Since most adults spend more than 3,000 hours annually sleeping and one third of their life in bed, it’s easy to say that our beds are pretty important. We often overlook the effects that a mattress might have on our health, as well as the chemicals it brings into the home and any environmental impact disposal may pose. As long as it offers a soft, cozy place to land at the end of the day, who cares?
But, a mattress can actually have a bigger impact than you think. Health-wise, a new, more comfortable mattress can alleviate back and neck pains as well as allergies and even stress. It also allows you to sleep longer, which is connected with weight loss, improved memory, and a longer lifespan. However, the materials that make up the mattress you choose makes a big difference.
Many mattresses dating back to the 1960s have been made with the use of petroleum-based polyurethane foam. Those with chemical sensitivities can experience respiratory issues and skin aggravation with exposure to this material. Another big health offender is formaldehyde, used in mattress adhesives, and can be linked to various cancers, asthma, and allergies. Add pesticides and flame retardant layers and your bed can have you swimming in chemicals for a large chunk of your day.
Tests have even shown there to be 61 different chemicals in a memory-foam mattress model, including several known carcinogens. Ack!
Every year, there seem to be more and more viable eco-friendly options on the mattress market. What makes for a truly healthy, eco-conscious option? According to Sleep Junkie, you’ll want a mattress that meets these traits:
- No VOCs
- Zero-Emissions Manufacturing
- Made of Renewable Resources
- Natural and Organic Materials
- Durable to Reduce Waste
- Efficient Shipping Methods
Some materials meet these qualifications, such as plant-based memory foam, improved inner-springs, and natural latex. As with most green products, they all vary in terms of actual eco-friendliness.
We happened to be in the market for a new mattress when we were given an opportunity to try out a latex mattress from Sleep On Latex. I had done some research and latex was a big contender. We have now sleeping on this mattress for about 8 months. While each type of mattress has its pros and cons, I have been extremely pleased with latex so today we’re focusing on that.
What Exactly is Natural Latex?
If you like a bed that feels somewhat foam-like without all the chemicals, natural latex is your friend. It’s created by slicing rubber plants at a diagonal in order to cultivate the thick serum that is collected for about an hour a day before the cut heals. More serum is then collected the next day. After being processed, the substance is whipped in a centrifuge, creating the ingredients that make up the mattress.
Allergen note: Latex allergies are typically a “touch” allergy. If you have a contact allergy to latex you may still be able to use a latex mattress, like Sleep On Latex, that has a wool topper and organic cotton covering on the entire mattress. Obviously do not handle the raw latex (inside of the covering); have someone else handle that if the cover needs washed. You could also look for models that have organic cotton, hemp, etc. If you have a more severe latex allergy, of course this would not be the option for you.
How Are These Mattresses Eco-Friendly?
Manufacturers of natural latex mattresses use sustainable practices like renewable harvesting of the rubber plants and low-impact manufacturing. Most makers utilize organic plants to create their product, as well.
And if you’re going to go through the trouble of finding an eco-friendly latex mattress, be sure that it includes organic cotton and/or wool coverings. This ups the green and health factors. These mattresses can have a long life (often working great for over 30 years), which also adds to their eco-friendliness.
Also check to see if the mattress layers are truly made only from 100% latex. Some mattress claim 100%, but they’re only referring to the top layer of the mattress (so yes, technically they do use some 100% latex but, as my research found, many make it difficult to know that they use a thick base layer of polyurethane foam.) For example, some models offer 6” of polyurethane foam as a base layer with a 2-4” 100% latex layer on top. The best latex mattresses will be 100% latex on all layers, and if they include a top layer it should be organic cotton, wool, or other natural topper for comfort. If in doubt, ask.
How Do They Compare?
There’s a lot to consider when you’re thinking of purchasing an earth-friendly mattress. Cost-wise, a natural latex option is generally more expensive than other green choices, but they may be more budget friendly than “luxury” mattresses at your local mattress store. The price will vary by company and offerings, but Sleep On Latex ranges from $650-1150, depending on size. As stated, since these have a lengthy lifespan and can effectively hold its shape for up to 20-30 years, this should be taken into account when considering value. Longevity is a huge factor both in terms of disposal and value.
While not part of the cost – it should be noted that setup is a breeze. Latex mattresses often arrive rolled up. Simply lay them on your boxspring or foundation, carefully clip the plastic wrapping away and let it unroll. They spring to life in a few minutes, with full form in a few hours or so. Also worth mentioning, they do sometimes have a bit of an odor when first opened. Do not worry! This goes away very quickly and your mattress will not smell like anything within a day. It’s hard work being cooped up in plastic straight from a factory.
So of course, compared to traditionally-made mattresses, latex mattresses are light years ahead. When paired with a chemical-free covering such as organic cotton or wool, the fact that production-wise the toxic waste will be minimal and your own personal space will have a far greater impact on you and your family’s health and well-being, there’s almost no comparison.
No matter what mattress option you consider, do your research. Many companies will greenwash a product – using, for example, an eco-friendly core but a standard, pesticide-laden covering to cut costs – or as mentioned above, a synthetic core and thin “green” covering. So don’t just take a company’s marketing at its word – read the fine print, look for reviews, and ask questions. Since a mattress is a pretty important investment, determine exactly how much you’d like to spend and see which green choices fit your needs.
That said, if you’re able to invest in more expensive yet super comfortable, green option, a natural latex might just be right up your alley.