Skip the hours of research on the internet – get the salient info quickly below and go straight to the sources who have already done the work.
Step 1: FOCUS ON companies who ARE certified
The two most meaningful certifications for mattresses are GOTS and GOLS. Other certifications like OCS 100, Okeo-Tex Standard 100, Eco-INSTITUT, USDA Organic, Cradle-to-Cradle, and Greenguard Gold are less meaningful. CertiPUR-US certification is meaningless.
- If you are buying a mattress that has fabric, fiber (cotton, wool) and springs, look for Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) certification – https://www.global-standard.org/find-suppliers-shops-and-inputs/certified-suppliers/database/search
- If you’re buying a mattress or topper that has only latex layers with a cover around it, you might only need a Global Organic Latex Standard (GOLS) certification: https://cucpublications.controlunion.com/certified_companies_and_products.aspx
When looking for GOLS certification, read page 1 AND 2 of the certificate, and make sure that the certificate is written to the company from which you’re buying, and that the certificate hasn’t expired. If the certificate is issued to a manufacturer of latex that the company contracts with, that is not good enough. Below you can see a perfect example of a good certificate from my favorite latex mattress company: www.SleepOnLatex.com.
The second page of the certification shows which products made by the company are certified for GOLS. NOT EVERY PRODUCT MADE BY THE COMPANY MAY BE CERTIFIED.
**Note on latex**
There are several kinds of latex: Dunlop – GOLS certified, Dunlop – 100% Natural, Talalay – 100% natural, and there are also blends where they blend synthetic foams with either Dunlop or Talalay. I searched long and hard to find the difference between Dunlop and Talalay. It is UNCLEAR why there is no Talalay latex that has GOLS certification. No one appears to want to answer the question — is it because Talalay has some sort of bad chemical in it? No one seems to know….
All I know is that Talalay differs in that instead of the latex rubber sap being frothed and poured into a mold and baked — in the case of Talalay, less rubber is poured into the mold, and carbon dioxide is pushed into the mold to make it more airy, and it is then frozen to make it all ‘gel’ up.
At some point in both the talalay and dunlop procceses, both types use sulfur to bind the latex particles, and they use zinc oxide to facilitate and accelerate perhaps the gelling reaction in combination with heat? There are other accelerators that are used in smaller quantities — generally these are other zinc compounds. Anti-oxidants are also used to prevent the foam from oxidizing and I don’t know what these are. Most if not all natural latex foam manufacturers use ammonia somewhere in the process. This page explains its use in 60% DRC latex: http://www.indiannaturalrubber.com/latex.aspx. There are two forms, high ammonia and low ammonia. That site says high ammonia latex is used in the manufacture of latex foam but we use low ammonia latex in our latex foam and many others also use low ammonia. The choice varies across different manufacturers. Ammonia is allegedly needed to preserve the latex but is allegedly removed along with other substances when the latex is washed with soap and water, and then dried, which is the last step. Some manufactures may have a small amount of soap residue from the washing step (I don’t know what kind of soap is used).
The only Talalay latex supplier in Europe has taken the position that no latex foam – talalay OR dunlop – can be considered organic because it is not food and requires non-organic additives. This is a common opinion among latex foam manufacturers, especially in Europe. Whether we agree with it or not, there are allowances for some non-organic ingredients in organic prepared foods, and in textiles, so I think it represents a misunderstanding of what organic certifications are. Latex manufacturers I’ve spoken say they are sure that no fundamental issue prevents their Talalay foam from being GOLS certified. These European attitudes might also be drive by the fact that they might not have easy access to organic latex.
Sometimes people choose mattresses that don’t meet the certifications above / have dubious materials, like polyurethane foam made from petroleum. If you choose one like this, make sure you ask if they use flame retardants – Intellibed says they as a ‘green fire blocker’ – but don’t share the ingredients list…
- Mattresses with gel matrix: Intellibed – has ‘inert’ gel sandwiched in CertiPUR-US petroleum foam, but some health bloggers are ok with it.
I don’t know of any petroleum-derived foam product of which I can be absolutely sure contains no health-harming chemicals. Like I said, the CertiPUR-US certification is meaningless. CertiPUR certification was developed by the foam industry, not an independent party (at first glance it says it was developed by a ‘non-profit’ but if you dig further…).
Industry wants to profit, at your expense. CertiPUR bans the use of SOME chemicals, and SOME types of flame retardants (PBDEs, TDCPP or TCEP (‘Tris’), but what about the other 80,000 chemicals companies use? …like Firemaster 550 (TBPH, which is nearly identical to DEHP which was banned for children’s mattresses), chlorinated tris, halogen-free flame retardants (ammonium, polyphosphate, aluminum diethyl phosphinate, melamine polyphosphate).
- Mattresses with AIR: Select Number bed – uses foam, not even certified with CertiPUR-US, and ‘vulcanized rubber’. They don’t give out ANY information on what chemicals are used and won’t provide samples to be tested by Andy Pace’s FRAT system.
