Article at a Glance
- Buying an eco-friendly mattress can be difficult. Some “organic mattresses” are built with metal springs, which may be detrimental to health over the long term.
- Look for organic mattresses that use both organic latex and organic cotton and that are GOLS and GOLT certified. Here, PlushBeds Organic “Botanical Bliss” mattresses are a good, and affordable, option relative to some others on the market which can cost twice as much. We were also impressed by the GreenGuard Gold certification that ensures the mattress won’t be emitting any nasty VOCs.
- If you can’t afford organic, some foam mattresses are better than others. In this category, you want to buy a mattress that has CertiPUR-US and Oeko-Tex certified foam, as well as GreenGuard Gold certification if possible.
- With both CertiPUR-US and Oeko-TexTuft certifications for all materials in their mattresses, as well as the more exclusive Green Guard Gold certification to boot, Tuft and Needle is more eco-friendly and affordable than both Casper and Leesa mattresses.
- Live and Sleep mattresses win our award for the most affordable eco-friendly option. At $560 for a King mattress on Amazon, Live and Sleep boasts both CertiPUR-US and Oeko-Tex certified foam.
Some things in life are harder than you’d think at first glance. Puppies are one example. Shopping for an organic mattress is most certainly another.
Some mattress buyers nerd out over edge support, breathability, and firmness. I definitely care about comfort, but after reading about all the toxins that find their way into our mattresses, I care more about the materials that go into making my mattress. And as I work toward getting my “mattress black belt,” I’m learning that sleeping on metal springs may be just as bad as sleeping on mattresses that emit nasty toxins.
In this post, we will give you the rundown on how to find an eco-friendly mattress so you and your family can rest easy.
- Why eco-friendly? Let’s talk toxins in mattresses
- Eco-friendly mattress certifications
- How to buy an affordable non toxic mattress
- Best 100% organic mattresses
- Organic mattresses comparison
- Organic mattresses with metal springs
- Healthy synthetic mattress options
- Synthetic mattresses comparison
- Finding a great mattress
Why eco-friendly? Let’s talk toxins in mattresses
When it comes to toxins in mattresses, we have four core issues:
- Metal springs
- Volatile organic compounds (VOCs)
- Flame retardants
- Mold, dust and anti-fungal agents
Metals springs in mattresses
Not familiar with the potential problems of metal springs in mattresses?
First, I should point out that the science team here at Gene Food say this is a non-issue, which is why the ScienceGrade is low. However, it is still worth reporting that researchers in Scandinavia have theorized that metal spring mattresses amplify the dangers of EMF frequency, effectively acting as little antennas that beam EMF waves into our bodies while we sleep. This, in turn, increases the risk for many types of cancers. In terms of breast cancer, the cancer rate is 10% higher on the left side than the right, and this holds true for other cancers, such as skin cancer. The rates of breast cancer and melanoma have increased steadily over the last 30 years. Can we blame our sleeping habits for these diseases? Well, research shows that most people prefer to sleep on their right side. This leaves the left half of the body hovering in the zone where the EMF waves are the most concentrated.
In Japan, there is no increased rate of cancer on the left side of the body. The Japanese sleep in futons on the floor, not in metal spring mattresses on top of box springs that also contain metal.
Again, to be fair, I give this theory a low Science Grade because it’s not close to “proven,” but the mechanism is plausible, and it would be impossible to design a study that effectively audits the theory. The existing evidence, while scant, plus the fact that the space created by metal springs traps dust, leads me away from metal spring mattresses. With so many affordable and equally comfortable options, I just don’t think it makes any sense at all to sleep on these things. So, that’s factor one in the “hippy analysis,” stay away from metal spring mattresses.
Don’t believe metal springs in mattresses carry an electric charge? Check out this video:
However, whether your mattress has metal springs or not, the reality is that most mattresses are made with synthetic ingredients that release some level of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which brings us to our second problem with many mattresses out there on the market today.
VOCs and flame retardants
The Science Grade here is rating the fact that these chemicals make their way into the ecosystem and eventually our bodies. For example, when I did my post on how to buy nontoxic cookware, I was shocked to learn that PFOA, or C8, the chemical that used to be made to manufacture Teflon, is found in trace amounts in most people’s blood. It’s a sad fact that babies in the womb are inundated with over 200 toxic chemicals, and this is before they enter the world for the first time. (R) For the rest of their lives, they will be battling the downstream effects of pollution and industry.
VOCs are basically the vapor emissions from chemicals. For example, most synthetic memory foam is made with petroleum. When we go to use these products, some of the chemicals used to treat the foam leak out. It’s the VOCs “off gassing” that causes that weird smell when you first open up most mattresses. And while VOCs have gotten much of the attention, mattresses must also be flame resistant by law, which has caused some manufacturers to add dangerous retardants like Firemaster 550.
