Once Upon A Mattress: Organic Sweet Dreams

    I had the unique pleasure of renting a luxury apartment under construction. The bed was not available at move-in, and three weeks later after many sleepless nights and much internet surfing, I had become an expert on what one does not want in the name of a mattress or bedding, as the long-awaited and essential bedroom item had not yet arrived.

    In the interim, I was reminded that musty, mildew mattresses mean mold. And that not all mattresses are created equal i.e. the hybrid deal on a famous internet sales site may turn out to be a nightmare with coils poking through in the middle of the night. Memory foam, pillow tops, dust mites, bed bugs, fungi and bacteria are all important terms to add to our bedding vocabulary. It is also important for the organic and natural sleeper to watch out for health and environmental factors which could interfere with a good night’s sleep.

    After all, we spend at least one third of our lives in bed. So what is the path of least resistance if we are suddenly reminded that as important as the food, supplements, personal care, cosmetics and cleaning products we use and our safe organic choices in these departments, the purity and quality of our bed, bedroom and even our mattress are equally essential for good health and a healthy, happy night’s sleep.

    Bedding for Good Health

    Generally those with back problems and/or allergies are some of the first to consider the importance of their mattress quality and construction. Manufacturers vie for our business with the promise of the best support for the back or the cleanest approach to common bedroom allergens. Dust and dust mites are high on the list as is pollen or pet dander which can enter the bedroom after you have purchased your bedding. These products may also claim to protect from bed bugs.

    As a result, a large range of hypoallergenic mattress and box spring covers are now on the market along with hypoallergenic pillows, comforters and blankets. Natural and organic fibers are your best choice for safe bedding. This includes organic cotton, silk, pure wool and hypoallergenic down products. Choose cotton pillows with cotton fill (ideally organic) which can be washed regularly. Washing sheets in temperatures exceeding 130 degrees is a requirement to kill dust mites and other pathogens.

    You can also reduce the allergens in your bedroom with top quality air purifiers, keeping an eye on humidity levels. Air which is too dry can irritate nose and throat and aggravate allergic reactions. On the other hand air which is too humid can promote mold and mildew growth. Experts recommend a safe humidity level between 30% and 50%.

    In the case of allergens, cleanliness is next to godliness. Keeping your bedroom clean means regular dusting, vacuuming with a hepa vacuum cleaner as well as non-toxic cleaning products. Remember that vinegar, lemon and baking soda are your best low priced, non-toxic home cleaning supplies. If allergens are really severe you might want to consider replacing carpeting with hardwood floors and making it a rule to keep pets out of the bedroom. Eliminating clutter is a final step to reduce the surfaces on which unwanted allergens can hide.

    Why Choose Organic

    The Organic Trade Association publishes a number of articles about the hazards of conventional cotton for health and the environment. The pioneer manufacturers of certified organic cotton and cotton/wool futons, as well as organic mattresses including latex and memory foam have been promoting their products for more than 20 years. Get ready to really invest to get a top quality certified pure, back healthy, allergen-free organic mattress i.e. expect to spend $1000 -$2000 dollars for the organic mattress of your dreams.

    If your budget is not in that category, then do the best you can to find a mattress or futon product that seems as pure as possible. As a more affordable second choice, you can encase it in organic mattress and box spring protectors, organic mattress pads and covers, while surrounding yourself in certified organic cotton sateen or flannel bed sheets, organic cotton blankets and organic duvets or comforters.

    The Need for Certified Organic

    • The World Health Organization ranks three of the most hazardous insecticides as those most commonly used in cotton production. For decades cotton has been ranked as the most highly pesticide crop in the world. For example, the conventional cultivation of one pound of raw cotton uses 1/3 pound of pesticides and synthetic fertilizers. This is the amount of cotton needed to produce one t-shirt suggesting that your favorite top could be made of 1/3 pesticides. Even after washing traces of harmful chemicals used both in the growing and textile production processes, the chemicals will still remain in conventional cotton textile products.
    • Organic cotton grown using biodynamic, regenerative or other top level organic agriculture practices follows strict guidelines. The side benefits are a reduction in water use, non-expenditures on organic fertilizers and pesticides, and carbon sequestering to regenerate the soil. At the same time organic farming can protect air and water quality, (prevent harmful chemicals from seeping into ground water) prevent soil erosion and preserve biodiversity via crop rotation. These practices also protect surrounding populations from being exposed to carcinogenic chemicals often used in conventional crop production.
    • Fair Trade Social Responsibility – A big selling factor for many natural and organic consumers is to support products which are ethically produced and which offer essential health and educational benefits for workers and their families. Often certified organic products are imported from developing countries. However, there has been a boom in USA grown certified organic cotton and the availability of organic bedding products from these domestically grown sources in the last few years.
    • All certified organic bedding products in the USA must be certified by Global Organic Textile Standards (GOTS) and are often certified fair trade. All GOTS certified products must have at least 70% organic fiber and any chemical additives such as dyes have to meet strict environmental standards for non-toxicity. When a textile manufacturer chooses to produce 100% organic products generally low-impact dyes are used or undyed natural products are offered, the products are free from chlorine bleach and Azo dyes which are carcinogenic, are not used. Look for companies who guarantee a safe fabric finish and sustainable packaging as well as those who inspect their manufacturing facilities annually to maintain the GOTS standard. Packaging material ideally will not contain PVC’s. GOTS maintains strict regulations regarding packaging so that certified organic textile products are as healthy and eco/environmentally safe as possible. You may also see other international textile labels such as Eco-Cert or Oeko-Tex, the latter being a health safety label which stands for rigorous testing of fibers to protect from potentially harmful chemicals.

    Organic – A “Bed”ter Choice!

    Manufacturing practices in all categories have drifted away from healthy and sustainable in the last 50 years. As with all of your purchases you can contribute to creating a better world and supporting a much higher standard. Choose certified organic textiles and bedding to protect your health and the planet!

    Simi Summer, PhD is an independent researcher and freelance writer. She is a strong proponent of organic consumer education and informed consumer choices.