairs. Spring mattresses didn’t become popular until the 20th century. For decades, spring mattresses were the norm, even though latex mattresses have been around since the 1920s.
The mattress industry has vastly evolved in the past century and continues to do so today. Modern mattresses are made out of a variety of materials and many are made in the United States and locally sourced to minimize carbon footprint. Even though mattress manufacturing is much more eco-friendly now than it was even a decade ago, synthetic materials like memory foam and synthetic latex are used in the majority of mattresses that we buy today.
The biggest culprit in synthetic materials are memory foam mattresses which grew in popularity thanks to their low cost and high comfort. Materials used in the manufacturing of memory foam mattresses are not always non-toxic and safe for the environment. To combat this, mattress companies have started to develop safer materials that are better for the environment and the consumer.
Luckily, we no longer have to sleep on mattresses stuffed with hay and animal furs. Today, there are numerous materials used in mattresses manufacturing, many of which are not the best for the environment. In addition to materials and the ingredients in those materials, what a mattress is made from determines the feel, comfort, price, and quality.
If you’re looking for a mattress made with green materials, want to avoid certain materials, or are curious to see if your current mattress might be harmful, here’s a rundown of the most common materials used in mattress manufacturing.
Latex makes for a cool and supportive sleep surface as the material does not retain heat. Along with comfort and eco-friendly manufacturing, latex mattresses can last up to 15 to 20 years with proper care. Because they last significantly longer than other mattress varieties and are made from eco-friendly materials, latex mattresses are more expensive.
While most latex mattresses are organic, there are some synthetic latex mattresses. These mattresses are made of harmful chemicals like petroleum. Synthetic latex mattresses are lower priced and lower quality than natural latex mattresses. These mattresses also have an unpleasant smell that can lead to headaches and respiratory symptoms.
If you’re looking for a green mattress, natural or organic latex mattress is an excellent choice. Before purchasing a latex mattress, make sure you don’t have a latex allergy or sensitivity.
Wool is often used in natural and organic mattresses as a topper or an extra cooling layer. Merino wool, which is a cooler fabric than regular wool, is most often found in organic/natural mattresses. It’s also natural, chemical-free, fire retardant, and hypoallergenic. Wool is breathable and allows heat and sweat to dissipate. Make sure the wool in a mattress has not been treated with bleach or other chemicals to ensure all materials are eco-friendly.
Organic cotton is another common ingredient in eco-friendly mattresses. The cotton in organic mattresses is sustainably grown and does not contain chemicals or dyes. Most often, cotton is used as a mattress cover rather than polyester. This soft fabric absorbs moisture and keeps mattress surfaces cool.
Bamboo is infused in many organic and natural mattresses to help keep the mattress surface cool. It’s often combined with another fabric like cotton or wool. Bamboo is also hypoallergenic, regulates temperature, and can help provide spinal support.
Memory foam is the most popular material used in mattress manufacturing. Most memory foam mattresses are made with petroleum-based, polyurethane foam (not green). Green memory foams are those made without VOCs (volatile organic compounds). Those made without VOCs are green and much better for the environment. Thanks to improved manufacturing, shoppers can easily find an eco-friendly memory foam mattress. Look for memory foam that meets CertiPUR standards, meaning it does not emit VOCs and is certified for performance and durability.
Polyurethane foam is the cheapest variety of foam and is found in the majority of low-cost memory foam mattresses. This type of foam is soft, conforms to your body, but is not as supportive as latex or memory foam. Because polyurethane foam is derived from petroleum, mattresses made with this foam do have an odor from VOCs and chemicals.
This is a material that is utilized as a filling in pillow top mattresses and mattress covers. Polyester Batting is a synthetic material and is known for being hot and not absorbing moisture. Along with being used in pillow top mattresses and mattress covers, polyester batting is commonly made from polyethylene, a petroleum based material.
Adhesives are used in many household products we use daily. Its primary use in mattresses is to bond layers together, so all the parts of the mattress fit together. Adhesives are primarily responsible for the off-gassing, or odor, from new mattresses. Due to these health concerns and the push for more non-toxic mattress materials, manufacturers today are eliminating the use of harmful adhesives.
Since 2007, the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) has required all mattresses manufactured in the U.S. to contain flame retardants. These rules were enacted in order to make safer mattresses that can withstand fires and allow for you to leave your home/bed safely. While the law was passed with good intentions, the chemicals in the flame retardants can cause health problems, especially in children, according to Consumer Reports.
In general, steel coils are not eco-friendly. Manufacturing steel has negative impacts on the environment due to air emissions and water contamination. The steel helps support the mattress and create the foundation.
In mattresses, steel coils are either open or individually wrapped with fabric—these are often called pocketed coils. Most spring mattresses contain pocketed coils. These coils enhance the mattress’s ability to adjust to your body shape, resulting in better pressure alleviation.