STEP 2: CHOOSE COMFORT STYle: SPRINGy, or Latex only
Healthy mattresses fall into 2 general categories:
- SPRINGY STUFF (with layers of latex foam) – mattresses with metal coil springs (ex: Naturepedic) or an alternative system that is ‘spring-like’ (SAMINA), sandwiched in or topped with layers of latex foam and wool/cotton.
- LATEX ONLY (no springs) – mattresses of latex layers, wrapped with wool/cotton (ex: Sleep On Latex)
If you consult people who have gathered a lot of feedback from mattress shoppers, you’ll find that often they say that latex layers alone aren’t as nice as something that has a system of springs, or something that is ‘spring-like’, whether that includes metal coils, a SAMINA mattress base of wood slats suspended on latex strips, the Intellibed gel matrix, or air. However, some say that all-latex mattresses are great too! To illustrate this, look at the personal mattress picks of the authors of two of the most popular mattress guides online:
- I Read Labels For You – The author and founder of this website shares on her blog and e-book The Savvy Consumer Fast Track: Mattresses, that she thinks most people are only satisfied with mattresses that have springs. She think that LATEX ONLY mattresses always end up feeling way too dense and firm and uncomfortable.
- Gimme The Good Stuff mattress product guide. The author and founder of this website chose a mattress with latex layers (no springs) from Soaring Heart, called the Zoned Latex Mattress. They don’t seem to think there’s any issue with a LATEX ONLY mattress.
What do I use? 😉
Before I give you my answer…
STEP 3: Considerations beyond comfort
Comfort is of course the most important aspect of a mattress, but there are other things you should consider, like:
- is it too heavy to move? Is it easy for you to find or hire help if you have to move it?
- What are the impacts of the manufacturing on the environment?
- Is it inclined to grow mold?
- Is it easy to clean?
- How long will it last?
- Is this bed compostable at the end of its life?
- Do coil springs cause EMF issues?
I am hesitant to buy latex beds due to the first 2 to 4 of those 6 considerations.
I believe that when comparing SPRINGY STUFF mattresses with LATEX ONLY mattresses, I would rather go with SPRINGY STUFF type. I use the words ‘springy stuff’ because you can have the ‘spring’ of coils, without using metal coils, as you will see…
Currently, I have a SAMINA mattress base, which I used with a wool topper, as I can’t tolerate the smell of latex (I am VERY sensitive to aromas due to a nervous system injury from vaccination). Why did I choose the SAMINA? Let’s go through the checklist…
7. EMFS? There is no conclusive evidence in regards to if metal coils cause an EMF issue (metal coils could act like antennas, and increase the electromagnetic fields around your body when you sleep). If they do, you could potentially mitigate this by turning off your electricity at night with a remote cut-off switch installed at the breaker box, which you should do, regardless of what you sleep on!
There is literally only one study to support the idea of coils acting like antennas, called ‘Sleep on the right side – get cancer on the left?’ by Johansson and Hallberg in 2010 in the journal Pathophysiology. There are a few videos online where people have done supposed tests, but in this video, he is testing magnetic fields, and not electric fields. I would like to test this out in real life by measuring my body voltage with a body voltage meter while laying on a mattress with coils vs. a mattress without coils. Any metal can act like an antenna when it comes to EMFs, so really, this is unknown thus far.
SAMINA beds do not have metal coils, but instead utilize a completely unique system of wooden slats suspended on two narrow strips of latex on each side of the ‘bed’. Because the slats are suspended on latex strips, the wooden slats have ‘spring-like’ flexibility! Watch the video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GzhsF0pHQtw&feature=youtu.be
2. Weight. A BIG factor in my decision was the ease with which I can move the SAMINA bed components. Since the SAMINA is mostly…nothing but open space, and is made in two sections for Queen and King sizes, it is so much lighter and easier to move than anything else, and I can do so by myself, if required!
A latex topper 3 inches thick is manageable for moving, in my opinion, but when you get into additional layers and thicknesses, it could be a drag. Many companies make their beds with LAYERS of latex, so in theory, you could take it apart and move one layer at a time if necessary. It is not necessarily easy to move a more conventional-type mattress, like Naturepedic, either!
3. Impact on environment. I’ve heard that rubber tree farming, somewhat like palm oil farming, has started taking over and raping the land in developing countries like the Philippines, and this can be really bad for the locals. Even if a farm is organic, having a monoculture of any crop can decimate the land.
SAMINA beds require probably 90% less latex (estimating) than a LATEX ONLY mattress, even if you top the SAMINA base with a 3 inch latex topper vs the wool topper that I use. If you use a 3 inch topper with SAMINA, then your SAMINA will use about the same amount of latex that is used in a Naturepedic bed.
4. Inclined to grow mold? Having a good mattress protector is a must no matter what kind of mattress you have. This will make it easier to keep clean as we all sweat a lot while we sleep.
