Sleeping with your values
Mattress shopping may be the single most unpleasant purchasing experience one can voluntarily undertake. Even Consumer Reports throws up its hands, saying that comparing mattress makes and models is too difficult for sound recommendations.
It has been almost 15 years since I last set foot in a mattress store. Back then, my selection was driven by whichever retailer could have a mattress in my apartment by nightfall and within the tiny confines of my budget. This time was different – I had more developed criteria and a husband to consult with. We wanted something firm, but cushioned enough to be comfy for side sleeping. We wanted minimal motion transfer (a fun feature to test, as it involves lots of bouncing up and down on one side and asking each other, did you feel that?). We were willing to spend for quality and comfort, but we wanted to know that we were getting a good value, and that the mattress wouldn’t need to be replaced in the next 15 years. And here comes the tricky part – we wanted a mattress that aligned with our environmental values.
Apparently we’re not the only ones looking for non-toxic, sustainable mattresses. All of the big names – Simmons, Serta, Sealy – have their own line of “green” mattresses. These product lines aren’t cheap, mind you; they are priced near the high end of the range for each of the brands. Serta even has an organic mattress under the Vera Wang brand. Serious investment was clearly made in the marketing of these products, but the actual sustainability story for each one had its limits. So did their comfort. And you still have to go to one of the big mattress retailers to test and haggle for them. Unless you live for Glengarry Glen Ross, this is an experience to be avoided.
So what exactly makes a mattress non-toxic and sustainable? And are the chemicals and materials used in your standard mattress really that bad? Most mattresses are made out of synthetic materials and flame retardant chemicals, which off-gas toxins, including PBDEs and formaldehyde. These chemicals have been shown to cause health problems, although not not specifically in the doses one is exposed to while sleeping. Nevertheless, I really need to wait for *that* study to come out.
So what are the best options for natural and organic mattresses? We ended up buying a Keetsa, which is flipping the traditional mattress business model 180 degrees with a more customer- and environmentally-friendly approach. Their products have an emphasis on sustainable materials, including the substitution of plant-based oils for synthetic foams, and wool in lieu of toxic fire retardants. They have reduced the carbon footprint of their supply chain through the use of compressed, boxed mattresses, which can be stored on-site and taken home with you on the day of purchase, rather than requiring a big truck to make a special delivery. And best of all, our Keetsa cost less than half of our next best option (European Sleep Works). We are both sleeping soundly on our new mattress, comforted by the fact that we didn’t have to stuff our values underneath it to get what we wanted.
What are you sleeping with?