What’s an “Organic” Mattress, Anyway?

Shoppers searching for a mattress want the safest option they can afford. Attracted by labels claiming that products are “eco-friendly,” “natural,” “certified” or “organic,” many are willing to pay more for them. But what do the labels really mean?

“Eco-friendly” or “natural” mattresses may use organic materials, avoid harmful additives such as fire retardants or release fewer chemical fumes – a process known as “off-gassing.” But no law or governing body currently regulates these terms, so you can’t be sure which benefits you’re getting.

“Certified” mattresses are reviewed by third party organizations, whose mark assures shoppers that the product meets their quality criteria. That criteria, however, can vary widely. Among the more stringent certifications are the Global Organic Textile Standard and Oeko-Tex Standard 100.

What about “organic”? The U.S. Department of Agriculture allows companies to claim that a mattress is organic if the natural fibers it contains were cultivated according to guidelines of USDA’s National Organic Program. You may see USDA’s well-known certified organic seal or certification of the National Organic Program on the label. But neither guarantees that the entire mattress is free of ingredients that may cause concern.

For a more rigorous certification than USDA’s, look for the Global Organic Textile Standard, or GOTS. USDA allows mattresses to use “organic” on the label if they are made according to GOTS, but they won’t necessarily carry the USDA organic seal.

GOTS requires that at least 70 percent of cotton or wool fibers are organically grown. In the remaining 30 percent, it bans the use of polyurethane foam and hazardous chemicals, including fire retardants and formaldehyde based-glues. The GOTS certification also requires manufacturers to provide fair working conditions and wages. (The Global Organic Latex Standard monitors organic latex in mattresses.)

Compared to conventional mattresses, certified-organic options contain fewer pesticide residues, fewer harmful chemicals and fewer fumes to inhale – benefits many shoppers feel justify a higher price tag. That’s why GOTS recently won a civil lawsuit and filed a complaint with the U.S. Federal Trade Commission to ban companies from inaccurately labeling mattresses with the GOTS logo. The actions follow what GOTS calls “widespread inaccurate and misleading use of the term ‘organic’ by U.S. companies and marketers in connection with textile products.”

Regulations apply to crib and infant mattresses as well. 

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