No matter how comfortable these claim to be, there’s nothing particular comforting about tempur-pedic’s assurance that weeks of offgassing odours are perfectly “normal” for its memory foam mattresses. Tempur-pedic is one of the rare mainstream mattress brands that isn’t certified by Certipur-us, an industry body that tests polyurethane foam for basic volatile organic compounds like formaldehyde, as well as heavy metals and certain flame retardants. A class action launched in California in 2013 argues that Tempur-pedic (now owned by sealy) misled consumers about being formaldehyde-free and should be warning the public about potential allergic reactions.
The conventional mattress kings have undoubtedly improved over the years. Still made from polyurethane foam with a slurry of petrochems, their products are now wrapped in flame-retardant barrier fabrics in lieu of flame retardants added to the foam. Like most mattress makers, they get their foams certified by industry-run certipur-us and use recycled steel springs. They all claim their wood is certified sustainable: Simmons and Sealy by the greenwashy Sustainable Forestry Initiative, Serta’s by respected Forest Stewardship Council. Don’t expect much natural content. Sealy’s latex is 100 per cent petroleum-based, rather than from rubber trees. Its premium Stearns and Foster line may “infuse” a little silk into covers and wool into toppers, but the insides are still petro foams and gels.
If you want a more natural mattress but are tight on cash, Ikea may be the place for you. Just don’t assume “latex” beds are “all natural.” You’ve got to read the fine print. (Thankfully, Ikea is more transparent than most about ingredients.) Its Myrbacka latex mattress combines synthetic latex with polyester wadding, polyurethane foam and some lamb’s wool. The Sultan Heggedal, on the flip side, is one of the company’s most natural (and comfortable) options. Its latex is 85 per cent natural, and the wadding is made of wool, corn-based PLA (a biodegradable plant-based polyester) and coconut-husk coir. It’s wrapped in a blend of conventional cotton, tree-pulp-derived lyocell and flaxy linen. If you prefer a spring-free mattress, Morgongåva is made with a similar latex blend and has a wool topper and 100 per cent cotton ticking. Ikea beds are always flame-retardant-free and made in the u.s. or mexico. it does internal voc testing but does not have third-party voc certification.
This celeb-endorsed, Montreal-made brand calls itself the “only natural memory foam” and the “perfect organic mattress,” but it’s gotten in trouble in the past for “padding its claims.” The outer covering and compressed base are made of organic cotton, yes, and the inner rubber core may be Euro-latex- and Oeko-Tex-certified to be low emissions, but the “natural” latex memory foam part is a bit murky and lacking certification. In late 2013, the Federal Trade Commission barred Essentia from claiming its mattresses are VOC- and chemical-free and “made with 100% natural materials.” Essentia now lists all the ingredients at myessentia.com/learn/the-icky-truth, though it says chems like styrene-butadiene and liphenyl diisocyanate are also found in other natural latex products. The company posts lab testing that shows it’s all ultra-low-VOC. However, it would be great to see third-party seals for mattresses as a whole (without it we’re dropping an N). These athlete-endorsed beds are wool-free and get their flame retardancy from kevlar.
Looking for deep, worry-free sleep for you and/or your little ones? Amongst your greenest bets is an all-natural mattress crafted from certified-organic rubber, topped with organic naturally flame-retardant wool padding (or puddle pads for kids) and wrapped in certified-organic cotton. Ottawa’s Sleeptek (maker of Obasan, Dormio and Soma’s in-house mattresses) specializes in just that. Its comfy beds are certified by germany’s eco-institut (with top standards for vocs, heavy metals and flame retardants). you can score some through soma sleep (its north york showroom carries multiple brands), Dormio, Grassroots, Ecoexistence, or see sleeptek.ca. Ohio’s Naturepedic offers some similar options with American-grown cotton, though its wool-free kids beds are waterproofed with polyethylene plastic and fireproofed with baking soda and silica gel. Hardcore locavores can opt out of tropical latex and get an entirely American-grown 100 per cent wool futon by Shepherd’s Dream (shepherdsdream.ca), but latex beds tend to be better performers.
Updated Friday, March 13, 3:58 pm: An earlier version of this story misstated that Sleeptek offers Green Sleep mattresses. It no longer sells the product.