I’ve heard of mold issues with Select Number beds with rubber air chambers. I’ve heard of SOME latex having mold issues, but I think that is more situational – you should be using a breathable base on which to put the mattress rather than a solid platform, (I think!). Latex itself is naturally resistant to bacteria and mold. I don’t think the SAMINA bed could ever grow mold, as it is mostly air!
5. How long will it last? I don’t know how long latex mattresses usually last, but http://www.SleepOnLatex.com has a 10-year warranty. Pretty comparable to any mattress of any type on the market — not the warranty in itself, but in the expected life of the mattress (10 years?). Soaring Heart’s Organic Zoned Latex Mattress has a non-prorated warranty of 10 years, and pro-rated warranty for another 10. Serenade and EOS series of Naturepedic have 5 year non-prorated warranty, and pro-rated warranty for another 15 years.
As with many aspects on this checklist, I believe Naturepedic and SAMINA beds are similar in their percentage of benefits, but I think SAMINA still has an advantage here. When a Naturepedic mattress with coils and latex ‘wears out’, there is no way to repair the mattress, that I’m aware of. However, with SAMINA, there IS a way to ‘repair’ it! The main component of the SAMINA bed is what I call the ‘mattress base’ (picture below with orange arrow and circle).
The ‘mattress base’ on the bottom is the layer I’m describing in this post. You can see that in the picture above, there are 3 narrow strips of latex, that run head to toe. In a Queen and King size, there are two of these, each with 2 strips on each side, without the 3rd in the middle.
After about 15 years, these narrow strips of latex may need to be replaced. They are encased in a cotton fabric. Just take out the old strips, and put the new ones in!
The topper which you should use on top of this mattress base (which should be 3 inches thick) will last just as long as the latex layers in a Naturepedic bed, and will need to be replaced perhaps every 10 to 20 years.
5. Is this bed compostable at the end of its life? With Naturepedic, you have to throw away the whole mattress, including the metal coils, the wool and cotton materials, etc – I don’t know of any way to salvage these materials and use them again, unless you are going to make your OWN mattress! However, they are compostable, which is GREAT! With the SAMINA, you only have to replace the latex strips and the latex topper. If you use a wool topper, you will have to ‘renew’ the topper every 2 years or so, which means that you take it apart, wash the wool, re-fluff the wool, and sew it back together.
Wool toppers (and wool mattresses for that matter) are the ultimate sustainable choice, but in America, we don’t have wool mattress makers, like they still do in some places in Europe. Wool mattress making was extremely common in centuries past, but if it ever was really common in America, it certainly is not now.
They used the wool mattresses on hand-tied boxsprings like this:
As you need to take the wool item apart and wash the wool every few years, and re-fluff the wool and put it all back together, I think it is impractical to own a wool mattress or topper in America, unless you work with the Surround Ewe company — they allow you to send in your mattresses or toppers for ‘renewal’. But, even so, who wants to send their wool mattress in the mail? It’s one thing to take it some distance in the car to a mattress maker if you live in Europe…but I don’t know about shipping it back and forth…it just seems like a hassle. Read more about how to make wool mattresses here.
Note about buying SAMINA: SAMINA is made in Austria and there is one distributor in the United States and Canada, called http://www.SaminaSleep.com. The owners are wonderful, but they want to sell their product as a whole system. This was problematic for me, because I can’t tolerate the smell of latex right next to my face. The little latex SAMINA has in the mattress base still bothers me sometimes, but it is nothing compared to the smell of using a latex pillow or latex topper.
I also don’t agree with the fact that SAMINA uses a bioceramic fabric in some of their products in the system. The bioceramic fabric is made using aluminum, among other things, and I do not think that is good. Everything breaks down over time, and I don’t want micro pieces of aluminum breaking down from the fabric and into the dust of my house.
Another aspect of the SAMINA system I can’t recommend is the grounding pad layer. It’s not that I think the grounding pad is bad per say, but that if you haven’t had your outlets and circuits and home properly assessed by an EMF expert, you could actually be causing an EMF problem for your body by using a grounding pad. Unless you are high class and getting all the professional assessments done, I think it’s best to stay away from grounding pads.
So my advice is get the mattress base and if you like, the latex topper or pillows, but I don’t agree with bioceramic fabric.
There is also the issue of bed frame, when buying SAMINA. There is no option for buying a bed frame made specifically for this type of bed, except from SAMINA. I didn’t like their styles, so I had someone make something custom for me, but it was a lot of work to figure out how to design something that would work.
I hope this makes mattress shopping easier! As one last tip, here is some information about baby crib mattresses from the I Read Labels For You blog:
“There is no polyurethane foam (or soybean foam for that matter) in a Naturepedic non-toxic crib mattress. Instead of foam, Naturepedic uses organic cotton batting. Their crib mattress does not contain any materials that may cause allergies in some babies, such as wool or natural latex.” The blog also has more information about waterproof covers from Naturepedic for crib mattresses.
The Naturepedic crib mattresses come in two versions: either with metal coil springs (below left), or with their inventive ‘Wave’ system (below right), which is made from food grade polyethylene, made from non-GMO sugarcane.