In the beginning, mattresses, pillows, and bedroom accessories contained all-natural material. Animal hides and hairs, along with feathers and natural plant-based materials like cotton, were used to stuff, line, and sew mattresses.

Of course, modern technology has propelled bedding into the modern age. With it has come many synthetic and chemically-treated products like latex and foams to “improve” the contemporary mattress. While helpful in maintaining the integrity and longevity of your mattress, many of these advancements are proven to be harmful to humans, animals, and the environment.

Author and mattress safety expert, Walter Bader, had labs in Atlanta, GA run multiple tests on a particular memory foam mattress. The results identified 61 volatile organic compounds (VOCs) present in the bed. These chemicals, particularly petroleum-based materials, can be harmful to you and the environment.

With environmental awareness on the rise, organic and eco-friendly mattresses and bedding are more popular than ever. According to the Cision PR Newswire, the organic bedding market (which includes mattresses) is expected to grow to 1.1 billion by 2025.

But how do you find the best organic mattress or the best natural mattress on the market? How do you distinguish between savvy marketing and truth? This guide will help you understand the nuances and find the mattress that best fits your needs and values.

Defining Organic, Eco-friendly, and Natural in the Mattress Industry

Many keywords like “organic” and “sustainable” are thrown around in marketing and advertising. For consumers, it can be difficult to decipher what these labels truly mean. When shopping for a natural or eco-friendly mattress, you’ll want to understand the differences between the following terms:

Organic Mattresses

In the mattress industry, the term “organic” typically refers to materials, such as cotton or wool, coming from sources that haven’t been treated with synthetic fertilizers or unnatural growth hormones.

For example, organic latex comes directly from the sap of rubber trees untreated with pesticides or herbicides.

Non-toxic and Hypoallergenic Mattresses

When it comes to the flammability of their products, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) holds mattress companies to a high standard. However, many chemicals used to make mattresses fire-resistant can be harmful.

Sheep in a pasture

The CPSC now recommends consumers avoid mattresses with organohalogen flame retardants (OFRs. Mattress shoppers should know that polyurethane foam, a common mattress material, contains high levels of OFRs.

Avoiding OFRs doesn’t mean sacrificing safety for environmental concerns. Many eco-friendly mattresses use natural flame retardants like wool and organic silica and market their mattresses as non-toxic.

Allergens can also hide in your mattress. These include dust mites, mold, mildew, and pet dander, all of which are poor for your health and can detract from a restful night’s sleep.

Fortunately, many modern mattresses use naturally allergen-resistant materials or have additional hypoallergenic layers to protect against harmful microbes.

Eco-friendly Mattresses

Most people don’t hold onto their old mattress when they buy a new one—upwards of 20 million mattresses are discarded into landfills every year in the U.S. alone.

These beds take up more space than they need to. Plus, they take a lot of energy to break down, creating a larger carbon footprint.

When mattress companies market their products as eco-friendly, it typically means the company practices energy-conscious manufacturing, uses predominately natural materials, or participates in sustainability practices like replanting or recycling.

Vegan Mattresses

While organic mattresses are all-natural, they still may contain materials gathered from animals. It’s no secret that many mattresses use wool and feathers as primary ingredients.

Vegan beds, on the other hand, contain zero animal byproducts and use plant-based materials like cotton, rubber, and hemp in their construction.

Sustainable Practices in the Mattress Industry

The term “sustainability” generally doesn’t speak to the longevity of your mattress. (Although the longer it lasts, the fewer mattress you’re purchasing and discarding in your lifetime.)

Rather, sustainability is tied to biodegradability. The most eco-friendly natural mattress will break down into its organic compounds when discarded.

Regarding mattress companies, sustainability practices often include recycling, replanting, low carbon emission manufacturing, transparency regarding materials and production, and fair supply chain and labor practices.

Direct-to-Consumer Mattress Brands

Direct-to-consumer marketing cuts out the middle-man and wholesaler. This allows consumers, in this case, people looking for a new mattress, to buy directly from the manufacturer. The direct-to-consumer model often cuts down on carbon emissions and overhead costs.

Charity and Social Programs

Allowing a mattress to degrade naturally is not always the best option, especially when there are people in need of a bed to sleep on. Many companies will donate returns to nonprofits and charitable organizations.

