How to Shop for a Low Tox Mattress

My inbox is often flooded with questions about the best low tox mattress to buy. Believe me, I get it. A mattress is a big investment and not something that you want to rush. But, let’s be honest, who has the time to spend hours researching a topic that is so heavily greenwashed that we THINK we have made the right choice, only to find out there are hidden nasties in the foam or lining of the mattress. No thanks! Let’s eliminate the need to spend hours researching and jump right in (to bed)!

Before we dive in with recommendations, I just wanted to share a few of the certifications and labels you might see when out and about shopping for bedding/beds/pillows in general. There are not only personal health and environmental considerations to be made when it comes to textiles – there are unfair worker’s conditions. The textiles industry is notorious for not providing a living wage to the people who make textile-based products for the home. ‘True Cost’ is a film that uncovers this in a very poignant way.

So… if you see “organic cotton” for example but no other certification, you might well be purchasing something that comes from a factory that processes organic cotton fabrics, but that doesn’t pay its workers fairly. Organic ain’t enough!

What you might see on a website:

GOTS (Global organic textile standard) CERTIFIED: The gold standard. Every step of the way from farming to producing and everyone that’s been a part of the process in between is in fair working conditions, the crops are grown organically and the production uses no harmful chemicals in processing or shipping. You’re guaranteed no bleach or formaldehyde is used, no toxic dyes and high quality through and through. When the budget stretches or if you can just save a couple of extra months, GOTS is the go-to.

OEKO-TEK Standard 100 – A good certification that ensures fairtrade practices, no formaldehyde, bleach or metals, no flame retardants and a bit more lax when it comes to dyes, so you’ll potentially have a petroleum-based dye but it won’t be one of the banned/known harmful ones. It doesn’t mean 100% natural/organic makeup of the item, so, for example, an OEKO-TEK mattress might still contain synthetic foam in it.

Certified Fairtrade – A choice for Fair Trade Certified™ goods is a choice to support responsible companies, empower farmers, workers, and fishermen, and protect the environment. In other words, it’s a world-changing way of doing business.If you see fairtrade it may not necessarily be certified organic also, but the whole system builds education towards best practice farming methods into the work it does, so it’s a great certification to know there are good people behind your product, right down the production line.

Greenguard Certified – The GREENGUARD Certification Program (formerly known as GREENGUARD Indoor Air Quality Certification) gives assurance that products designed for use in indoor spaces meet strict chemical emissions limits, which contribute to the creation of healthier interiors. Achieving GREENGUARD Certification gives credence to manufacturers’ sustainability claims, backing them with empirical scientific data from an unbiased, third-party organization. This is going to be used more in the area of couches, mattresses and pillows and then on into renovating materials.

What is my mattress made of?

Most mattresses have a fair bit of foam that degrades over years. It has usually been treated with some sort of flame retardant too which can take up to 10 years to stop emitting fumes – ugh. 

few other chemicals used by mattress manufacturers include stain-resistant chemicals that are recognised carcinogens, as well as Boric Acid, Antimony Trioxide, Vinylidiene Chloride, Zinc Borate, Melamine, Formaldehyde, and Decabromodiphenyl Oxide. These chemicals off-gas, or release chemicals into the air… but before you panic, there are things you can do before having to spend loads replacing the whole thing. 

Natural latex – Latex is a natural product that is produced from latex vessels that exist under the bark of the rubber tree. Latex has a natural elasticity, which provides a balance between comfort and support. This natural elasticity explains the long life of a latex mattress, between twenty and thirty years. The benefit of natural latex is that it has natural anti-microbial properties which prevent fungus, bacteria, dust mites, and other unhealthy organisms from living inside the latex mattress.

Dunlop Vs. Talalay Latex Foam – The production process of Dunlop latex is the most energy-efficient method. The Dunlop method allows the latex to settle naturally. As with the Dunlop process, the Talalay latex is foamed and poured into a large mould.  However, compared to the Dunlop method, Talalay only partially fills the mould. The lid of the mould is then sealed and the partially filled latex is expanded by vacuum to fill the mould. At this stage, the mould is frozen instead of allowing it to set naturally. Carbon dioxide gas is pushed through the latex, which causes it to gel.

