The Surprisingly Complex World of Mattresses

If you’re going to develop a green lodge, one of the fundamental decisions you’ll make will be what sort of mattress to select. As we delved into our research, we were frankly surprised at the number of issues surrounding mattresses, from chemical additives to disposal and recycling. Even with the so-called green mattresses, ‘green’ was a relative term. In the end, we found a great mattress that checked off all our boxes, but only after exhaustive research. Let me briefly summarize for you some of our findings, and finish with the mattress we selected, and why.

One of the major issues with standard mattresses is their toxicity. From Mother Jones magazine (2008):

Since the mid- to late ’60s, most mattresses have been made of polyurethane foam, a petroleum-based material that emits volatile organic compounds that can cause respiratory problems and skin irritation. Formaldehyde, which is used to make one of the adhesives that hold mattresses together, has been linked to asthma, allergies, and lung, nose, and throat cancers. And then there are cotton pesticides and flame-retardant chemicals, which can cause cancer and nervous-system disorders.

There are no proven health risks from these mattresses, mainly because tracking the long-term risks is near to impossible. Add to this the fact that, as of July of 2007, all mattresses are required to withstand 30 minutes of open flame, and we end up with a product that is chemically problematic at best.

Let’s now look at mattress disposal. According to Bed Times (Feb. 2016), 20 million mattresses are hauled from homes and hotels each year. A growing number of landfills don’t want them, as they are bulky, hard to crush, and can jam machinery. As the recycling of mattress parts becomes more popular, the industry is seeing the rise of unscrupulous renovators, who purchase old mattresses and sew on new covers, making little or no effort to sterilize the old bed. Some hotel chains have recently pledged to recycle their mattresses (into reuseable parts). Hilton is beginning to recycle over 85% of the products in their mattresses and box springs.

Armed with this information, and after extensive research, we found a company called Naturepedic. This Seattle-based company was founded by a grandfather named Barry who couldn’t find a non-toxic crib mattress for his grandson. The mattresses are made of certified organic cotton with a steel innerspring. Naturepedic mattresses are made fire-resistant by a mix of baking soda, hydrated silica, and cellulose, all of which are non-toxic. The cellulose fiber used is derived primarily from eucalyptus and poplar trees and has a low carbon footprint. The mattresses are made close by in Canton, Ohio, and we were able to see them in their showroom in Birmingham, MI.

We were particularly intrigued by the fact that the mattress came in 3 parts (3″ top layer and 8″ bottom layer surrounded by an encasement) , so you can replace just the part you need to. This reduces the amount of material that need to be recycled or taken to a landfill.

The particular Naturepedic mattress we ordered for all Lodge rooms is the EOS Standard.  I have slept on 2 of them so far, a queen in the Rooftop cabins and a twin in the basement hostel room, and can attest to their comfort. What’s most comforting, though, is knowing that I’m sleeping on such a healthy mattress made by a company whose values are so close to ours.

naturepedic mattress