The flame retardant problem with mattresses began in 1975, ironically as the result of legislation passed by the state of California called TB117. California was attempting to make mattresses and furniture safe from smoldering cigarettes that could start a fire, but unfortunately their legislation had unintended consequences. Since TB117 set a performance standard without specifying how manufacturers should meet that standard, furniture manufacturers began using Polybrominated Diphenyl Ethers (“PDBEs”) as flame retardants. These chemicals then wound up in mattresses nationwide so two sets of products wouldn’t need to be produced. Even the EPA has expressed concerns about the toxic and bioaccumulative nature of PDBEs in the past. (R)
California has since updated TB117 to do away with the open flame requirement in favor of a “smolder test” which allows foam to be made in a more eco-friendly fashion. While flame retardants are not required under TB117 any longer, some manufacturers still continue to use them, which arguably exceeds the level of safety required by California, at least in terms of risk from a cigarette lighting up your mattress. (R)
It’s also worth noting here that Duke has a program where the University will actually test foam for you to tell you what is in it.
Mold, dust and anti-fungal agents
Accumulation of dust (and even skin) is said to add pounds of weight to metal spring mattresses over time, which is a major issue if you have allergies. But perhaps more insidious is the possibility of mold and mildew taking root in your mattress. There are reports of many different types of mattresses sold on Amazon arriving with a mildew smell, and to be sure, over time mattresses, especially foam varieties, can become home to mold spores that can make us sick. Mattress manufacturers take measures to prevent mold and mildew growth, but again, this is another opportunity for chemical additives we don’t want to sleep on making their way into our beds.
So, the issue with mold is twofold: first, your mattress can arrive with mold or be susceptible to mold colonization. Next, your mattress may have been treated with a synthetic anti-fungal that is toxic to your system. Manufacturers like Avocado Mattress claim natural latex is antimicrobial and anti-fungal, however, I did find a study that contradicts these claims.
Now, as we’ll see in a minute, your current budget may not allow for total avoidance of synthetic mattresses and VOCs; however, you can guard against sleeping on the really bad stuff, and you may even be able to save some money while you do it.
For purposes of this blog, our primary concern is: how do I find the best quality mattress I can afford, with the lowest level of toxicity possible? We want to avoid synthetic flame retardants, the worst of the VOCs, and metal spring coils that some say beam you with EMF waves while you sleep.
Eco-friendly mattress certifications
Before I dive into reviewing individual brands, first a word on mattress certifications. Some of these apply to organic mattresses, some apply to foam, but whether you can afford an organic mattress or not, if you’re concerned about materials, matching your prospective mattress to these certifications is a good idea. At the end of the day, we won’t ever know exactly what is in our mattresses. We effectively delegate review to these organizations to help us sift through all of the information out there.
In essence, GreenGuard Gold looks at threshold levels of VOCs set by regulatory agencies, such as the state of California, and then asks manufacturers to go well beneath those levels (1/100 in some cases) with the products it certifies. From the GreenGuard Gold site:
The exposure to individual volatile organic compounds (VOCs), as detected in the C6 – C16 mass spectrometric analysis screen, has been adjusted to allow no greater than 1/100 of the currently published ACGIH® Threshold Limit Values (TLVs) and no greater than one-half of the California’s Chronic Reference Exposure Levels (CRELs).
For those who are curious, ACGIH is the organization that actually works with industrial hygienists to determine safe levels of various chemicals in the workplace.
Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS)
Qualifying products must contain 70% organic fibers, and the rest of the product or mattress must be evaluated for safety. GOTS version 5.0 was released in March of 2017 and applies not just to the product itself but also the manufacturing facilities, which are required to have a waste water treatment plant.
Global Organic Latex Standard (GOLS)
GOLS products must contain 95% certified organic, raw material. Like GOTS, they look at the whole supply chain.
CertiPUR-US and Oeko-Tex
Oeko-Tex certifications are more rare than CertiPUR-US. They apply to the outside of the mattress, not just the memory foam inside. From Consumer Reports:
While Oeko-Tex Standard 100 doesn’t ensure that a mattress’s fiber is produced organically, it does set limits for the emission of harmful chemicals such as formaldehyde and other volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which are linked to ozone, smog, respiratory illnesses, and memory impairment. It also bans the use of certain chemical flame retardants, colorants, and allergenic dyes.
CertiPUR-US is a non-profit that claims to be able to rank the safety of foam. Rumor has it that CertiPUR-US is a creature of the foam industry.
