If you were in the market for a natural or organic mattress 15 years ago, your options were quite limited. Now you have much more to choose from. Unfortunately, there are many more people pretending to do natural and organic, than actually selling it.
What does a “clean” mattress mean to you? For me, it means no plastics, or synthetics. I don’t want chemical smells (off-gassing), or chemical leaching. With those criteria in mind, you aren’t facing a particularly difficult task. So let’s address this project in steps; first the components, then the comfort.
Components of Natural & Organic Mattresses
What is that mattress going to be made of? Let’s work from the outside in.
The Mattress Cover
First for the cover. Organic cotton. It’s clean. It’s not much more expensive than regular cotton, and you won’t have chemical residue near you or your family. Easy; because pretty much anything else is either going to wear poorly, contain synthetics, or have been processed chemically (even bamboo).
The Fiber in the Mattress
Below the cover, there is fiber of some sort (unless you get a prescription mattress* see below). In a truly natural/organic mattress this will be wool. Boric acid washed cotton batting is an acceptable alternative by my standards (as boric acid is similarly toxic to table salt), but not organic. If you have concerns about a wool allergy, or don’t want boric acid, rayon can be used instead (it’s cheaper too). Some companies use PLA or poly lactic acid, which is a polyester made from corn (I’m not a fan of its breathability or that it’s plastic).
The Support Systems for Your Natural & Organic Mattress
The most complex decision in selecting a natural/organic mattress is the support system. You might choose coils, latex rubber, or even batting materials.
Coils: Coils aren’t going to off-gas, or leach chemicals. Plus they can be quite durable; however, if the comfort is not right then you should look at these other options:
Batting: Is a futon style mattress with batting what you want? Wool or cotton batting is easy to find, but here the challenge is durability. Batting materials compress with time, and within months the feel will be different. Clean materials can be cheaper this way. So if budget is a concern, this may be your path.
Latex: Lastly, latex foam rubber is a great support system, but it’s harder to verify quality and content. Latex can be 100% botanical (from a tree), blended with petro-chemicals, or even fully synthetic; all of which can be referred to as natural or organic (which is super frustrating). The botanical latex, which is what you want, comes in broad ranges in quality; be aware that organic certifications on latex are not an indicator of quality or necessarily cleanliness. Non-organic materials will be added to the rubber prior to vulcanization. If certifications are what you want to see, the Oeko-Tex certification is a better indication of product cleanliness, because they test the finished product rather than one component going into the process.
Additionally, there are multiple processes for making latex for mattresses. Talalay latex is common, but is glued together in any size larger than a TXL, and is less durable than Dunlop or Botanicore latex. Dunlop is made by dozens, if not hundreds of different manufacturers, with varying degrees of quality. Regardless of process, great latex is never brittle, and does not tear easily. The age of the tree and the days from tapping (extracting sap from trees) to vulcanization, both influence the quality of the finished product. As a result, latex manufactured in countries not near the equator will have aged too long, and will tear and crumble more easily when used (particularly when folded or rolled, as one would on an adjustable base).
Botanicore latex is poured in mattress sized molds; so they are never glued up, or cut to size. Additionally, Botanicore latex is always 100% Tree Rubber, and is processed into cores during the optimum timeframe after tapping. Additional steps taken during the production of Botanicore latex to prevent voids or patches include: open mold pours, troweling of material, and vertical vulcanization. It is consistent and clean latex.
Selecting a Comfortable Natural or Organic Mattress
Now to address comfort. There are three main elements to consider when searching for the right mattress:
Take Small Steps When Changing Your Mattress
First, when you are selecting a new bed, the more extreme the change from your current sleeping situation, the more difficult it will be for your body to adjust. If you’re looking for something firmer, make it an incremental change, not the firmest bed in the store. If you’re looking for something softer, don’t choose the plushiest bed you can find. Baby steps. A little change can go a long way. You’ve trained your body for years, or even decades to sleep on a certain surface. Your body may not ever be able to adjust to a change that is too extreme.
Err on the Firm Mattress
Second, when in doubt, err on the side of firm. You can always add more to make a firm bed softer, but you can’t often make a soft bed firmer. Adding a topper to make the surface of a bed more forgiving or cozy can be handled in many ways. Even better, as your body changes, or your needs become different, you can replace the topper, without having to replace the whole mattress.
Don’t Overcorrect When Moving to a Flat Mattress
Third, when your bed isn’t flat anymore, and you’re stuck in a valley each night, avoid the tendency to overcorrect. Don’t associate hard with supportive. Just sleeping on something flat can make all the difference. When selecting your next bed, consider the surface comfort, knowing that the support underneath will be better, because it will be flat.
Test Out Your Mattress Selection
With these elements in mind, once you are out trying beds, take your time. If you are liking one of the mattresses, spend 15-20 minutes laying on the mattress the way you sleep. Listen to your body, and you may find that what initially felt good, may feel too firm or too soft; but the right comfort is out there for you. Happy hunting!
*prescription mattresses endanger first responders, and should never be purchased unless you are allergic to wool, boric acid and rayon (all reasonable, non-toxic options).
Blake Garfield operates the family-owned Bedrooms & More with the extended Garfield family.
Photo credit: mascot by Jon Feinstein, Rubber Tree, Packed Coil, and Botanicore from Bedrooms & More