We love organic-cotton sheets for their purity and luxurious feel. The funny thing is, they’re usually adorning a conventional mattress, which is a little like spreading organic peanut butter on Wonder Bread. A typical mattress is filled with polyurethane foam, dioxins, formaldehyde, chemical flame retardants, and more – all wrapped in polyester. The end results of this eco-oblivious manufacturing are mattresses that slowly “outgas” toxic compounds and that lack breathability, which creates an inviting climate for dust mites, mold, and mildew. Thus the hot market for “organic mattresses” made from various combinations of organic cotton, all-natural latex (rubber), and organic or chemical-free wool—a crucial part of the mix, in part because wool’s natural flame-retardant properties help these mattresses meet federal standards. (It also regulates temperature and wicks moisture like no other fiber.)
Organic mattresses fall into three categories
Cross section: A core of natural latex (tapped from rubber trees) with layers of cotton and wool
Good for: Almost everyone, according to the experts we consulted, including: people with pressure-point issues—latex conforms to the body’s contours, providing even support; people with allergies—it’s resistant to dust mites, mold, and mildew; couples, especially when one of you is a light sleeper—latex absorbs motion so well you won’t feel your partner moving.
Cross section: Tempered-steel coils with layers of cotton and wool, sometimes a layer of latex
Good for: People who prefer a traditional innerspring’s resistance, or “push.” For side sleepers, whose weight is concentrated on the shoulders and hips, a softer innerspring or an innerspring with latex may be best—too much resistance can be uncomfortable.
Cross section: Layers of cotton and wool, with or without a latex core
Good for: An extra bedroom, a futon couch, or every-night sleeping for those who like the no-sinking-in feel. For full-time use, choose the latex core for extra support and durability.
Organic Mattress Makers
Choosing a mattress is a highly personal (and, if you have a partner, interpersonal) decision that depends on a lot of variables. Check the Web sites of these exacting manufacturers, then call for advice. Expect questions on heights and weights of the sleeper(s), resistance preference, allergies or sensitivities, and physical issues, such as pressure points. If there’s a local distributor, take a test nap. If not, ask about the return policy. Another tip: These companies also offer all-natural mattress toppers, which offer some of the benefits of a natural mattress at a much lower cost.
Green Sleep and Obasan: The two natural lines from the Canadian company Sleeptek, a healthy-mattress pioneer (greensleep.com; obasan.ca – 877-762-2726; available online at suitesleep.com – 303.449.4150).
Vivetique: A California company that initiated the Pure Grow wool program in Sonoma County (vivetique
.com; 800-365-6563; available online at home-environment.com and ecochoices.com).
Lifekind: The company custom makes each mattress in their California “eco-factory” http://www.lifekind.com/ 1-800-284-4983 .