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, and latex (extracted from rubber trees), or they are 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” in the form of Volatile Organic Compounds1 (VOCs). Some VOCs are considered carcinogens2 (cancer-causing), and these potentially harmful micro-toxins may lead to the following adverse health effects:
- Eye, nose, and throat irritation
- Loss of coordination
- Liver, kidney, or nervous system damage
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 (PCBs3) or polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), along with formaldehyde and plastic resins, have been used on mattresses in the form of fiberglass and foam. These chemical compounds do not easily break down and therefore, can remain in an environment for a longer amount of time. Research has found PCBs to be cancer-causing in animals and potentially cancer-causing in humans.3
Organic mattresses, however, are free from all these possible contaminants.
It is not always easy to understand what terms like natural and organic actually mean. Some mattresses may only be partially organic and others may use terms like natural or organic without having a certification.
To ensure that there are standards for organic mattresses, multiple organizations, both nonprofits and independent laboratories, offer certifications. Consumer interest in health and the environment is driving the need for standards 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 with a CertiPUR-US® certification is not necessarily organic but may have less harmful chemicals.
- Global Organic Latex Standard (GOLS): To meet this standard, the product must be at least 95 percent certified organic latex. This certification includes emissions testing for the allowable percentage of non-organic materials.
- Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS): This certification is the gold standard of worldwide organic recognition. If your mattress has this certification, 95 percent of the materials used in constructing the mattress are organic. GOTS further looks at sustainability practices and the chemical content of textiles from raw materials throughout the 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: This is a non-toxic chemical seal. They certify all kinds of products, including mattresses, against a list of known chemicals.
- OEKO-TEK: This 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 certain 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 many benefits to purchasing an organic mattress. In addition to being a healthier and eco-friendly option, they can be very comfortable and supportive. They also have natural flame retardants and are long-lasting.
Natural fibers used in natural or organic mattresses are considered a healthier option compared to synthetic materials. This is because synthetic materials contain potentially harmful chemicals.
As mentioned above, synthetic mattresses may contain VOCs and PCBs. Certain VOCs may cause cancer and are linked to potential side effects like headaches, nausea, poor coordination, irritation, and damage to the kidneys, liver, and nervous system.2 PCBs may be cancer-causing in humans, and there is research that they may be linked to lower birth weight and gestational age in babies.3
Organic beds are also 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. As such, organic mattresses could help alleviate allergies and respiratory problems.
Related: Best Hypoallergenic Mattress
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, and plants are grown without herbicides and pesticides, which helps 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 faster rate and in a less harmful way than synthetic fibers, not taking up space in landfills like regular mattresses do.
Organic mattresses are often rated as very comfortable and supportive. Organic latex mattresses are malleable and adapt to body shape for exceptional comfort. Latex also has a natural elasticity that keeps it from compressing and distributes body weight evenly.
Organic mattresses are often a combination of latex, wool, and cotton. These natural fibers are breathable and wick moisture away, making them beneficial to hot sleepers.
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.
Organic mattresses typically have a much longer lifespan than synthetic ones. A regular mattress is expected to hold its shape and stay supportive for an average of seven years, whereas an organic mattress can easily last 10-15 years. 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, no chemicals are used in the growing or manufacturing process, which keeps the fibers intact. Toxic chemicals have a corrosive effect, so without them present, the materials can last longer.
Organic mattresses are made with natural rather than man-made materials and are processed without chemicals. To be considered organic, the mattress must have certifications like GOTS or GOLS, which attest that at least 95 percent of certain materials in the mattress are organic. However, it’s worth noting that there’s not one certification that deems the entire mattress organic. Rather, third-party certifications are focused on the specific materials and manufacturing processes for the mattress.
Organic mattresses have notable benefits, especially for good health. They are also better for the environment and can last up to twice as long as synthetic mattresses. The good news is that you can find many natural and organic beds in the marketplace, so keep an eye out for those specific materials and important certifications.
Dr. Sheryl Grassie
Dr. Sheryl Grassie, B.A., M.A., Ed.D is a longtime advocate in the field of health and wellness with a special interest in sleep and how sleep affects health and weight. She has a clinical background and has worked with mental health and disability populations throughout her career. Dr. Grassie has studied sleep with Henry Emmons MD, author of The Chemistry of Joy, and produced several health and wellness conferences where sleep was a primary topic. She has a doctorate degree in Educational Leadership and writes professionally on topics to do with sleep, health, community, and disability. She resides in Minneapolis, MN where she is the mother of three children and an avocational potter.
Education & Credentials
- Educational Leadership Ed.D
- “What are volatile organic compounds (VOCs)?”. United States Environmental Protection Agency. Last modified March 15, 2023.
- “Volatile organic compounds (VOCs)”. Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. Webpage accessed February 11, 2024.
- “Learn about Polychlorinated Biphenyls”. United States Environmental Protection Agency. Last modified April 12, 2023.