Along with the materials mentioned above, there are a few other materials that are used in mattress manufacturing. While these materials are not as common as memory foam or even latex, here are a few other materials you might find in a mattress.
Phase-change materials, or PCM, are often found in hybrid mattresses or mattresses designed with speciality cooling features and are usually a gel on the top of a mattress. Phase-change materials absorb and dissipate heat away from the body to keep you cool at night. Additionally, phase-change materials can keep you warm. You can find these materials in mattresses like the Helix Midnight Luxe.
Similar to phase-change materials, cooling gels are also found in many mattresses. Gel mattresses are made by infusing memory foam. These mattresses have a similar feel to memory foam or even hybrid mattresses. Adding gel gives the surface of the mattress extra bounce and helps with heat retention. Just like memory foams, some gels can contain toxic materials and off-gassing. When shopping for a gel mattress, make sure the mattress is CertiPUR-US certified.
Relatively new to mattresses, copper-infusion adds extra support, cooling, and antimicrobial properties to a mattress. Copper mattresses also aid in muscle recovery, making them an excellent choice for athletes and those who live an active lifestyle.
Mattresses, while necessary, are also a major burden on the environment. We’ve all seen a mattress discarded by a dumpster. You’ve probably thrown out a mattress yourself! But how much waste is created by mattresses? Here are a few stats to give you a better understanding of the amount of waste created by mattresses.
While mattresses create all that waste, environmental initiatives have been created to increase mattress recycling in the United States. One of the main organizations helping to keep mattresses out of landfills is the Mattress Recycling Council.
Since launching in 2015, the Mattress Recycling Council has:
Not every state has a mattress recycling facility or programs. However, as of 2017, there were 56 mattress recycling centers in the U.S., a 30% increase from 2013. If you want to recycle a mattress, it’s best to double check with your town or state’s waste management and recycling services to see if mattress recycling is an option.
Even though eco-friendly mattresses are popular, there are other benefits to purchasing an eco-friendly mattress. Besides helping the environment, here are a few more reasons to take the plunge and buy an eco-friendly mattress.
Adding eco-friendly and non-toxic materials to your home is not only good for the environment, but it’s good for your family. The toxic chemicals found in synthetic mattresses can cause irritation, asthma, headaches, and other health concerns. By not having these items in your home, you’re not exposing your family to these dangerous substances.
As we’ve become more aware of the chemicals in everyday products, indoor air quality has become an issue for many. Everyday items like cleaning products, furniture, cosmetics, and mattresses emit VOCs and comprise you and your family’s health. By limiting the amount of chemicals, toxins, and pollutants in your home, you will gradually improve indoor air quality.
Knowing that you’ve purchased an item that is good for the environment can make you feel better about your purchasing decisions. The companies making environmentally friendly products for customers often donate and support similar causes as well as purchase fair trade materials. Additionally, you’ll know that you made the right choice for you, your family, and the greater community.
If you’re in the market for an eco-friendly mattress, the first thing you’ll want to do is make sure that mattress, brand, and manufacturer are offering and producing products that meet environmental standards. Unfortunately, there are some companies that don’t practice what they preach when it comes to manufacturing environmentally friendly products.
How do you make sure the eco-friendly mattress you’re buying is legitimate? When shopping for an eco-friendly mattress, make sure it is cerferitied by one of the organizations listed below. These groups conduct tests and require certain standards to be met before stamping their seal of approval.
Certifies latex is manufactured using organic ingredients and methods.
Certifies that textiles are manufactured ethically and do not harm the environment.
Tests products to ensure they are free of over 100 possible toxins.
Certified that a product is safe for children, the ill, and the elderly.
Certifies that the materials in memory foam contain low VOCs emissions, no heavy metals, and no formaldehyde.
Product meets standards set by the United States Department of Agriculture to be considered organic.
Along with double checking that the mattress you’re considering is certified by one of the organizations above, here are a few additional tips to ensure your mattress is safe and non-toxic.
Mattresses that are natural or certified organic are made with fewer chemicals and are healthier to have in your home.
Many natural and organic mattresses already have organic cotton covers. In the case that you purchase one that does not, you can easily purchase one. Also, be sure to use organic cotton sheets and bedding.
Mattresses manufactured in the United States are subjected to more stringent quality control procedures than mattresses made in other countries.
Chemical flame retardants contain VOCs, odors, and can cause health problems.
Cheap mattresses, especially memory foams, use dangerous chemicals and are low quality. Purchasing a cheap, low-quality mattress will not last as long as a pricier, higher quality mattress. Most online mattress retailers provide financing options so you can buy a quality mattress without breaking the bank.
In the past, mattresses and mattress manufacturing have been synonymous with poor environmental standards and excessive waste. Luckily, both producers and consumers are well informed and have developed both materials and ways to recycle mattresses to reduce waste and help the environment.