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The Hippie’s Guide to Buying a Mattress (Non-toxic, Organic, Natural)

non toxic mattress organic mattress

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Some things in life are harder than you’d think at first glance. Puppies are one example. Shopping for a non-toxic 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.

This is a “scratch my own itch” post to the extreme. After realizing that that “new mattress smell” I used to love is really just petroleum laden memory foam off-gassing bad stuff into my bedroom, and potentially my bloodstream, I went on a nerd quest to find the best non-toxic mattresses at each price point.

When I’d finished my research, I published this blog post to assemble my notes all in one place.

Our overall winner and nontoxic mattress power rankings

If you want to skip the next 3,000 words and cut to the chase, I ended up choosing the PlushBed Botanical Bliss Organic Mattress.

It’s a 100% organic mattress, but at half the cost of luxury brands like Essentia. Yet, despite the cost savings, PlushBeds boasts all the same green bells and whistles that any top of the line organic mattress offers. PlushBeds offers 100% organic latex as well as GreenGuard Gold certification, which fewer than 1% of products receive. PlushBeds uses zero chemical flame retardants, opting for all organic New Zealand wool instead.

Organic mattresses comparison

BrandMetalCertificationsPrimary Ingredients
Holy Lamb OrganicsNGOTSOrganic; natural wool
EssentiaNGOTS, GOLSOrganic; organic latex, natural memory foam (made from Hevea milk mixture)
PlushBedsNGOTS, GOLSOrganic; natural latex, organic New Zealand wool
Avocado Green MattressYGOTSOrganic; natural latex, steel coils
MyGreenMattressYGOTS, GOLSOrganic; natural latex, eco-wool, organic cotton, metal coils
Loom and LeafNCertiPUR-USSynthetic; "bio-foam" (made from soy and corn plus petroleum), organic cotton
SaatvaYCertiPUR-USSynthetic; natural thistle barrier, recycled steel, organic cotton
CasperNCertiPUR-USSynthetic; synthetic latex foam, poly foam, polyester blend cover
LeesaNCertiPUR-USSynthetic; Avena foam (latex alternative), propietary blend of fibers for fire retardant fabric
Tuft and NeedleNCertiPUR-US, Oeko-TexSynthetic; petroleum-based foam, proprietary adaptive foam
Live and SleepNCertiPUR-US, Oeko-TexSynthetic; CertiPUR-US foam

Important eco-friendly mattress certifications

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.

You could do a lot worse than simply looking to make sure the mattress you choose has all or most of these certifications.

Greenguard gold

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 website:

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.

Best 100% organic mattresses

You guessed it, organic mattresses are made with no, or less than 1%, synthetic materials. These are often the best choice, but can price people out of the market as well.

Essentia

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.

Buy an Essentia mattress

Essentia Mattress
Image Credit: Essentia

PlushBeds

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)

PlushBeds
Image Credit: PlushBeds

Holy Lamb Organics

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.

Holy Lamb Organics
Image Credit: Holy Lamb Organics

Avocado Green Mattress

Certifications: GOTS

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.

MyGreenMattress

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. As a side note, many of the Amazon reviews complain about odor from these mattresses lasting for weeks and even months.

Healthy non-toxic 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.

Why Tuft and Needle beats Casper and Leesa

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)

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.

Loom and Leaf Mattress
Image Credit: Loom and Leaf

Buy a Loom and Leaf mattress

Saatva

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.

Casper (neutral)

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.”

Buy a Casper mattress

Leesa (neutral)

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.

Buy a Leesa mattress

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.

Buy a Tuft and Needle mattress

Tuft and Needle
Image Credit: Tuft and Needle

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.

John O'Connor

John O'Connor is the founder of Gene Food. Read his full bio here.

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