From their website:
When you buy products containing certified foam, you can be confident that the flexible polyurethane foam inside meets CertiPUR-US® standards for content, emissions, and durability, and has been analyzed by independent, accredited testing laboratories.
CertiPUR-US foam is made without ozone depletors, heavy metals, and formaldehyde. For more on their safety assessments, see their certification page.
For a complete list of companies that use CertiPUR-US foam, click here. While I am not sure it’s the end all be all, it’s better to have CertiPUR-US than nothing.
How to buy an affordable non toxic mattress
After doing a ton of research, the way I see things is you either go really expensive and buy a full on organic mattress that has zero metal and zero synthetics, or you save money by getting a low toxicity foam mattress.
As we will see, many of the more “affordable” organic options out there, like Avocado mattress or MyGreenMattress, don’t use synthetic ingredients, but they do use steel or metal coils, which is one of the top two things we don’t want in a mattress due to some of the EMF studies out there. If you live in a low EMF area, or are willing to risk the metal coils in favor of totally organic materials, Avocado or MyGreenMattress could work. If you want my opinion though, I wouldn’t sleep on either one.
With all that out of the way, let’s take a tour through our available options and discuss pros and cons of each.
Best 100% organic mattresses
Organic mattresses comparison
|Holy Lamb Organics||Y||N/A||N|
|Avocado Green Mattress||Y||N||Y|
Essentia (highly recommended)
Certifications: GOTS, GOLS, OekoTex
Antimicrobial: Organic latex
Essentia is another great option. When I called to make 100% sure that none of their models are made with metal springs, the customer service representative was actually horrified that I would even suggest such a thing. She said it best: “using metal springs defeats the entire purpose of an organic mattress.” Amen.
Like Plushbeds, which is our top overall choice, Essentia uses organic latex, sourced from rubber trees in Indonesia. Our focus here is mainly materials, but Essentia wins high marks for comfort and quality as well. Here is what they have to say on their website about material sourcing:
Essentia’s patented natural memory foam starts with Hevea milk that is mixed with other essential natural and organic ingredients that once combined help to achieve the distinctive feel and properties found only in Essentia.
Part of the “other essential natural and organic ingredients” is an organic cotton sleeve that wraps around the mattress to keep the foam in place. Essentia also boasts a ton of certifications, including GOTS, GOLS and my favorite GreenGuard Gold.
This is a great product, known for both nontoxic materials and comfort, that is 100% organic. However, at between $4,000 and 8,000 for a King, Essentia won’t be in the budget for most households, which is why we recommend Plushbeds at the ultimate winner below. In fact, when I stopped in to the Santa Monica Essentia showroom, the sales representative conceded that from an eco-friendly standpoint, there is virtually no difference between the materials in a PlushBed Botanical Bliss and the materials in an Essentia mattress, what you’re really looking at are differences in comfort, and after laying on a few Essentia models this afternoon, I can say that I find the PlushBed equally as comfortable. This is not a knock on Essentia, they are a great company, however, my favorite mattress in the showroom would have run almost $8,000 with taxes. I bought my PlushBeds Botanical Bliss mattress for about $1,800. Not a hard decision.
PlushBeds (highly recommended)
Certifications: GOLS, GreenGuard Gold
Antimicrobial: Natural Latex
The Plush Beds organic “Botanical Bliss” mattress is the one I sleep on. Their Botanical Bliss mattresses are much more affordable than Essentia, with the same green certifications. Plushbeds offers 100% organic latex as well as a GreenGuard Gold certification, which fewer than 1% of products receive. Plushbeds uses zero chemical flame retardants, opting for all organic New Zealand wool instead.
Our PlushBeds representative we spoke to tells us they are the largest importer of organic latex in the U.S., which allows them a superior quality control to other brands. She also touted purchasing directly from the manufacturer and cutting out the middle man — if PlushBeds were sold in stores, they’d easily be at least 50% more in price.
Another cool feature, she says, is mattresses are custom made. Mattresses are made to fit your body type and sleeping pattern after you order, so they also aren’t sitting around in a warehouse somewhere waiting to be purchased (an added benefit for those concerned with mold in mattresses). There are 100-night money back guarantees on any PlushBeds mattress, plus a 25-year warranty.