Synthetic latex – During WW2, latex was a hot commodity and was required for the production of tires and the likes. Enter the scientists to try and replicate this natural product… and synthetic latex was produced.  Synthetic Latex is synthetically produced and mimics the properties of natural latex. Rather than being harvested from rubber trees, and produced in a natural process, it is produced from petrochemicals. Styrene-butadiene rubber (SBR) is the most common synthetic latex on the market. Generally, synthetic latex will not meet the Oeko-Tex and Greenguard certifications.

Latex blend – It might pay to look into any mattress with a label that says “blended latex”. What is it blended with? Often it can be a blend of natural latex and synthetic latex. Look out for sneaky marketing which boasts “contains natural latex” or  “organic materials” or “100% latex, natural origin”.

Memory Foam – Memory foam consists of polyurethane as well as additional chemicals increasing its viscosity and density. It is often referred to as “viscoelastic” polyurethane foam, or low-resilience polyurethane foam (LRPu). The foam bubbles or ‘cells’ are open, effectively creating a matrix through which air can move. Polyurethane may cause irritation of the eyes, nose, throat, lungs and skin.

Springs in or springs out? – While this is an area lacking in scientific research, many building biologists agree that if you are sensitive to EMFs, spring mattresses could pose a problem if your bedroom is not properly cut off from electric fields. According to Oram Miller BBEC, EMRS, “When you drop the large electric fields out of the picture by shutting circuits (power, Wifi) off at night and fix any wiring errors or other sources of magnetic fields (and remove routers and cordless phone base units from the bedroom), then there are no EMFs to amplify when you sleep. Then the metal in the springs and frame is not an issue.” Sometimes in our modern world, and in urban areas, this is unavoidable. For someone who is highly sensitive to EMFs, this is not something worth gambling with, which is why I choose natural latex.

What’s hiding in your mattress – This article by Mercola is well worth a read. This is another unregulated industry, and with sneaky marketing techniques, you could be outlaying a lot of money on something filled with chemicals.

 

A note on Fire retardants

Fire and fire-resistant treatments have become a major issue as the world has started to realise the negative health and environmental impacts of these chemicals. Synthetic mattresses such as foam mattresses are chemically processed, which can be harmful to your health. Most mattresses need to be treated with fire-resistant materials because of the way these synthetic materials burn. Latex mattresses are not treated with fire resistant materials as latex is not a fire hazard, it smoulders, unlike Petrochemical products – another win for latex!

 

Greenwash labels to watch out for:

“Made WITH natural cotton”. Not precise enough – what is it actually made from? Usually, this won’t be just cotton but a synthetic blend, and synthetic fabrics release millions of particles of microplastic into the air you’re breathing and the waterways our fish are swimming in, so 100% cotton, bamboo, wool are what we’re looking for.

“Made WITH natural bamboo” – While bamboo is super sustainable in that it grows so darn fast and doesn’t require much farming and certainly doesn’t require pesticide/herbicide treatments while growing, it CAN be treated with some nasty chemicals in its processing. Look out for the safer version of bamboo fabric “Lyocell” if you’re wanting to go down the bamboo route and always feel free to ask the brand you’re considering where theirs is from/how it’s manufactured.

“Made WITH natural latex” or “Natural Latex Blend” can mean there’s some latex in the mattress, but also some petroleum-based foams, springs and whatever else you might be trying to avoid.

Read your mattress’s manufacturer labels and specs, but know that there are no standard labels on mattresses listing flame retardant chemicals, so it’s important to check with the manufacturer or store before purchasing. This is not a decision to take lightly or be pressured into by other people. Take. Your. Time. Ask questions of the manufacturer. Make an informed decision.

 

Pure Latex is carbon negative!

