How to choose an eco-friendly mattress – Business of Home

While it may be rare for a client to demand a fully nontoxic or sustainable renovation, there is one element of the home where they often lean a little greener: their bed. “I’ve noticed a growing trend among customers specifically asking for nontoxic mattresses,” says Laurence Carr, a New York interior designer committed to sustainable design. “This shift reflects a heightened awareness of the importance of indoor air quality and the impact of conventional mattresses on health and the environment.”
But mattresses are a tricky category to navigate, says Ariana Spentzos, a science and policy associate with the Green Science Policy Institute. “A mattress is made up of so many components, and there are so many different types and classes of chemicals that go into it,” she explains. Plus, manufacturers are not required to tell you anything about what’s inside, nor are there any product marketing regulations. “Just relying on something saying ‘organic’ doesn’t mean that you’re in the clear,” says Spentzos.
The distrust of marketing claims is especially acute in the mattress industry because of the high-profile class-action lawsuit brought against Avocado Mattress in 2023, in which customers accused the company of greenwashing, fraud and false advertising for claiming its products were natural, organic and free of harmful chemicals. While the case was dismissed, some designers we spoke with say it has made them wary.
The mattress industry knows that consumers are interested in healthier and more sustainable options. In 2022, the International Sleep Products Association, an industry trade group, voted to add sustainability to their core initiatives. Since then, ISPA has hosted two conferences on how the mattress industry can shift to more sustainable manufacturing, and has another coming up in September.
There may not be one perfect solution that checks all of the sustainability and wellness boxes. That said, identifying your client’s most pressing concerns can help you narrow down the options, ask the right questions, and ultimately find the best fit.
Pay attention to your foam. “Volatile organic compounds are the big issue with polyurethane foam,” says Spentzos. “When people talk about off-gassing, and you have that smell that you can detect, you’re breathing in chemicals that are at minimum irritating and potentially carcinogenic, depending on what’s in that particular mixture.” But you don’t have to avoid all polyurethane foam mattresses—look for ones made with CertiPUR-US foams, which are guaranteed to be low-VOC and are free of phthalates, heavy metals and flame retardants, suggests Jennifer Jones, the principal designer at Niche Interiors, a San Francisco design firm with a focus on healthy materials.
Consider a 100 percent natural latex mattress. “Latex is the main alternative [to polyurethane foam], but it’s not going to degrade into microplastics the same way that a petroleum-deprived product would,” says Spentzos. She also notes that choosing pure natural latex “simplifies” shopping because there are fewer materials to assess. Note: There are “latex” mattresses made from synthetic latex (which is made from petroleum) and those that are made from a blend of synthetic and natural latex (from a rubber tree), so pay attention to the fine print in this category.
Read the marketing copy on the mattress to get a clue if it has been treated with “forever chemicals” like PFAS or added flame retardants. “If it’s advertising stain or water resistance, that should raise a red flag that they’re using PFAS,” says Spentzos. She notes that in the last decade, laws have changed to become more stringent and limit the amount of chemical flame retardants in mattresses. New York, for example, passed legislation in 2022 banning the use of chemical flame retardants, which went into effect this year.
Look for fair-trade certification, says Karl Shevick, the founder of Earthfoam, a direct-to-consumer natural latex mattress company. “We chose Fair for Life certification, which focuses on the working conditions of our employees, including those overseas, like rubber farmers and workers,” he adds. “I consider Fair for Life the most impactful certification we have.” When they were concerned about the lack of transparency offered by natural rubber suppliers in Sri Lanka, Earthfoam built their own latex-processing factory. The small farmers that provide the raw materials also get paid at least 10 percent higher than the market rate to meet the certification’s standards.
Know that in reality, “nothing [when it comes to mattresses] is 100 percent organic,” says Lillian Fisher, the owner of The Sleep Store, a retailer in Bellevue, Washington, specializing in more natural mattresses. “It doesn’t mean that it’s bad or toxic; it just means it’s not organic.” But if organic materials are a priority, Fisher says you can look for Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) certification, which identifies the fabric covering as organic. She notes there’s also a standard for organic latex: the Global Organic Latex Standard (GOLS).
Several designers recommended Saatva brand mattresses, including Jones, who test-drove them first before recommending them to clients. “Most people are accustomed to innerspring mattresses, which makes the Saatva Classic a great option,” she says. Interior designer Leah Connolly, the founder of Sacramento-based Studio Connolly, adds: “They have a great designer trade program with commissions.”
You can propose a mattress made from old-school materials like horsehair and wool, like the ones Swedish manufacturer Hästens sells, or a 100 percent wool-filled one. While Hästens comes with a notoriously high price tag, the company also offers a 25-year warranty on their frames and springs, which in theory means that your client’s five-figure mattress is unlikely to end up in the landfill.
No matter what style you choose, look for third-party certification to verify any brand’s health and sustainability claims. For example, Carr settled on recommending Coco-Mat mattresses because of their adherence to certifications such as Oeko-Tex Standard 100, Woolmark, and Responsible Down Standard (RDS), plus their membership to both the Forest Stewardship Council and Sustainable Furnishings Council. “These certifications assure both my clients and me that Coco-Mat products meet the highest environmental and ethical integrity standards.”
Laura Fenton is a writer with a special interest in the intersection between homes and sustainability, and is the author of the Living Small newsletter and two interior design books, The Little Book of Living Small and The Bunk Bed Book. She has written about home and design for nearly 20 years, and her work has appeared in many outlets, including Better Homes & Gardens, House Beautiful, Real Simple, and The Washington Post, as well as online publications and regional design magazines.