The Low Down on What Mattress Manufacturers Don’t Disclose About Their Products

The quality of your mattress has a significant impact on the restfulness of your sleep. With the broad range of technologies used in manufacturing today’s mattresses, it is hard for anyone to separate the hype from the truth.

organic luxury mattress

The federal government doesn’t have strict guidelines regarding the language that manufacturers use in marketing to make claims about the eco-friendliness of their products.

Not surprisingly, when marketers use trendy buzz words to describe everything from the eco-friendly quality of the products themselves, to the green practices the company uses in producing them, they are engaging in “greenwashing.”

TerraChoice, a leading environmental marketing company in North America, and a subsidiary of UL (Underwriters Laboratories,) coined the term “greenwash.”

It describes how manufacturers use flashy language in their marketing strategies to fool consumers. They do so by not disclosing how products are made, what they contain, or how consumers ultimately benefit from using the products.

We understand the confusion you feel when you take the time to do research on different mattress brands, the materials from which they are made — or if they’re made from recycled products.

Types of Mattresses   

Innerspring Mattress  

An innerspring mattress always has steel coils between the layers of foam or fabric that cover the top of the mattress and the base. The springs are typically made from steel or other types of coils, including continuous, independent Bonnell, pocketed, and offset coils.

Innerspring mattresses typically have a top layer of padding made from wool, cotton or polyester fibers.
Innerspring mattresses typically have a top layer of padding made from wool, cotton or polyester fibers.

Polyurethane Foam 
The mattress portion of an innerspring mattress is made of a combination of polyurethane and rebonded foam. Polyurethane is a polymer byproduct of petroleum-based substances. Mattresses that are made from polyurethane have a permanent smell from chemical residue.

Innerspring mattresses may also contain rebonded foam. Rebonded foam is made from scraps of foam with the foam backing that is sometimes used under carpeting. The scraps are pressed together to create a bond – either with glue or some adhesive. Adhesives are made with many potentially toxic chemicals. Unless you can find a mattress that uses secures the pieces of rebonded foam together with a water-based adhesive, you may want to avoid these beds.

Pillow-top mattresses are made with a polyester batting. Polyester comes from polymers that are extracted from petroleum. Polyester batting is almost always full of residue from the toxic chemicals that are used to produce it.

Important points about polyester batting:

  • It doesn’t breathe well
  • It is extremely flammable.

Foam Materials Used for  Mattresses  

Foam mattresses are made of polyurethane, latex or visco-elastic memory foam. Polyurethane is typically made with a petroleum base that is known to contain harmful VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds.)

There is a newer type of memory foam that is filled with gel. These mattresses are made from the same polyurethane that is used in many types of mattresses and a liquid gel or gel beads. The manufacturers don’t have to disclose the ingredients of their gel or how the gel is made.

If you want to purchase a memory foam mattress, look for mattresses that are labeled as plant or soy-based. That means the polyurethane foam is made of plant-based materials instead of petroleum.

Latex Mattresses 

There are two types of latex mattresses: one is 100 percent natural, and the other is a synthetic product. Latex that is 100 percent natural comes from tapping rubber trees for their liquid. Synthetic latex is made from chemical processes.

Organic natural latex is breathable and hypoallegenic.
Organic natural latex is breathable and hypoallegenic.

Just like polyurethane foam, there is a solid core latex foam or a mattress can contain bonded layers of latex. All latex beds are free of adhesives.

Other Fiber Fillers for Mattresses 
Wool 

Wool comes from sheep. Unless the wool is labeled as organic, it is very likely that it was treated with chemical insecticides to prevent moths from eating it. Wool breathes well. It is also moisture absorbent, which is good for people who tend to get hot at night. Most of all, however, it is a naturally flame-retardant material.

Organic wool keeps you cool in summer and warm in winter
Organic wool keeps you cool in summer and warm in winter

Cotton 

People tend to think that cotton is an okay fabric because it’s a natural fiber. It is often used on mattress covers. Surprisingly, this natural material is one of the dirtiest plant crops that farmers grow. Unless the cotton has an organic label, the plants from which it was harvested were treated with copious amounts of insecticides and pesticides. During processing,  non-organic cotton is bleached, and it may be treated with other chemical additives.

The Specialty Sleep Association and Their Commitment to Full Disclosure  

The Specialty Sleep Association created the Bedfax program to encourage mattress manufacturers to disclose the ingredients the manufacturer gives them is true. Beds that successfully comply with the process can earn the Bedfax Registered Seal.

The SSA didn’t stop there, however. They designed another ranking to reward manufacturers who show the greatest commitment sustainability in manufacturing and to their concern about indoor environmental health. The system awards seals of approval for four levels.

The seals disclose the percentage of quilt and fabric material that is made of sustainable products. The higher the percentage, the higher the level. You can use this information to guide you in choosing the bed you prefer.

Look for disclosure labels because manufacturers who aren’t willing to tell you exactly what materials they use to make their beds, may be deliberately concealing relevant information.