Eco-friendly and Organic Mattress Certifications

When it comes to buying natural, organic, or eco-friendly mattresses, there are a handful of different certifications that can help you identify your options. These certifications act as seals of approval from independent organizations that help guide the mattress industry toward safer and more environmentally-friendly practices.

CertiPUR-US

CertiPUR-US focuses on foam used in mattresses. The mattresses they certify do not contain:

  • Ozone depleters
  • Toxic flame retardants (PBDEs, TDCPP or TCEP)
  • Mercury, lead, and heavy metals

  • Formaldehyde
  • Phthalates regulated by the CPSC

CertiPUR-US certified products may contain small amounts (0.5 parts/million) of VOCs.

Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS)

GOTS is the world-leading standard for textile production and focuses on fabrics, home textiles, and mattresses, among other products. They ensure that an organic cotton mattress is what it claims to be. GOTS checks for:

  • Organic Fibers– To be GOTS certified, a product must use at least 70 percent organic fibers. To earn the GOTS’s organic grade label, a product must use 95 percent organic fibers.
  • Ecological and Social Criteria– All stages of manufacturing must pass the GOTS standard for environmental sustainability. Social standards relate to the work environment and employees’ rights.
  • Processing Stages– GOTS examines each stage of sourcing and production, from farm to mattress, and holds them to its high standards. They also work to combat greenwashing.

Global Organic Latex Standard (GOLS)

GOLS uses practices similar to GOTS but focuses on latex, another common material found in modern mattresses. To merit GOLS certified, a mattress must contain 95 percent organic latex material in relation to its total weight.

GreenGuard

GreenGuard and GreenGuard Gold tests for over 10,000 chemicals and VOC emissions. GreenGuard certified mattresses can only contain small amounts of VOCs, no higher than 50 parts per billion.

GreenGuard Gold certified mattresses are put through even more rigorous testing to ensure the health and safety of children. Gold-certified mattresses contain below 7.3 parts per billion of VOCs.

OEKO-TEX

The 100 Standard from OEKO-TEX ensures that “every component of an article, i.e., every thread, button, and other accessories, has been tested for harmful substances and that the article, therefore, is harmless for human health.”

USDA Organic

USDA Organic hones in on the farmers and producers of materials that go into a mattress. According to a 2020 Consumer Reports article:

“For a mattress to qualify for the USDA Organic seal, it needs at least 95 percent certified organic materials and to be processed without potentially harmful chemicals…As of now, few mattresses meet the USDA Organic standards.”

Side view of Avocado Green Latex mattress

Notable Brands

As the eco-friendly and organic mattress market grows, consumers will have more and more brands and product lines to choose from. Right now, Avocado and Awara stand out as leaders in this sector of the mattress industry.

Avocado

Avocado is one of the most recognizable brands in the “green” mattress market. Their claim to fame is their farm-to-mattress practices. Avocado manages wool and latex farms in India and uses materials from those farms to construct their mattresses.

Avocado’s organic wool factory is GOTS certified and employs members of the local community in Rampur, India, especially women who were victims of domestic violence.

The latex used in the Avocado Latex Mattress is GOLS certified. All raw materials are processed in their Indian factories and then shipped to factories in Los Angeles, where they’re assembled into some of the best natural mattresses available.

Awara

Awara aims to produce mattresses that are affordable, good for people, and good for the Earth. As the company’s website explains:

“We don’t use memory foams, synthetic foams, chemical adhesives or chemical fire retardants. Instead we’ve chosen to think about what we would want to sleep on at night, which means choosing the most premium, certified organic and natural materials.

We believe in the best of all worlds, which means a hybrid mattress with organic latex that helps support your best rest, and the planet’s future.”

Moreover, Awara is committed to sustainability and minimizing its carbon footprint. The company partners with Trees For the Future, a non-profit organization training farmers to plant thousands of trees to bring nutrients back to the soil.

Better for You, Better for Everyone

If you’re committed to leading a more eco-friendly life or switching over to more natural products, your mattress is a great place to start. With some prior research, you’ll have no trouble finding a mattress that’s healthy for you and healthy for the planet at large.

Written by Michael Colucci