It should, but it isn’t, according to Michael Penny, owner of Savvy Rest, a Virginia-based organic mattress manufacturer. “Most conventional mattresses are made with flame retardants and pesticides,” explains Penny. “Those chemicals are in there, and we don’t know what they’re doing.”
Those chemicals often include boric acid, otherwise known as roach killer, and antimony, a toxic metalloid similar to arsenic. They are present due to federal laws that require all mattresses to be flame retardant.
Not only could these chemicals have an adverse effect on the consumer’s health, but they also have more far-reaching environmental consequences. It has been widely reported that some of these chemicals—polybrominated diphenyl ethers, or PBDEs—have been found in the bloodstreams of polar bears as far as the North Pole.
Mattresses can also act as a haven for dust mites, each of which can produce 200 times its weight in excrement in its lifetime. Dust mites can worsen allergies and asthma and cause skin irritation, according to dustmitefacts.org.
It seems like a lose-lose situation—would you rather risk being trapped on a burning mattress during a fire, or sleep with dust mites and expose yourself (and the environment) to harmful chemicals over a long period of time? Fortunately, those are not the only two options.
An organic mattress is typically comprised of a latex core, wool batting, and a cotton exterior. The wool acts as a natural flame retardant because it contains a protein called keratin. This eliminates the need for harmful fireproofing chemicals. Additionally, the quick-drying cotton and wool outside and non-moisture wicking latex core make organic mattresses inhospitable for dust mites as well, eliminating the need for pesticides.
The lack of harmful chemicals is all well and good, crucial even, but the bottom line is this: it’s a mattress that you’re going to sleep on for (hopefully) eight hours a night—is it comfortable?
Yes, according to Kate Dayton, owner of Green Courage, a New Paltz-based sustainable home products retailer. Dayton, who has a full-sized Savvy Rest mattress in her showroom, attributes her sales of organic mattresses largely to the fact that they are so comfortable. “We’ve had an 80 percent success rate with the first buy,” she explains. “Otherwise, layers can be exchanged within 90 days for the cost of shipping.”
Dayton’s success with Savvy Rest mattresses can also be attributed to her relationship with the company. “I can only be as good to my customers as my distributor is to me,” she says. “And they’re very helpful.”
The major drawback with organic mattresses is that they cost more than standard ones—generally around $2,000 for a full- or queen-sized bed. However, according to Walt Bader, owner of California-based Organic Mattress Inc., this is well worth it. “They represent a price point of a couple thousand dollars, and a person looking for a mattress in the $799 range for a queen set might not expect that,” explains Bader. “But in reality they last a long time—20 to 30 years.” Not only does that prevent five conventional mattresses from going into the trash, but it also saves thousands of dollars in replacement costs over this time period, he asserts.
OMI’s production process is organic every step of the way. Its mattresses are domestically sourced and manufactured entirely from organic materials. “Besides the fact that you can eat off the floor, and you put booties on when you go into our sewing room, you realize there are no garbage cans,” says Bader. “We’re a closed-loop manufacturing facility—we use everything we produce, and all of our waste.”
OMI recently teamed up with ABC Home & Planet, the sector that applies to all sustainable products at ABC Carpet & Home, a New York City-based home furnishings retailer, to create a co-branded mattress. Paulette Cole, the CEO and creative director of ABC Home, further explains the benefits of organic mattresses versus conventional ones. “In an urban environment characterized by high stress, an ‘on the go’ lifestyle, and limited personal space, home is our safe haven, and within that, the bedroom is our sanctuary for rest,” says Cole. “One-third of our time is devoted to sleeping. The organic bed is our most important investment for purity and holistic self-care.”
But the mattress is just one step in the equation, according to Carol J.W. Kurth, a Bedford-based architect who runs a sustainable boutique called OOCK (Office of Carol Kurth)—organic bedcovers are just as important. “Believe it or not, some children’s bedding is treated with fire retardants and chemicals,” she says. “Who wants that next to their children?”
Organic bedcovers have several advantages aside from being chemical-free, however. “The cotton is incredibly soft, and the more you wash it, the softer it becomes—so it’s very comfortable,” she says. “A lot of people do sweat a lot, and if you have bedding that has polyester in it, you tend to overheat or sweat more. Cotton is much more breathable and it feels crisper and cooler—it just works better for the expiration and inhalation.”
Despite the current economic situation, many vendors of organic bedding products are still doing well. “We have good relationships, we have great products, and we’re not exaggerating claims,” says Penny of Savvy Rest. “And we have great relationships with our dealers. All those things mean we’re doing okay.”
OMI has also been doing well over the last couple of years. “Last year we were up 71 percent, and so far this year we’re up about 80 percent over last year,” says Bader. “Some of our retailers were up as high as 150 percent.”
It’s safe to say that this has a lot to do with the positive attitudes of these manufacturers and distributors, as well as a growing awareness. “We’re pioneers in that we really want the mainstream to enjoy the same health options,” says Dayton. “[These products] are much more sought out now than even a year ago because the information is out there.”
Resource List MANUFACTURERS ORGANIC MATTRESS INC.; (800) 951-9196 omifactory.com
SAVVY REST; (866) 856-4044 savvyrest.com DISTRIBUTORS ABC HOME & PLANET; (212) 473-3000 abchome.com
GREEN COURAGE LLC; (845) 255-8731 greencourage.com
OFFICE OF CAROL KURTH; (914) 234-6426 oockgreendesign.com
Woodstock Organic Mattress (888) 499-9399; woodstockorganicmattress.com