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What is an Organic Mattress?

An organic mattress is a mattress made out of all natural materials which have been certified organic.  The interior of an organic mattress is commonly made from cotton, wool, latex or rubber, metal coils or less frequently, horsehair and/or coconut fiber.  The exterior might be of the same material or a mix of other materials. To be certified organic, the materials found in the organic mattress need to be grown without synthetic pesticides, herbicides, or fertilizers and must not be genetically modified (GMO).  Additionally, the materials need to have been processed in a manner consistent with organic certification, which requires no synthetic additives to be introduced to the product. 

The Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) is the current standard for many organic materials, like cotton.  They require at least 95% of the material be certified organic in order to receive a GOTS certified organic label.  To receive a GOTS label it needs to be processed in organically certified facilities through all processing stages and needs to be environmentally and socially responsible. To understand what all goes into this certification process for some of the most common materials in organic mattresses, let’s take a look at all the steps required to certify an organic cotton, wool, or natural latex mattress

Cotton is the most common material used in organic mattresses, so we’ll start with how it needs to be certified. First off, the raw cotton itself needs to be certified organic. This requires the field it will grow on to be free of pesticides, herbicides, or fertilizers. The field can’t even have been treated with any of these chemical compounds in at least the last 3 years. After it is picked, the cotton needs to continue to remain organic, meaning it is not processed with synthetic and/or harsh chemicals. Manufacturers must then be sure to never commingle organic with non-organic cotton or other non-organic materials like polyester. Only then, once the cotton mattress has been constructed and all steps observed and certified, will the entire product be certified organic. 

Another material often found in an organic mattress is organic wool (because wool is a great natural flame retardant it is often used to help a mattress meet the modern flame retardant standards). For the wool to be certified organic, the sheep need to be grazed on fields that are certified organic, to much the same degree as the fields organic cotton is grown on. Before and after the sheep are shorn, the wool must not be washed or processed with a non-approved agent. When the wool is ready to be processed, it must be done at an organic certified facility and continuously kept from being mixed with non-organic materials.

Natural latex (also called natural rubber) is a spongy foam made from the sap of a rubber tree and is a fantastic material to be used as an organic mattress core. The certification process for organic latex is much the same as for cotton and wool, although it is overseen by the Global Organic Latex Standard (GOLS) instead of GOTS.  Natural latex is tapped from rubber trees.  In order to be GOLS certified organic, the natural latex must come from rubber trees on certified organic rubber plantations.  When it is processed into the foam that goes into mattresses, the additional ingredients used must also be GOLS acceptable. 

There is often some amount of non-organic materials used in certain organic mattresses.  For example, thread, zippers, and labels are not required to be certified organic.  Additionally, because GOTS allows a product that only contains 95% organic materials, sometimes polyester or PLA is used, however, because it doesn’t exceed 5% of the product’s weight, it passes the GOTS standard and can be certified organic.  We often see polyester or PLA in two places in organic mattresses.  In a mattress where wool is quilted to cotton for the exterior of the mattress, the wool is quilted between organic cotton on one side and a polyester scrim on the other side.  Most consumers never see it because it is inside of the mattress.  It will take quite a bit of work to determine if your mattress contains polyester because it is generally swept under the “GOTS” label.  With careful research, you can find certain organic mattresses that pay the extra to have the organic wool quilted between two layers of organic cotton, bypassing the polyester or PLA.  One way to ensure your mattress doesn’t have polyester or PLA is to ask for a sample of the outer quilting (if available) and/or if the mattress you buy zips open, you can unzip it and look for the backing of the wool.  Polyester and PLA has a bit of a sheen that cotton does not have.  It is a sheer looking material slightly embossed with circles.  If you look closely or with a magnifying glass, you wouldn’t be able to see the cotton threads that are woven in an organic cotton fabric.  We do sell organic mattresses that have the polyester or PLA scrim backing (and are GOTS certified organic), but we also have several mattresses that only use all organic cotton.  Mattresses using an organic cotton backing include Bella Sera, Royal Pedic, Savvy Rest and Green Sleep.

Another place we find polyester or PLA is around pocket coil units in an organic pocket coil mattress.  Pocket coils are individual coils that are wrapped in fabric instead of tied together with wire.  The process in which pocket coils are made uses heat to create the pockets by melting the polyester or PLA fabric together as a seam around the individual pockets.  It is very difficult to create a pocket coil with organic cotton fabric as each pocket (with hundreds of coils) would need to be hand sewn.  We are only aware of one pocket coil mattress that had individually sewn cotton pockets that is, unfortunately, no longer in production.  If you can live with the polyester or PLA fabric around the pocket coils, the mattresses constructed in this way are still of great quality. Otherwise, consider a natural latex mattress.  The latex inside a natural latex mattress is either surrounded by nothing or by an organic cotton sheer fabric. There is such a great variety amongst organic mattresses that you’re sure to find something perfect to suit your needs.