Buying an Organic Mattress? You Must Be Joking
Have you ever watched one of those tell-all news segments that go behind the scenes into the world of hotel housekeeping or food service? Once you know all the dirty little secrets, staying in hotels or eating out isn't nearly as enjoyable. I travel extensively for business, and after watching one such show, I still make it my first priority to strip the bed of its bedspread, and I never directly touch the TV remote control.
That's the curse of learning new things. Ignorance may be bliss, but who wants to go through life being ignorant? I prefer to think that knowledge is power. It's the power to have a good debate about an issue, to change your behavior, and most tangibly, to decide how you'll "vote" with your hard-earned dollars when you shop. The biggest example for me is the way I buy food. Once I learned about commercial meat production and conventional farming, I couldn't buy into that broken system. Instead, I strive to buy food from local purveyors and, I choose organically-grown if at all possible.
Organic isn't just about food. There are all sorts of products that can be potentially harmful to our health, the air quality in our homes, or are produced in an unsustainable way. When Mr. President and I shopped recently for a new king-sized mattress to better accommodate our four cats (oh, and us too!), I found out that conventional mattresses not only contain lots of fillers made from unsustainable petrochemicals, but also harmful chemicals that can "off gas" for years, affecting the air you breathe while you're peacefully at rest.
These chemicals are added to both innerspring and memory foam style mattresses in part to satisfy government regulations that they must be able to withstand exposure to open flame for at least 30 minutes. Other parts of the chemical cocktail include pesticides, mold and mildew inhibitors and adhesives all leading to a very high Ewwwwww Factor. Memory foam mattresses contain dozens of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that are known to cause skin irritation and respiratory problems, not to mention the rancid smell they can emit for long after they are unpacked.
If you look for scientific evidence about the negative long-term health effects of conventional mattresses, you'll come up short. While chemicals like formaldehyde, benzene, and naphthalene that are commonly used in conventional mattresses are proven carcinogens, it's been difficult for scientists to study the long-term effects of inhaling low levels of them over decades. Different manufacturers use different combinations and some will not divulge their exact formulas, calling them "trade secrets."
I started researching organic mattresses made of latex at the suggestion of my brilliant acupuncturist. I had never heard of an organic mattress, and my initial thought was, "You must be joking!" But, as it turns out, there are many benefits to latex mattresses, including peace of mind.
Latex is a natural product that comes from the sap of rubber trees, Hevea brasiliensis, to be precise. Harvesting the sap involves installing a "tap" into the tree similar to that used for collecting sap from maple trees to make syrup. The process is not harmful to the trees, and they can produce the sap for many years.
What conventional mattress manufacturers achieve through the use of nasty chemicals, organic manufacturers accomplish naturally. Natural latex is resistant to mold, mildew and insects including bed bugs and dust mites. It's naturally hypoallergenic and it "sleeps cooler" than many memory foam mattresses because of its open and airy cell structure. It has a natural "springiness" that no manufactured substance has been able to match. And what about that flame resistant requirement? Many organic mattress manufacturers have found a natural solution in sustainable wool coverings for their mattresses. Wool is naturally flame-resistant and moisture wicking.
Even if you have a latex allergy, chances are good that you will still be able to sleep on a latex mattress. Typically, the wool and cotton coverings are enough of a barrier between the latex and the skin to prevent any sensitivity and the latex used in mattresses is processed differently than medical grade latex to which some people are allergic.
In the end, we purchased an organic latex mattress sight unseen online. It sounds risky, but after reading review after review of all kinds of mattresses, we came to the conclusion that whether the mattress is basic or ultra high-end, it's still a crapshoot in terms of comfort. You may love your mattress as you lie down on it in the store, but feel much differently sleeping on it each and every night. We know that if our new mattress doesn't work for us, we can exchange it any time within 90 days.