Buy a PlushBeds mattress (shop and use coupon code GENE50 for an extra $50 off your purchase)
Holy Lamb Organics – all wool (recommended)
Certifications: GOTS, Oeko-Tex
Antimicrobial: natural wool
Holy Lamb Organics makes an all-wool mattress with zero synthetic ingredients and no metal springs. It is very expensive at $2,775 for a Standard King (called an Eastern King on the Holy Lamb website). As far as materials are concerned, this one speaks for itself. All wool. No flame retardants, no metal. I have never tried this mattress, so I can’t vouch for comfort or firmness, but the customer service reps were very friendly and helpful. There is an option of a 4- or 5-inch mattress, with the 4-inch being less expensive, although the customer service representative gave me the inside scoop and said the 5-inch is considerably more comfortable. She did also note that these mattresses take some time to break in and must rest on a slatted platform so they can breathe.
The potential cons here are: this is a high-maintenance mattress and it’s not vegan. If you’re not quite ready to go all-in on the mattress from Holy Lamb, there’s also wool mattress toppers and orthopedic wool pillows available.
Organic mattresses with metal springs
Avocado Green Mattress (avoid in high EMF areas)
Antimicrobial: Natural latex
At first glance, I loved the concept of the relatively affordable, all-organic Avocado Green Mattress — that is until I discovered that they use steel coils in their mattresses. It doesn’t matter what organic materials they are using when the core of the bed is your own personal body antenna.
Avocado Green Mattress wrote a brief (kind of lazy, really) blog post addressing metal coils and EMF waves in mattresses, which can be viewed here.
MyGreenMattress (avoid in high EMF areas)
Certifications: GOLS and GOTS
Antimicrobial: Natural latex
Another affordable organic option that doesn’t pass the smell test, literally and figuratively.
Yes, MyGreenMattress uses eco-wool and organic cotton, but these materials sit on top of a “3-zone pocketed coil-spring system,” which is … metal. Avoid. As a side note, many of the Amazon reviews complain about odor from these mattresses lasting for weeks and even months.
Healthy synthetic mattress options
Ok, so you’ve looked at the price tag for some of these organic mattresses and don’t have the budget to devote just yet, or maybe ever. I feel you.
However, all is not lost, you can still do a good job on your hippie mattress search. The good news is you’re going to be able to get rid of the metal springs, but unfortunately, not all of the VOCs. I’ve listed your good options below, and I think you’ll be surprised by our winner in this category.
Synthetic mattresses comparison
|Loom and Leaf||Y||N|
|Tuft and Needle||Y||Y|
|Live and Sleep||Y||Y|
Casper vs. Leesa vs. Tuft and Needle
The non-hippy may have concerns about subtle differences in softness, types of synthetic foam, etc., but for those of us who just want to know what the mattress is made of, it’s interesting to note that the “trendy” mattress options, such as Casper and Leesa, essentially just recite the CertiPUR-US standards when they tout their non-toxic foams.
Leesa recites verbatim the CertiPUR-US features. Neither Leesa nor Casper mattresses are Oeko-Tex certified from top to bottom, whereas Tuft and Needle has both certifications for all of its materials plus GreenGuard Gold, and at a lower price point.
I have owned a Tuft and Needle mattress as well as a Casper (that I bought prior to doing the research for this blog), have slept on both, and can say with confidence that Tuft and Needle is just as good on comfort and quality than is Casper, and it’s offered for sale at a lower price point and with a better eco-friendly track record. Tuft and Needle is a hands down better option than both Casper and Leesa.
Loom and Leaf (recommended)
The careful reader will realize that I recommend Loom and Leaf, but I think you should avoid Saatva mattresses. Why? I am now a broken record, but Saatva, despite all the talk of eco-friendly materials, uses metal coils.
Loom and Leaf is Saatva’s memory foam line of mattresses (no metal), which I recommend for a few reasons. First, they’re using a “bio-foam” made from soy and corn in addition to petroleum. Loom and Leaf reps claim this reduces gassing issues associated with traditional memory foam. They add: “Most memory foam mattresses, you get that offensive smell, you have to air it out a few days — we allow our foam to settle in the factories. It’s ready for immediate use as soon as you get it.”
Another selling point is Loom and Leaf’s 100% organic cotton cover. Yes, you have synthetic memory foam and some gel underneath, but you’re encasing those materials with real, organic cotton, which I like. It’s hypoallergenic, antimicrobial, and antifungal. “It really is a healthier sleep,” the Loom and Leaf rep says, “a healthier mattress.”
So, from a materials standpoint, you have upgraded memory foam combined with an organic cover and a price tag similar to that of a Casper or Leesa, both of which are 100% synthetic and that offer only CertiPUR-US foam as their only eco-friendly selling point.
In my view, Loom and Leaf is a clear winner over Casper, Leesa, and a tie with Tuft and Needle, with the main variable being cost. At about $1,500 for a King, Loom and Leaf is more expensive than any of the other “Big Three,” but as we will see, the truly price-sensitive hippies can go lower than a Casper or Leesa — and still get a great mattress.
