Some salespeople will say anything to get you to buy. It’s important to tease out language that sounds reassuring but has no objective evidence to justify its use. The phrases below are common ways to imply healthfulness or “green-ness” for a mattress, without really providing substantial information about the mattress or its materials.
Chemical-free mattress / mattress without chemicals
Although “chemical-free” is a common phrase, it’s inaccurate. Everything is composed of chemicals. Water has chemicals. Oxygen is a chemical. Look for a mattress without the toxic chemicals commonly found in flame retardants and polyurethanes. Medical studies have found that many chemicals used in foams are dangerous to health and damage DNA.
Toxicity deals with human vulnerabilities to various chemicals. Most mattresses are not necessarily toxic, however, inhaling off-gassing chemicals over long periods of time may have health consequences—especially for people who are exposed long-term (such as mattress users) or have particular medical vulnerabilities. If someone claims their mattress is non-toxic it may be, but ask more about the materials!
100% Natural Latex / 100% Natural Mattress
Each of these terms are absolutes. “100 percent” may sound like absolute assurance, but these phrases are misleading. “100% natural” latex could only describe the raw sap, or serum, that comes straight from under the bark of the rubber tree. Curing agents and tiny amounts of other additives are required to process rubber tree sap into a sheet of usable foam. The finest natural latex available is 95%-97% pure rubber.
All mattresses sold must pass the federal fire safety test, an open-flame controlled burn. The solution most manufacturers use is to add large amounts of chemical flame retardants to foams and fabrics. Instead, look for a mattress that uses an alternative design or material to create adequate flame retardancy. Wool fiber (batting) within a mattress casing is an effective substitute for chemical flame retardants.
Eco-friendly mattress / environmentally-friendly mattress / green mattress
These are common, hopeful-sounding buzzwords. Look for evidence to back up these claims. Many companies claiming to offer eco-friendly mattresses may simply be looking to benefit from consumer fears about the environment. Consider the materials. Ask what flame retardant is used, and if pesticides, bleaches or dyes are used in processing fabrics. Organic certification is a concrete example of lower environmental impact.
Hypoallergenic is another marketing buzzword, but not a legally regulated term. People react to different materials and chemicals in different ways. If you’re allergy-prone, consult with your immunologist about any concerns you have. The best way to shield a mattress from the most common allergens, such as dust mites and pet dander, is to use a mattress allergy encasement (cover). A mattress itself cannot ward off environmental allergens. Bear in mind that some mattress and bedding products billed as “anti-bacterial” contain a highly-toxic chemical, chlorinated tris.