The owner of local latex mattress business Latex Bedding Co, Dave had this to share from their manufacturer about carbon and latex:  Carbon negativity is the reduction of an entity’s carbon footprint to less than neutral so that the entity in question has a net effect of removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere rather than adding it. Tree-derived rubber comes from an entirely natural and environmentally friendly product. Latex comes from the Para rubber tree, harvesting and using the product itself has a low impact on the environment. The Para rubber tree is an ecologically sustainable crop and actually contributes to the maintenance of the global carbon balance in the atmosphere. The safety of the trees is ensured through the process in which it is harvested. They are partially “wounded” with an incision on the outer surface, used for a period of time, and then given time to heal naturally. The secretion of the latex is a part of the tree’s natural healing process.

My top picks for natural latex mattresses:

A note on thickness for the Aussies: When you’re shopping for mattresses, don’t be fooled by ‘super thick = more luxurious and comfortable’. In Europe, it is very common to buy high-quality mattresses at 8-10 inches thick, whereas in Australia we seem to market “thick = luxe”. You may miss out on some of the best valued, high-quality low tox options such as the online-only Zenna Mattress option if you skip a brand because of thickness. We have a Zenna mattress that is designed firm on one side and medium on the flip side to maximise your chance of finding the perfect firmness and it is 18cm. I love our Zenna mattress.

  • Australia: As I just mentioned Zenna is a great pick, where quality meets affordability. These guys have been working in the field of latex mattress and quality reassurance for decades – way before it was cool to market on Instagram. We have a couple of Zenna mattresses and I’ve added an additional topper to ours for a bit more suppleness – Some people who are tall/heavier, boney or curvy women like me are more likely to have a comfy night’s sleep if they add a topper because our frames are better supported that way – and when I bought one to add to our bed it was true! Game-changer. I love that the covers are washable too, for a deep seasonal clean in a hot wash with borax, and a sundry! Another reason I like Zenna is their pioneering spirit when it comes to closing the loop and recycling. They were the first in our market to deploy their own water treatment plant, so as to use 100% green energy in our manufacturing processes and to set up our own recycling company.
  • A lot of low tox peeps have had good experiences with  The Natural Bedding Company – their latex is 100% certified organic and carbon neutral.
  • You also have The Comfort Shop or Latex bedding Co  – Latex Bedding Co is where our Euro-mattresses come from and we love them too.
  • UK resourcesNatural Mat is stunning and you have Yanis Mattresses and Beds
  • US resourcesSleeping Organic are a fantastic resource, Avocado is voted time and again the most affordable eco mattresses and worth a look-see are Flobeds and Plushbeds.

Need a non-latex natural mattress option? Blessed Earth has you covered with their all wool mattresses and we have an ongoing community discount of 5% off with them with the code LOWTOXLIFE. The Natural Bedding Company. also has a non latex option.  Their mattresses use only the best quality organic and sustainable materials and are handcrafted in their Sydney workshop. A very reliable and highly qualitative range.

If you can’t afford to buy a new mattress or a full latex mattress, all is not lost!

Get a great, natural Mattress topper – That’s what’s going to come closest to your body anyway, right? A great budget stretch solution when replacing your mattress isn’t a financial option right now. You could get a wool mattress topper or a latex one from Dave and his team at the Latex bedding co, or high-quality protector, like this organic cotton one from Biome, or pure wool one from Blessed Earth, so that what you’re sleeping closest to is non-toxic and natural. 

If you are wondering about which pillow to choose, check out my pillow recommendations in this post from last year.

Our friends at The Natural Bedding Company have a special for Low Toxers until 13th August 2021 for 10% off Latex pillows and Wool Pillows, used the code NATBEDLOWTOX.

 

I hope this helps – feel free to share where you got your mattress from if you have a good natural one.

Please feel free to share resources so I can add them into the post for everyone, in the comments.

Here’s to a great night’s sleep and a healthy, bed – it’s what we deserve, don’t you think?

 

Low Tox. Healthy People. Happy Planet.

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