How to tell if that affordable non-toxic mattress is truly healthy

When someone asks about affordable non-toxic mattress recommendations in my Green Product Forum Facebook Group, I’m always amazed at how quickly new brands seem to pop up! One of my most popular blog posts talks about why it’s important to pay attention to what you sleep on, along with some of my preferred brands. But the reality is, products are changing all the time and mattress companies know consumers like you are looking for affordable non-toxic options.

Unfortunately, we often get “sold” on the idea of healthy, without much standing behind the claims. There are no laws that define “natural”, “non-toxic”, or “organic.” As a result, we’re bombarded with sales and marketing tactics that make it sound like we can get a steal on a non-toxic mattress. So how can you figure out if what you’re being told by marketers in this ever-changing landscape is fact or fiction?

Being an informed consumer is more important than ever, and I’m on a mission to not only tell you about great brands, but also teach you how to read labels and websites and ads so you don’t get roped into less-than-accurate claims.

This post is all about common terms and phrases I see from mattress brands, and how you can determine whether the product you’re looking at is healthy or not.

Soy-Based Foam

The problem: Soy is a plant, so it sure sounds like a winner ingredient, right? Well, it would be, if it were the full story. But if you look at the fine print (if it’s there at all), or ask the manufacturer, you’ll often find that the soy part makes up only a small fraction of the foam. The rest is often plain ol’ petrochemical-based polyurethane foam (along with other harmful additives that can release formaldehyde, VOCs, and other toxins).

What to look for: Before dropping down the cash for a mattress that claims to be soy-based, ask how much is actually from soy, and what the rest is made from. If it contains conventional polyurethane foam, and you’re looking for a least toxic mattress, I’d give it a pass.

Organic

The problem: Unlike food, there’s no minimum % of the mattress that’s required to be organic to use the organic label. It is not uncommon for brands to use “organic” in their marketing when only the cover or a portion of fill is actually organic. An organic cover on a polyurethane foam mattress will not protect you from the chemicals that offgas from the foam.

What to look for: Look at what parts are identified as organic (i.e. fill, foam, and/or cover), and ask about the rest. Any component that is labelled organic should carry a 3rd party organic certification, like GOTS (for fabrics), GOLS (for latex rubber), or a damn good explanation about how the materials are equivalent.

CertiPUR

The problem: You might see claims on certain foam mattresses (like Endy and Casper) that their products are non-toxic and safe because they’re certified by CertiPUR. They call themselves a 3rd party organization, however it is very heavily industry-focused (and possibly even industry funded). There isn’t much science or health focus to the standard, despite the marketing claims.

What to look for: CertiPUR may offer some reduction in harmful chemicals, but if your focus is on truly sourcing the healthiest mattress, look instead for an organic certification as discussed above (GOTS or GOLS), Oeko-Tex Standard 100, or GreenGuard Gold. These last 2 are more reputable 3rd party standards that test for offgasing and toxins.

“Free of…” & “Proprietary”

The problem: Like I teach when reading body care labels, it’s more important to know what’s in a product that what’s not. “Free of…” marketing strategies are used to steer your attention away from this information. In some cases, the product might be great, but you really have to look beyond this list. The same goes for “proprietary”. It might make it sound upscale or highly researched, but it actually just means that the components are a secret.

What to look for: Synthetic foam mattresses may contain: petrochemical-based polyurethane, blowing agents, flame retardants, anti-bacterial treatments, formaldehyde-containing glues, and other chemicals used in the manufacture. If you’re going the foam route, opt for a truly 100% natural latex (ideally GOLS certified) and avoid any synthetic memory foam or flame retardants. If choosing a coil mattress, look for a certified organic cotton fill with no flame retardants.

I hope this helps you feel more comfortable sifting through websites and ads while you search for your perfect mattress! I’m working on creating a detailed list of mattress brands, telling you whether they’re green, green-ish, or greenwashed. If you want to be the first to get it when it’s ready, join my mailing list below!

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