You spend one-third of your life getting up close and personal with your bed.
Knowing the ingredients that comprise it is good not only for your peace of mind but also because they determine quality and price points. There should be no hidden ingredients!
Here is the lowdown on the ingredients that make up most mattresses, and how they are used in their construction:
Polyurethane Foam: often referred to as the “egg crate” topper on a mattress, it adds some softness and support, but it is not high quality. It is made with a petroleum base, making it a concern for pollution. Also a risk for VOCs (volatile organic compounds) that sometimes create a strong odor. It is also highly flammable. (All types of foam mattresses should be aired out for 24-48 hours before using to rid it of any odor.)
Memory Foam: made with similar chemicals as polyurethane foam, it also contains chemicals that help it to move slower in order to absorb pressure. The higher the density of the foam, the more durable it is. However, a few toxic chemicals are sometimes found in memory foam (like MDA and vinilide chloride, among others), as well as adhesives and fire-barriers.
Latex: typical mattress construction includes a latex foam core and layers. They can either be natural, synthetic or a blend.
- Natural latex is derived from rubber trees and combined with ammonia and antioxidants in order to preserve it. Other additives are used as foam, gelling and curing agents.
- Synthetic latex is made in a laboratory with petroleum-based ingredients. It is less hazardous than polyurethane but also has a stronger odor. The Oeko-Tex 100 certification is often used to test latex mattresses for harmful chemicals.
- Blend latex can be either memory, gel, latex or polyurethane. Works to relieve pressure points. The material is dense, so it typically retains heat. Can be natural or synthetic, but often made with harsh chemicals and VOCs. Beware of a strong odor – air out foam mattresses for 24-48 hours before use.
Feathers: typically used in mattress toppers, they are often goose feathers with a down blend to provide a billowy feel. Very soft and warm, although hard to prevent feathers from poking through the cover.
Wool: derived naturally from sheep. Wool retains air between its fibers, so it insulates. However, its unique properties still make it water-resistant while allowing vapors to move through freely. Non-organic wool may be chemically-treated.
Polyester Batting: used as a filling for pillow tops and mattress covers. It is a type of plastic and can contain remnants of chemicals used during the manufacturing process. It is also highly flammable.
Cotton: a proven sustainable crop, it is durable and breathable, and naturally dust-mite resistant. Cotton is used in mattresses for softness and padding. However, non-organic cotton may be treated with chemicals.
Hempure: known for its absorbency and strength, it is a more environmentally-friendly alternative to oil-based polyester. It is grown without pesticides.
Flax: often combined with hempure and wool to create a soft filling for mattresses. Natural and sustainable.
Beware of mattresses labeled “organic” or “natural.” Only a portion of it may be, and this marketing is not regulated.
If you are searching for an organic mattress, look for the following:
- Global Organic Textile Standard label (95% certified)
- Global Organic Latex Standard label
- CertiPUR-US (flexible polyurethane foam that is certified for emissions and durability)