Saatva is playing up the eco-friendly angle, but one of their main selling points is CertiPUR-US foam, and as you now know, you don’t have to pay the kind of money Saatva charges in order to get CertiPUR-US. Saatva also uses metal coils in their mattresses. They are made of recycled steel, which is nice, but they are still metal. Avoid.
I am not focused on the small differences in firmness and comfort for Casper, Leesa, or Tuft and Needle. The internet is full of those types of reviews. Big thing for me is that Casper and Leesa don’t have Oeko-Tex certifications for their entire mattress, just CertiPUR-US. Casper mattresses’ top layer are Oeko-Tex certified, but not the entire mattress.
By contrast, Tuft and Needle has both CertiPUR-US and Oeko-Tex certifications for all the materials in its mattresses, so they win out based on what we care about most.
That said, a Casper representative thinks that its mattresses help out sleepers best with its third layer, which “has some zoning to it, that makes it softer where your shoulders sit in but firmer where your hips are. We really wanted to create a mattress that’s good for your body no matter how you’re sleeping.”
See Casper above. Not Oeko-Tex certified, just the sheets.
However, when speaking with a Leesa representative, she mentioned the Avena foam (latex alternative) was designed to be more durable and have less push-back than traditional latex. They are the only manufacturer currently using Avena foam, which sits on top of two additional inches of memory foam.
“With the Avena on top, that provides all the benefits of memory foam but without all the negative,” the Leesa employee said. “So you will not sleep hot and you will avoid that stuck-in-the-sand feeling memory foam can sometimes give.”
Leesa also is charitable, if that’s important to you, donating one mattress for every 10 it sells and planting one tree for every mattress it sells.
Tuft and Needle (recommended)
Tuft and Needle is a little cheaper than both Casper and Leesa, and also comes with both CertiPUR-US and Oeko-Tex certifications, as well as the coveted GreenGuard Gold certification, which moves them into our recommended list. With the addition of the GreenGuard Gold cert, Tuft and Needle is a formidable budget option in this category.
Tuft and Needle mattresses are made of two layers of high-density, synthetic petroleum-based foam. There is a 7-inch support layer on the bottom that helps keep your spine and neck properly aligned. The top comfort layer is 3 inches of Tuft and Needle Adaptive Foam, a proprietary foam unique to T&N alone, which provides pressure relief and support without feeling like you’re sinking in and getting trapped. It’s also infused with a cooling gel and graphite to help you sleep cool.
What sets Tuft and Needle apart, a customer service rep told us, is it’s a universally comfortable mattress — 95% of customers who have purchased a Tuft and Needle have kept their mattress. They also recently introduced a new product line called The Mint, which has even more cooling, support, and pressure relief, which helps side and back sleepers. The Mint mattress from Tuft and Needle and a 3-layer system as opposed to two, with two layers of the T&N Adaptive Foam.
Live and Sleep (top affordable choice)
I just bought one of these mattresses yesterday for a guest room and would never buy a Casper or Leesa over a Live and Sleep. Tuft and Needle may be on par, or slightly better, but it’s twice as expensive.
Why am I so high on Live and Sleep?
To begin with, I slept on one of these mattresses for about a month and a half in a temporary housing situation. I bought a Queen not knowing what to expect, but realized after a few nights that I liked the Live and Sleep mattress better than my Sealy spring mattress at home that cost more than 5 times as much.
Live and Sleep uses CertiPUR-US foam, so the product is just as eco-friendly as a Casper or Leesa, and yet it’s about $700 cheaper than both of those models for a King. I paid $389 for a King Live and Sleep and am having it delivered in 2 days.
I knew Live and Sleep was CertiPUR-US certified, but I was surprised to see it’s foam is also Oeko-Tex certified. As we discussed above, Oeko-Tex certifications are mentioned on Consumer Reports with deference as one of a handful of organic mattress labels you can trust. From a materials standpoint, Live and Sleep is a no-brainer at this price point.
And a Live and Sleep representative agrees: You’re getting what amounts to a luxury mattress at a great deal.
Buy a Live and Sleep mattress (shop and use coupon code GENEFOOD for $100 off any mattress purchase)
Finding a great mattress
OK, so after reading or at least skimming this blog post, you now have a pretty good idea of what you’re looking for.
You ideally want GOLS- and GOTS-certified organic ingredients with no metal springs, but that’s going to cost you. If you’re not ready to pony up for a full on organic mattress, look for foam mattresses that have both CertiPUR-US and Oeko-Tex certifications, such as Live and Sleep and Tuft and Needle.