What You Should Know About Mattress Eco-Terms

eco friendly environment

Organic. I try not to be surprised by what I see labeled as an “organic” mattress. I try. The truth is, though, I’ve seen “organic” used with such reckless abandon on mattresses that I can only shake my head and sigh.

With food and unprocessed agricultural products like wool, “organic” requires meeting National Organic Program (NOP) standards of the USDA. Non-food processed items, however, are different. The USDA does not certify finished products like textiles, yarns, shirts or mattresses as organic.

Consumers should instead demand Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) or Global Organic Latex Standard (GOLS) certifications for mattresses. Without these third-party certifications, there is little way to know how “organic” a mattress is. Be cautious, however, of a GOTS logo used in reference to only a specific component such as the fabric that the mattress maker presumably purchased from a vendor. Not only is that against the rules of GOTS (a mattress must be GOTS-certified to display that GOTS logo), but more importantly, if a mattress itself isn’t certified, you don’t really know what’s in it.

This strategy is a way to piggyback on the certification of a vendor without actually having to track or verify materials in the company’s mattresses. This practice hopefully will taper off since GOTS recently won a civil action in the US District Court of Virginia against unauthorized logo use. We’ll see.

In March 2016, GOTS itself filed a complaint with the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) about what it considers inaccurate and misleading uses of the term “organic“ in relationship to textile-related products. It remains to be seen what effect that will have, but in the meantime, it pays to remain skeptical of non-certified “organic” mattresses. Here are some eco-terms you should investigate more:

1. “Natural”

How can such a great word be used for so many nefarious purposes? I hear natural and think pure and unpolluted – you might have a similar association. In the marketplace, however, natural is used all over the place. The problem is “natural” is not defined by the FTC, meaning a “natural” mattress could contain almost anything.

I’ve seen “natural” used with mattresses containing polyurethane foam, non-organic cotton, vinyl, you name it. Some “natural” latex is actually a mix of latex made from rubber tree sap and synthetic latex made from petrochemicals. Sadly, the word “natural” has been misused and abused to the point of being rendered virtually meaningless. 

2. “Soy Foam”

This is also called eco-foam, soy-based foam, plant-based foam, green foam, and other names). Essentiallu soybean foam is petrochemical-based polyurethane foam made using some plant-based oils. Mattresses will have a law tag, so check there. While soy foam is a marketing term, the material on the law tag will still read polyurethane foam. Also, if you see a Certi-PUR US logo, then you know it’s polyurethane foam, as that is only used for polyurethane foam and no other materials.

3. “Green” or “Eco-Friendly”

Similar to “natural”, both “green” and “eco-friendly” don’t really mean anything. The FTC expects that products define what they mean when they say green or eco-friendly, but in reality that doesn’t always happen. Does eco-friendly mean made with natural fibers? Is it made in a facility powered by windmills? Without definition, an “eco-friendly” product could contain ingredients quite different than what you might expect.

The FTC did recently pass four proposed settlements against beauty and skin products for uses of “all natural” and “100% natural” in products that used synthetic ingredients, but it’s unknown if this will lead to more responsible usage of the term. The FTC does spell out guidelines barring the unqualified use of terms like “eco-friendly” and “green," but very few actions have been brought.

While it may change in the future, for now, you as the consumer should be skeptical of mattresses and other products labeled “eco-friendly”, “green” and “natural” that don’t back up these claims.