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?

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alicia

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  1. Ryan - October 14, 2009

    Keetsa looks great other than the fact that they are manufactured in China, while many of the major U.S. brands are still made here in the USA. We should remember all the energy it takes to ship these products all the way from China.

  2. Ann - October 14, 2009

    About a year ago, I bought a 100% organic latex mattress from Healthy Green Goods http://www.healthygreengoods.com/05.09_MattressBrochure_web.pdf
    It is so unbelievably comfortable and customizable – there are three layers, you put the layer you prefer on top – soft, medium or firm. It is more expensive than the Keetsa, but the Keetsa is a blend of natural and synthetic rubbers, this one has no chemical products whatsoever.
    I also LOVE the fact that it is dust-mite repellant, I never need to turn or flip it, AND it will last at least twice as long as a “regular” mattress. I cannot recommend it highly enough.

  3. Joe - October 14, 2009

    I have to admit that I’m instantly put off by all the organic this and natural that in the description of the Healthy Green Goods mattress. It just sounds like so much nonsense. (What’s a non-chemical mattress look like? Even natural rubber is a chemical, by definition.) The Keetsa is a bit less so–although I do think that the FAQ using the euphemism “natural elements” for the chemicals contained in cedar oil, green tea, etc. is unfortunate.
    How about a plain old _real_ futon–cotton batting, cotton cover, cotton tufting holding it together. No foam, no rubber, no off-gassing.

  4. Dave - October 14, 2009

    We’ve also been looking for a green mattress – specifically one without VOCs and flame retardants. The Keetsa’s look promising, though I wish they were made locally instead of in China.
    The only other green mattress we’ve found are is the Organic line from Custom Comfort Mattress. http://www.ccmcmattress.com/shopping/organic.html
    Nice mattress, but VERY expensive (~$5k for an organic latex mattress), so we haven’t bought one yet. Nice to know they are made locally as well.
    Anyone know how much the Heathy Green Mattresses cost – the price list link doesn’t work.

  5. Goose Duck Stevens - October 14, 2009

    I also bought an organic latex mattress and it is fantastic. So good that I bought a second for the guest bedroom. Sustainable in that it comes from rubber trees (not petroleum) and the only downside I can see is the shipping distance from the rubber plantations. I guess to compare, you would need to know where all of the materials in your mattress are coming from too, eh?

  6. Ann - October 14, 2009

    So, Joe, I’m curious, what about a rubber tree is a chemical? One of the problems I have with cotton is that it attracts dust mites. But I’m sure a futon works well for many people, and it’s a lot cheaper.
    Dave, I just called Healthy Green Goods to tell them about the bad link (I don’t live very far away) and they didn’t know about it, but they will look into it. They said they just changed their prices and perhaps didn’t check properly that the link worked. I bought the king size Sagittarius, which most people would consider their top of the line, and he told me that the current price for that is $3600. As I said, pricier than the Keetsa, but not $5K – that seems outrageous to me.
    They’re very helpful if you call and ask for pricing.

  7. Steve - October 14, 2009

    I bought a Tempur-Pedic a couple of years ago and suffered mightily from respiratory distress. Its a rather long story but in the end I took the mattress back, they have a 3 month “comfort guarantee”, and bought a mattress from Natura. It isn’t organic, although they do have organic mattresses, but it doesn’t use PBDEs for the flame retardant, it uses wool. I have been fine ever since, and the mattress is actually more comfortable. The dealer I bought from used to be a Tempur-Pedic dealer and gave it up when they started using PBDEs as a significant number of his customers were getting sick. Stay away from that stuff. Its very bad for you.

  8. Mark - October 15, 2009

    Because the mattresses are assembled in China says nothing about where the bulk of the materials came were sourced. (It’s the total shipping cost that matters, not just the post assembly). I’d bet that most of the materials in a traditional or the other mattresses are coming from Asia. Certainly the latex is coming from someplace like Indonesia. Not many rubber trees in the US!! So in the end, with the more compressed size, Keetsa might have a smaller C footprint, at least in the shipping component of total C impact.

  9. Lauryn - November 6, 2009

    Has anyone ordered futons/mattresses from rawganique.com? I’ve been drooling over their site for years and am now planning to order an Economy Organic Cotton futon probably within the next few days (http://www.rawganique.com/Futonsmattresses.htm), but it would be nice to have some feedback from people who have ordered items from them before. Thanks!